PERSONAL INJURY/PREMISES LIABILITY/DANGEROUS CONDITION

Gregory E. Stone and Angela M. Jones represented Ralphs’ Grocery Company in the case of Eric Guinea v. Ralphs’ where plaintiff claimed Ralphs (dba Food 4 Less) violated its policy by failing to maintain a restroom he allegedly slipped in. After 2 hours of deliberation, the jury returned a verdict for the defense (10-2) and found Food 4 Less was not negligent in the use or maintenance of their property.

Published in the Los Angeles Daily Journal: Verdicts & Settlements on Friday, July 29th, 2016.

VERDICT: Defense.

CASE/NUMBER: Eric Guinea v. Ralphs Grocery Company dba Food 4 Less; Valley Central LP., and Does 1 to 50, inclusive | BC515488.

COURT/DATE: Los Angeles Superior Central | June 16, 2016.

JUDGE: Hon. Allan J. Goodman.

ATTORNEYS:

Plaintiff – Gregory A Coolidge (Carpenter, Zuckerman & Rowley LLP, Beverly Hills).

Defendant – Gregory E. Stone, Angela M. Jones (Stone Dean LLP, Woodland Hills).

MEDICAL EXPERTS:

Plaintiff – George Rappard, M.D., interventional neuroradiology, Los Angeles.

Defendant – Richard C. Rosenberg, M.D., orthopedic surgery, Tarzana

TECHNICAL EXPERTS:

Plaintiff – Howard Goldfarb, MA, BA, vocational rehabilitation, South Pasadena; Karen Smith, Ph.D., economics, San Marino; Mark Burns, accident reconstruction, Marina del Rey.

Defendant – Isaac N. lkram, MSc, PE, accident reconstruction, Long Beach.

FACTS:

Plaintiff Eric Guinea alleged that on May 5, 2012, he was injured when he walked into defendant Food 4 Less’ men’s restroom. Video surveillance showed activity outside the restroom. According to the video, the last person who had been in the restroom prior to plaintiff was a store employee. After the store employee left the restroom, the next person to enter the restroom was plaintiff (approximately two minutes later). Plaintiff is in the restroom for about 55 seconds. He then comes out holding his knee and back and complains of injury due to a substantial amount of water on the floor. Plaintiff and his wife and the store manager took photos of the restroom and noted a substantial amount of water on the floor. Plaintiff also had a substantial amount of water on his person, which was also documented.

PLAINTIFFS CONTENTIONS:

Plaintiff claimed that Food 4 Less violated its policy by failing to maintain the restroom. Specifically, that Food 4 Less either created a dangerous condition by having a substantial amount of water on the floor and/ or by an employee failing to remedy the condition, as he or she was the last person to leave the restroom before the plaintiff entered. While on scene, plaintiff and his wife looked at the bathroom cleaning log which reflected the bathroom had been last cleaned at 7:45 p.m. Plaintiff fell at approximately 8:49 p.m. Plaintiff argued defendant destroyed the log which was not produced in discovery.

DEFENDANTS CONTENTIONS:

Food 4 Less claimed it was not negligent and that it adequately maintained its premises, including the restroom. Further, that the water on the floor, although substantial as alleged by plaintiff, did not constitute an unreasonably dangerous condition.

INJURIES:

Plaintiff claimed to have sustained a sprain/ strain of his knee and three simultaneous, significant disc protrusion/ herniations resulting in nerve interference and radiculopathy. Plaintiff also claimed significant past and future loss of earnings, including lifelong vocational limitations. Prior to plaintiffs neurointerventional spine surgery, he was bed-ridden and his wife was required to physically care for him. To this effect, plaintiff also sought damages for significant emotional distress and humiliation for his inability to care for himself.

JURY TRIAL:

Length, 10 days; Poll, 10-2 (defense); Deliberation, two hours.

SETTLEMENT DISCUSSIONS:

Plaintiff served a CCP 998 for $499,999.99 on Aug. 29, 2013. Defendant served a CCP 998 for $50,000 on Oct 28, 2014. Before both trials, the parties entered informal settlement discussions. Plaintiff was informally in the range of $500,000 and defendant was informally in the range of $200,000.

RESULT:

The jury returned a verdict for the defense and found Food 4 Less was not negligent in the use or maintenance of his property.

OTHER INFORMATION:

This was the second trial of this matter. The first was an 8-day jury trial in Van Nuys before Judge Elaine Mandel. After deliberating five hours, the jury announced it was deadlocked on the first question, 7-5 in favor of defense. The case was then re-tried in downtown (Central District) resulting in 10-2 defense verdict), which according to defense, has a reputation of being far more liberal than Van Nuys.

EXPERT TESTIMONY:

Mark Burns testified that the store fell below the standard of care in its maintenance and use. Also, that the floor, when wet, posed an unreasonably dangerous condition. Dr. George Rappard, who performed plaintiff’s neurointerventional spine surgery, claimed all three, significant herniated discs were caused by the incident. Additionally, he testified that plaintiff incurred past medical specials that exceeded $300,000. Isaac Ikram opined the floor tested safe despite being below OSHA and ANCI standards. Additionally, he testified that biomechanically the three disc herniations were not caused by the incident. A 402 hearing was held regarding the expert’s ability to testify on certain other biomechanical issues and the court ultimately allowed the testimony, including the opinion that the mechanism of injury was not consistent with plaintiff’s description of the fall. Dr. Richard Rosenberg opined that, although plaintiff did in fact have significant physical limitations and did in fact have significant disc herniations, the same were not related to the incident in question.

FILING DATE: July 17, 2013.

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