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).
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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