City Of Long Beach Prevails At $40M Vehicle Rollover Trial Stemming From Allegedly Unsafe Road Conditions

Posted by David Siegel on Apr 4, 2019 11:21:14 PM


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CVN screenshot of city attorney Chelsea Trotter delivering her closing argument. Click here to see video from the trial. 

Long Beach, CA - A California state court jury cleared the City of Long Beach on Thursday in a $40 million lawsuit alleging that unsafe road conditions caused a single vehicle rollover accident resulting in a passenger’s permanent brain damage.

Jurors deliberated for nearly three days in a trial that began on March 7 before determining that large boulders placed on the median of an on-ramp from Appian Way to east-bound 2nd Street did not cause the 2012 accident. Plaintiff Fermin Villa accused the city of creating an unsafe road condition with the placement of the boulders.

Attorneys for the city blamed the accident entirely on the driver of the vehicle Villa rode in, maintaining the car hopped a curb, launched off a boulder and then rolled over in the on-ramp’s median due to the negligence of an intoxicated driver and not because of the boulders themselves or the design of the ramp.

Villa’s attorney, Daniel Balaban of Balaban & Spielberger, asked jurors to award his client over $40 million in damages. In court papers Balaban stated that Villa suffers from serious brain damage, along with multiple spinal injuries that left him with incomplete quadriplegia.

The trial, which featured extensive testimony from accident reconstruction specialists and numerous other expert witnesses, was webcast and recorded gavel-to-gavel by Courtroom View Network. 

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Balaban told jurors during the trial he agreed the driver’s negligence played a role in the accident, but attorneys for the city successfully argued the driver’s actions were the sole cause of the rollover and Villa’s injuries.

Thursday’s verdict marks the end of a second trial in the long-running lawsuit, originally filed in 2013. In 2015 a jury returned a defense verdict on the question of the city’s liability in the first phase of a bifurcated trial. However an appeals court ordered a new trial due to juror misconduct.

A spokesman for the City of Long Beach issued a statement Thursday evening noting that no other accident had occurred at the incident location, and that the city will “review all available information to make sure that the roadway in this matter continues to be as safe as reasonably possible for all users.”

Attorneys for Villa did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The city was represented at trial by Principal Deputy City Attorney Monte Machit and Deputy City Attorneys Ted Zinger and Chelsea Trotter.

Villa was also represented by Andrew Spielberger and Karen Harutyunyan.

Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Patrick Madden presided over the trial.

The case is captioned Fermin Villa v. The City of Long Beach, case number BC518613, in the Superior Court of California for Los Angeles County, Long Beach Division.

Gavel-to-gavel video of the full video is available to CVN subscribers as part of CVN’s one-of-a-kind trial video archive.

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Topics: California