California Verdicts

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Decedent’s unsafe turn caused crash, defense claimed

Amount:

$1,450,000

Type:

Verdict-Plaintiff

State:

California

Venue:

Los Angeles County

Court:

Superior Court of Los Angeles County, Santa Monica

Injury Type(s):

back; ankle; chest; chest-fracture, rib;
other-death; other-abrasions; other-loss of society; other-multiple trauma; face/nose-face; face/nose-fracture (fracture, cheekbone), facial bone (fracture, cheekbone)

Case Type:

Wrongful Death; Government – Counties, Firefighter; Motor Vehicle – Speeding, Broadside, Left Turn; Government – Municipalities

Case Name:

Ksenia Rozen, Karen Kirn and Estate of Eric Stein v. County of Los Angeles, Los Angeles County Fire Department, Michael Aplanalp, and Does 1 through 50,
No. BC601967

Date:

October 4, 2017

Parties

Plaintiff(s):

Karen Kirn (Female, 59 Years), 

Ksenia Rozen (Female, 31 Years), 

Estate of Eric Stein (Male, 36 Years)

Plaintiff Attorney(s):

Spencer R. Lucas;
Panish Shea & Boyle LLP;
Los Angeles,
CA,
for
Karen Kirn, Ksenia Rozen, Estate of Eric Stein ■ Thomas A. Schultz;
Panish Shea & Boyle LLP;
Los Angeles,
CA,
for
Karen Kirn, Ksenia Rozen, Estate of Eric Stein ■ Deborah S. Chang;
Panish Shea & Boyle LLP;
Los Angeles,
CA,
for
Karen Kirn, Ksenia Rozen, Estate of Eric Stein ■ Jefferson Saylor;
Panish Shea & Boyle LLP;
Los Angeles,
CA,
for
Karen Kirn, Ksenia Rozen, Estate of Eric Stein

Plaintiff Expert(s):

Alvin Lowi, III; P.E.; Accident Reconstruction; El Segundo,
CA called by:
Spencer R. Lucas, Thomas A. Schultz, Deborah S. Chang, Jefferson Saylor ■ James McMullen; Cause & Origin; Davis,
CA called by:
Spencer R. Lucas, Thomas A. Schultz, Deborah S. Chang, Jefferson Saylor ■ Thomas Ayres; Ph.D.; Ergonomics/Human Factors; Kensington,
CA called by:
Spencer R. Lucas, Thomas A. Schultz, Deborah S. Chang, Jefferson Saylor

Defendant(s):

Michael Aplanalp, 

County of Los Angeles

Defense Attorney(s):

Brian K. Stewart;
Collins Collins Muir + Stewart LLP;
South Pasadena,
CA,
for
Michael Aplanalp, County of Los Angeles ■ Erin R. Dunkerly;
Collins Collins Muir + Stewart LLP;
South Pasadena,
CA,
for
Michael Aplanalp, County of Los Angeles ■ Michael B. McDonald;
Collins Collins Muir + Stewart LLP;
South Pasadena,
CA,
for
Michael Aplanalp, County of Los Angeles

Defendant Expert(s):

Paul Stein;
Fires & Explosions;
Newbury Park,
CA called by:
Brian K. Stewart, Erin R. Dunkerly, Michael B. McDonald ■ Paul Guthorn;
Mechanical;
Long Beach,
CA called by:
Brian K. Stewart, Erin R. Dunkerly, Michael B. McDonald ■ David Krauss;
Ergonomics/Human Factors;
Los Angeles,
CA called by:
Brian K. Stewart, Erin R. Dunkerly, Michael B. McDonald

Facts:

