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The Latest Word

Confidential Report For Attorneys
By Richard Neubauer, Editor

January 31, 1998

Welcome back to the grind — if you ever got away, that is. As I was finishing this issue, I went to our Oceanside Wal-Mart store to take pictures for the front cover. I couldn’t help but notice the extraordinary lengths this Wal-Mart store takes to prevent slip and fall accidents. There are two different types of permanent mats inside the doors designed to remove water, grease and oil from customers’ shoes as they enter the store. There is even a special floor inside the shopping cart corral which seems designed to dry off the cart wheels as they are brought into the store. And when it rains, the famous Wal-Mart greeter is kept extra busy handing out special umbrella bags. All of this is most admirable, though I can’t help but wonder if Wal-Mart would go to such expense to protect its customers absent the threat of lawsuits? Anyway, be certain to check out the Wal-Mart reports under “premises liability.”

Bruce Guttman of Los Angeles reports a $3 million verdict in a boating accident on the Colorado River near Laughlin. Liability was hotly disputed when a jet ski collided with a ski boat, injuring the jet ski rider (pg 1).

Defense attorney David W. Berglund of Berglund and Johnson in Woodland Hills had to convince a jury that the prior testimony of his Deft’s vice president was wrong regarding standards for light pole installation. The corroded metal light pole collapsed while a worker was changing light bulbs (page 2).

An unlabeled bottle of eucalyptus oil was left inside a health club sauna. Thinking it was water, Pltf poured it over the sauna’s hot coals. The oil exploded, badly burning Pltf. Brian J. Panish, a partner at Greene Broillet in Santa Monica [at the time], settled the matter for $1.4 million despite highly contested liability (page 7).

For an interesting account of how Section CCP 998 Offers can affect a minor impact rearender case, see the report by Alex Dai of State Farm’s Barry Bartholomew Office and Pltf attorney Robert Rentzer of Encino (page 12).

In Santa Ana, Pltf claimed that his hip replacement was the result of a low impact, left turn accident. Liability was clear, but the cause of Pltf’s damages was somewhat clouded as Pltf had two prior hip replacements and was suing his doctor for having destroyed his hips with steroids. It comes as no surprise that Tom Wianecki of Wesierski & Zurek won a 12-0 defense verdict (page 29).

Page 7

CASE TYPE: Premises Liability/Fire

RESULT: $1.4 million

COUNTY: Los Angeles

REPORT TYPE: Settlement

SUMMARY: Sauna coals burst into flames when oil, not water, poured over them; Male, 55, burns with scars

CASE: Joel Cohen, et al. v. Sports Connection, et al.

CASE NO. BC 120 258

PLTF ATTY: Jeffrey W. Steinberger, Beverly Hills

Greene, Broillet, et al., By: Brian J. Panish, Santa Monica

DEFT ATTY: Law Offices of Daniel E. Hofthan, By: John 0. Kerr and Andrew Jacobs, Glendale

PLTF MED’L: Leon Indianer, M.D., Burns, Encino

Franklin Milgrim, M.D., Psychiatrist, Beverly Hills

Michael Freilich, M.D., Los Angeles

Clarke Espy, M.D., Neurologist, Los Angeles

Herbert Stein, M.D., Cardiologist, Los Angeles

Karl Stein, M.D., Bums, Los Angeles

DEFT MED’L: Peter Grossman, M.D., Plastic Surgeon, Sherman Oaks

David J. Faster, MD., Psychiatrist, Encino

Arthur Karl, M.D., Bums, Sherman Oaks

PLTF TECH’L: Seymour Gold, Ph.D., Recreation Safety, UC Davis

Robert J. Cunitz, Ph.D., Engineer, Roclwille, MD

Donald F. Sinn, Recreation Safety, San Jose

Robert E. Lowe, Fire Investigator, San Juan Capistrano

Peter Formuzis, Ph.D., Economist, Santa Ana

Howard C. Rile, Jr., Document Examiner, Los Angeles

DEFT TECH’L: Mark S. Sanders, Ph.D., Human Factors, Sherman Oaks

Anne S. Conway, Document Examiner, Marina del Rey

Stephen C. Wexler, Ph.D., Safety Engineer, Marina del Rey

Maier N. Rosenberg, CPA, Los Angeles

DEMAND: $2 million per CCP §998

OFFER: $200,000 per CCP §998

FACTS: On November 29, 1994 Pltf a 55 year old distributor for the entertainment industry and a member of Deft sports club in Century City, went into Deft’s dry sauna. He picked up a bottle he thought was water and poured it on hot coals. However, the liquid was eucalyptus oil. When Pltf poured it on the coals they burst into flames, engulfing Pltf.

PER PLTF: That Deft was negligent in repairs and supervision; that the members could go in and out of the storage closet and take eucalyptus oil at will; that there were no labels or signs indicating not to pour any liquid on the coals which were flammable.

INJURIES: 1st, 2nd, 3rd degree bums to 90% of body with scars; emotional distress.

DEFENSE: Contended that Pltf should have smelled the eucalyptus oil before pouring it on the coals; that the bottle was labeled; that Pltf caused the fire.

SPECIALS: $105,000 past medical; $20,000 future medical; $1 million past L.E. (heavily disputed); $500,000 future L.E. ($150,000 per Deft).

SETTLEMENT: $1.4 million

DATE: 6/12/97 ACTION FILED: 11/19/95

NOTES: Judge Irwin J. Nebron (Ret.) of ARC was mediator. COURT: L.A. County Superior Court, Los Angeles

CRA # 9124

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