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A look at a recent L.A. County Nuclear Verdict

Recently, a Los Angeles-based jury awarded a plaintiff, Louis Acosta, $12.6 million for injuries he allegedly sustained while working at a job site in Riverside, California. Mr. Acosta claimed he sustained injuries to his extremities and back, ultimately requiring two spinal fusion surgeries – a C5-6, C6-7 discectomy and fusion, and an L4-5 decompression and fusion. Mr. Acosta further claimed that his providers recommended future medical care consisting of shoulder surgery and surgeries at the adjacent levels in his spine.

Over the span of seven days in late July and early August 2021, Louis Acosta v. MAS Realty, et al. (BC717512), was tried before a jury at Stanley Mosk Courthouse located in downtown Los Angeles. The jury deliberated for three hours before returning the following verdict:

ECONOMIC DAMAGES

Past medical expenses

$606,238.75

Future medical expenses

$450,000.00

Past lost earnings

$266,000.00

Future lost earnings

$1,500,000.00

SUB-TOTAL

$2,822,238.75

NON-ECONOMIC DAMAGES

Past

$1,800,000.00

Future

$8,000,000.00

SUB-TOTAL

$9,800,000.00

TOTAL VERDICT

$12,622,238.75

Mr. Acosta was 40 years old at the time and working as a lighting technician for Horizon Lighting. On August 10, 2016, Mr. Acosta went to Arlington Plaza, a strip mall in Riverside, California, owned by Defendant, MAS Realty. Mr. Acosta was assigned to check the photocells on the building’s roof so he proceeded to climb a ladder to the roof, through a hatch door. There was a handwritten note on the wall behind the ladder that read “Hatch broken! Watch fingers and head ☹”

Two years prior to the subject incident, MAS Realty hired The Roof Depot, Inc. to inspect all the rooftops at the strip mall. The Roof Depot prepared a report dated September 9, 2014, and noted that the subject hatch door was broken with a missing spring, making the hatch door “heavy and dangerous to operate.” The estimated cost of repair was $3,150.00, which MAS Realty included in its December 2015 budget. However, the repair was rescheduled for December 2106.

On the day of the incident, Mr. Acosta was able to push the hatch door open and maneuver the locking lever into position. However, as he was existing, his toolbelt caught on the hatch door’s locking lever, causing the door to slam onto Mr. Acosta’s back. Subsequently, Mr. Acosta re-opened the hatch door and continued to work for a few hours. Later that day, he went to the doctor due to numbness and pain in his extremities and back.

In addition to his physical injuries, Mr. Acosta alleged his injuries prevented him from returning to work, at least in the same capacity, and by October 2016, he completely stopped working. Mr. Acosta eventually had to move back in with his parents because he was unable to pay rent.

Although Mr. Acosta’s claims against MAS Realty would have been barred under California’s Privette doctrine (which bars claims by employees of independent contractors who are injured in the workplace against the party that hired the contractor to do the work) holds that an independent contractor’s hirer presumptively delegates to the contractor its tort law duty to provide a safe workplace for the contractor’s employees), Mr. Acosta successfully argued that his claims fell within an exception pursuant to Kinsman v. Unocal (2005) 37 Cal.4th 659. In Kinsman, the Supreme Court imposed a duty on landowners who hire independent contractors to warn invitees “of a latent or concealed pre-existing hazardous condition on [the] property,” which the landowner knew or should have known about.

The case was tried before Hon. Mark Mooney by Daniel K. Kramer and Teresa A. Johnson of Kramer Trial Lawyers APC on behalf of Mr. Acosta. Plaintiff’s medical expert was neurosurgeon Dr. Fardad Mobin; his safety engineering expert was Brad Avrit, and his vocational rehabilitation expert was Enrique Vega.

During trial, Mr. Acosta claimed he sustained $631,000.00 in past medical expenses and that his future medical care would cost approximately $450,000.00. He also claimed $260,000.00 in past lost earnings and his vocational rehabilitation expert estimated he would lose between $1.2 million and $2.2 million in future lost earnings. Based on the verdict, the jury sided with Mr. Acosta, awarding basically all of the amounts he claimed.

There is currently a cross-complaint by MAS Realty against Mr. Acosta’s employer, Horizon Lighting, for express indemnity. The cross-complaint was severed before the above trial began and will therefore, be decided separately.