Two-pound aluminum light-pole cap falls on man's head, causes dementia. $22.5M. Los Angeles County.

Summary

CIty of Los Angeles is said to negligently inspect and maintain its property. City says it has never happened before and it had no duty to inspect.

The Case

The Result

  • Gross Verdict or Award: $22,596,874.87
  • Net Verdict or Award: $22,596,874.87
  • Contributory/Comparative Negligence: None.
  • Economic Damages:

    Past and future medical care: $5,596,874.87 

  • Non-Economic Damages:

    $17,000,000

  • Trial or Arbitration Time: 14 days
  • Jury Deliberation Time: 4 hours
  • Jury Polls: 11-1 on liability; 10-2 on damages.

The Attorneys

  • Attorney for the Plaintiff:

    Law Offices of Haytham Faraj by Haytham Faraj, Los Angeles.

    Martinian and Associates by Arash Zabetian and Tomik Vertanous, Los Angeles.

  • Attorney for the Defendant:

    Los Angeles City Attorney's Office by Karen Woodward and Stephanie Gonzalez, Los Angeles.

The Experts

  • Plaintiff’s Medical Expert(s):

    Lucas Alexanian, M.D., psychiatry.

    Armen Cherik, M.D., neurology.

    David Fish M.D., physiatry and life care planning.

    Aaron Filler M.D., neurosurgery/neuroradiology.

  • Defendant's Medical Expert(s):

    Barry Ludwig M.D., neurology.

    Barry Pressman M.D., neuroradiology.

    Xavier Salazar Psy D., neuropsychology.

    Melissa Keddington, life care planning.

  • Plaintiff's Technical Expert(s):

    Rami Hashish Ph.D., biomechanics.

    Brad Avritt, engineering.

  • Defendant's Technical Expert(s):

    Robert Carnahan, engineering.

    Jennie McNulty, economics.

Facts and Background

  • Facts and Background:

    Throughout the City of Los Angeles there are light poles that have aluminum caps that weigh about two pounds each. The caps are attached to the pole by slipping the cap onto the pole and affixing it in place with four set screws that tighten against the metal pole but do not penetrate the metal. There is nothing to anchor the other side of the screw. These are not the only type of poles in the city but they constitute a sizeable percentage.

    On November 14, 2020, plaintiff, who was 59 on the day of the incident, was standing at the corner of Noble Ave. and Roscoe Blvd. in Van Nuys waiting to cross the street when a two-pound metal cap from the light pole he was standing next to fell 30 feet and hit him on the head, fracturing his skull. The blow knocked him to the ground.

    The records were unclear on whether he lost consciousness or not. Most of the records said no LOC. One said there was a loss of consciousness. Plaintiff picked up the metal cap and went into the office of the middle school, which was about 50 feet behind him, to ask for help. The testimony at trial from the person at the school who helped him was that he was speaking gibberish and pointing to his head, which the person understood as a call for aid. The person at the school asked plaintiff if he wanted 911 called, to which he nodded in the affirmative. Defense did not depose the person from the school and did not know what he would say at trial and neither did plaintiff. It was assumed that he would just say he called 911 and waited with plaintiff.

    Plaintiff was transported by ambulance to a local hospital. He complained of headaches and neck pain. At the hospital a CT scan of the head and neck were ordered. The CT of the head showed a skull fracture approximately four inches long. There was no brain bleed. Plaintiff was released from the hospital about two hours after he arrived. In the days and weeks that followed, he reported confusion, headaches, disorientation, blurred vision and general malaise. About three months after he was hit in the head he saw a neurologist, who diagnosed a mild traumatic brain injury. In the year that followed, his condition steadily declined. He was getting lost going to stores or returning home. One day he was lost for three days and was found dozens of miles from his home on the freeway in Calabasas. The diagnosis changed to severe neurocognitive disorder secondary to brain trauma. In mid 2023, plaintiff was diagnosed with dementia.

  • Plaintiff's Contentions:

    That the pole design was adequate as designed, but over time, the poles became dangerous. That the City should have had an inspection system because it is foreseeable that the screws would come loose over time and fall. That the City was on actual and constructive notice that the caps were in danger of falling because City employees worked on or inspected similar poles on the same street and should have noticed that caps were missing off other poles.

    That caps falling 30 feet are a very serious dangerous condition, and the likelihood of very serious harm should have resulted in an inspection system. That notice need not necessarily be as to the specific pole, but could be the result of notice of caps missing from other poles.

    That plaintiff suffered a moderate traumatic brain injury that was undiagnosed in the ER. That the brain injury resulted in a steady decline that became a severe neurocognitive disorder that presents as dementia. That plaintiff's DTI imaging indicates traumatic injury and disruption in the cingulum. Plaintiff's FA values were below the norm and plaintiff's tractography indicates traumatic disruption. That plaintiff was fine before this incident and the absence of any medical records is strong evidence of his health before the incident.

  • Defendant's Contentions:

    That the City has never had a complaint of one of the caps coming off the pole. That it is not foreseeable that the cap would fall off the pole. That the City has no duty under the government code to inspect or maintain because it is not a dangerous condition. That, even if it is a dangerous condition, the remoteness of the likelihood of harm along with the lack of any notice, means the City is not liable under the government code. It was not foreseeable that such a harm would result.

    That plaintiff suffered a head injury but not a brain injury. Even if plaintiff suffered a traumatic brain injury, it was mild and should have resolved within weeks. That the LAFD records and emergency department records indicated plaintiff had a GCS of 15 throughout the period of care that he received. That plaintiff's CT scan at the ER indicates a preexisting brain atrophy of 2/4 which is significant.  Plaintiff treated with a chiropractor, but  never complained to the chiropractor in the months before he saw the neurologist of any headaches, confusion or disorientation.

    That the treatment plaintiff received was attorney driven. That the absence of any preexisting medical records of plaintiff is suspicious because no one goes through life without ever seeing a doctor. That plaintiff did become demented but his dementia is known as behavioral variant frontotemporal dementia, which is not caused by trauma. That DTI-MRI testing presented by plaintiff is junk science and is only used by some doctors in litigation.

Injuries and Other Damages

  • Physical Injuries claimed by Plaintiff:

    Traumatic brain injury resulting in severe neurocognitive disorder – dementia.

  • Plaintiff was no longer able to care for himself in any way. Plaintiff required 24-hour attendant care. Plaintiff could no longer work; though he was not working at the time due to COVID. At the time of trial plaintiff was in diapers; plaintiff needed a walker to walk; plaintiff had difficulty recognizing his wife and children; plaintiff was susceptible to becoming combative if he was not on anti-psychosis drugs.

Special Damages

  • Special Damages Claimed - Past Medical: $1,355,008.55
  • Special Damages Claimed - Future Medical: $8,380,648
  • Special Damages Claimed - Past Lost Earnings: None
  • Special Damages Claimed - Future Lost Earnings: None

Demands and Offers

  • Plaintiff §998 Demand: By original plaintiff's firm: $20,000,000; then $23,500,000.
  • Defendant Final Offer before Trial: $20,000