On July 31, 2015, plaintiffs’ decedent Eric Stein, 36, a restaurant manager, was driving to Saddlerock Ranch, in Malibu, for the rehearsal of his brother’s wedding, which was going to take place the next day. Stein’s wife, plaintiff Ksenia Rozen, 31, was a front seat passenger in his vehicle. As they were traveling on Mulholland Highway, near Kanan-Dume Road, in Malibu, a fire crew bus, traveling from a Malibu inmate firefighter camp and operated by firefighter Michael Aplanalp, was traveling behind them. The bus, containing 13 female inmate firefighters, was running to a wildland fire. At around 4:59 p.m., the fire crew bus attempted to pass in a legal passing zone as Stein attempted a left turn into the ranch. However, as Stein turned in front of the fire crew bus, his vehicle was broadsided. Rozen sustained injuries to her face and chest, while Stein sustained multiple traumatic injuries and he died at the scene. Rozen and Stein’s mother, Karen Kirn, sued the driver of the fire crew bus, Aplanalp, and Aplanalp’s employer, the county of Los Angeles (which was initially erroneously sued as the Los Angeles Fire Department). Rozen and and Kirn alleged that Aplanalp was negligent in the operation of the fire crew bus and that the county was liable for Aplanalp’s actions. Aplanalp’s counsel moved for summary judgment. Prior to a hearing on the motion, Aplanalp, as an individual, was dismissed from the case. Thus, the matter continued against the county only. Plaintiffs’ counsel contended that the posted speed limit in the subject area was 45 mph and that the data download from the fire crew bus had it traveling at 62 mph, which was 17 mph over the posted speed limit. Thus, counsel argued the fire crew bus was traveling in excess of the posted speed limit, in violation of county policies, as the county’s own policies stated in multiple locations that firefighters are never allowed to exceed any posted speed limit. Immediately after the accident, Aplanalp told the California Highway Patrol that he did not know if his sirens were on or off in the moments leading up to the collision. However, Aplanalp claimed that Stein’s sedan failed to use a turn signal and was slowing down, which he believed indicated that Stein was yielding to the bus’s lights and sirens. Some witnesses testified that they heard sirens, but there were other witnesses that stated that they did not hear sirens before the impact. In addition, the inmate firefighter witnesses told various accounts of what happened, but all of them were fairly consistent that the lights and sirens on their vehicle were on. Defense counsel argued that the fire department was exempt from the rules of the road while using lights and sirens in response to an emergency fire, pursuant to Vehicle Code § 21055, and that Aplanalp drove reasonably under the circumstances. Counsel also argued that Stein’s left turn in front of the fire crew bus was negligent, as Stein made an abrupt turn in front of the lawfully passing fire truck approximately two seconds before the impact, which left Aplanalp with no time to make an evasive action. Both sides’ experts admitted that Stein would have been able to see the fire crew bus for approximately 10 seconds, if he had looked in his rearview and side-view mirrors before he made his left turn. Thus, defense counsel argued that Stein’s actions were substantial factors in causing the crash because Stein was in a passing zone, and he could have, and would have, seen the approaching fire crew bus and avoided it. In response, plaintiffs’ counsel argued that the exemption for lights and sirens does not allow the fire department to ignore its own policies and procedures.

Injury:

Rozen sustained three fractured ribs, a fractured cheekbone, and relatively minor injuries to an ankle and her back. She was subsequently extracted from the vehicle and taken to the UCLA Medical Center, in Los Angeles. Stein sustained multiple traumatic injuries and died at the scene. He was 36 years old, and he was survived by his wife, mother, and two brothers. He was Kirn’s oldest son. Stein was supposed to be in the wedding party and was to be his brother’s best man at the wedding. After the collision, the entire family and wedding party came down to the roadway and saw the aftermath of the collision. As a result, they saw Stein dead in his crashed vehicle. Rozen and Kirn sought recovery of wrongful death damages for the loss of Stein. Rozen did not make any claim for recovery of medical costs at trial, but sought additional recovery for her own past and future pain and suffering. Defense counsel noted that plaintiffs’ counsel asked the jury to award $52.5 million in total damages to Rozen and Kirn. However, defense counsel asked the jury to render a defense verdict, but argued that if the jury decided to award damages, it should award no more than $200,000.

Result:

The jury found that Aplanalp was negligent and that his conduct was a substantial factor in causing harm. It also found that Stein was at fault and that his conduct was a substantial factor in causing harm. Thus, the jury apportioned 50 percent fault to Aplanalp and 50 percent fault to Stein. It also determined that Stein’s family’s damages totaled $1.45 million, of which $250,000 was awarded to Kirn and $1.2 million was awarded to Rozen. After apportionment, the plaintiffs’ recovery should recover $725,000, which would include $600,000 for Rozen and $125,000 for Kirn.

Karen Kirn: $100,000 Personal Injury: past non-economic damages; $150,000 Personal Injury: future non-economic damages; Ksenia Rozen: $150,000 Personal Injury: Past Pain And Suffering; $50,000 Personal Injury: Future Pain And Suffering; $300,000 Personal Injury: past non-economic damages; $700,000 Personal Injury: future non-economic damages

Trial Information:

Judge:

H. Chester Horn

Demand:

$13,400,000 during trial

Offer:

$1,150,000 during trial

Trial Length:

25
 days

Trial Deliberations:

1
 days

Post Trial:

Plaintiffs’ counsel intends to file post-trial motions due to an alleged irregularity in the jury deliberation process. According to plaintiffs’ counsel, the jurors improperly reduced the damages award on their own by 50 percent. However, defense counsel disagrees.

Editor’s Comment:

This report is based on information that was provided by plaintiffs’ and defense counsel.