Makeshift step on TV production site leads to ankle fracture. $715K. Los Angeles County.


Personal assistant to pop singer fractures ankle on step leading from restroom trailer.

The Case

  • Case Name: Tessa Schonder v. Star Waggons, Inc., Finnmax LLC
  • Court and Case Number: Los Angeles Superior Court / BC708398
  • Date of Verdict or Judgment: Monday, December 23, 2019
  • Date Action was Filed: Wednesday, May 30, 2018
  • Type of Case: Premises Liability
  • Judge or Arbitrator(s): Hon. Margaret L. Oldendorf
  • Plaintiffs:
    Tessa Schonder
  • Defendants:
    Finnmax, LLC
    Star Waggons, Inc.
  • Type of Result: Jury Verdict

The Result

  • Gross Verdict or Award: $715,000
  • Net Verdict or Award: Cost bill is pending.
  • Economic Damages:

    Future medical care: $350,000

    Loss of earning capacity: $50,000

    Other future expenses: $15,000

  • Non-Economic Damages:

    Past pain and suffering: $200,000

    Future pain and suffering: $100,000

The Attorneys

  • Attorney for the Plaintiff:

    The Ryan Law Group by Andrew T. Ryan, El Segundo.

  • Attorney for the Defendant:

    Collinson Daehnke Inlow & Greco by Vicki L. Greco, Torrance.

    Law Offices of Richard E. Bishop by Mark B. Buehler, Anaheim.

The Experts

  • Plaintiff’s Medical Expert(s):

    Tye Ouzounian, M.D., foot and ankle surgery, Tarzana.

    Sharon Kawai, M.D., life care planning, Fullerton.

    Enrique Vega, vocational rehabilitation.

  • Defendant's Medical Expert(s):

    Neil Roth, M.D., orthopedic surgery.

    Behnush Mortimer, vocational rehabilitation, San Diego.

Facts and Background

  • Facts and Background:

    On Monday, April 23, 2018, plaintiff was working as a personal assistant to Alicia Keys on the set of The Voice. She arrived with her boss in Los Angeles on a morning flight from New York for the first day of live shots on the production. Plaintiff arrived on set at Universal Studios in early afternoon, and went to the artist compound in a sound stage to go over the daily schedule. After meeting for about five minutes, plaintiff exited the artist compound, and went to a temporary restroom in a trailer leased by defendant Star Waggons.

    The restroom trailer was on a slight slope, so the base was propped up by wooden blocks to level it out. Due to the propping up of the trailer with wooden blocks, a large gap was present at the bottom of the staircase leading into the women’s restroom. The producer of the show, defendant Finnmax LLC (a company started by Mark Burnett which is now a subsidiary of MGM) built a wooden block to bridge the gap at the bottom of the staircase. The wooden block was not secured to the staircase or the ground.

    After using the restroom, plaintiff walked down the staircase and put her left foot onto the wooden block. The wooden block slammed down, taking plaintiff’s foot and ankle with it. Plaintiff suffered a displaced bimalleor ankle fracture. She was taken by paramedic to St. Joseph’s in Burbank, where she had a closed reduction. When her sister arrived into town, she got a second opinion at Cedars-Sinai, where surgery was recommended. Plaintiff wanted to have the surgery in New York, so the hospital surgeon performed another closed reduction to make it safe for plaintiff to fly. The closed reductions at Cedars had to be done without anesthesia. Plaintiff underwen another surgery in New York about a week after the incident, with the implantation of hardware. She was on bed rest for about six weeks, and then did about 10 physical therapy sessions in New York. She was back to work full time in August 2018.

  • Plaintiff's Contentions:

    That this type of fracture is going to cause plaintiff to develop osteoarthritis. That she will need two additional surgeries over her lifetime, including hardware removal and joint fusion.

  • Defendant's Contentions:

    The defense stipulated to liability and causation.

    That plaintiff did not complete her physical therapy as recommended by her doctor; that the physical therapy would have hastened her recovery. That it is extremely unlikely plaintiff will develop osteoarthritis because the bones are in normal alignment.

Injuries and Other Damages

  • Physical Injuries claimed by Plaintiff:

    Bimalleor ankle fracture with implantation of hardware.

Demands and Offers

  • Plaintiff §998 Demand: $1,000,000 (initial policy limits) to Finnmax LLC; $1,000,000 (initial policy limits) to Star Waggons, Inc.
  • Defendant §998 Offer: $50,000 from Star Waggons; $150,000 from Finnmax LLC.

Additional Notes

The Court allowed the defense medical expert to testify via live feed because plaintiff insisted that her medical examination occur within 75 miles of her residence in New York.