Trial Results

Civil Trial Verdicts 2019

by Ashley Winn

Statue of a lady holding the scales of justice.


In 2018, Santa Cruz County jury verdicts showed that local juries could award significant damages in plaintiff victories, while still being willing to grant a defense verdict. In 2019, local juries continued to award several large verdicts – verdicts that would likely have been significantly smaller in the 1990s or early 2000s.

Congratulations are in order to the following SCCTLA members: 1) Tyler Wiles was co-counsel in a plaintiff verdict of $1.5 million in a case involving a taxi cab which ran a red light; 2) David Spini and Sam Forbes-Roberts obtained a $.5 million verdict in a case involving a pedestrian who was injured when she stepped into a pothole and had a Lisfranc foot fracture; and, 3) David Beck and Pam Mathiesen obtained a $1.724 million verdict outside the County in a Fresno business lawsuit.

There were two other million dollar verdicts. The largest verdict of the year was an $11 million verdict against a rehabilitation facility and a detoxification facility, when a newly admitted addicted individual committed suicide. There was also a $1.008 million verdict in a case involving the death of a motorcycle rider during a demo ride due to a defective aluminum foot peg.

Finally, there were two defense verdicts as well.

The summary below is based on information obtained from the court and from the attorneys involved. In some cases, out of county counsel were not responsive to requests for information. In the $11 million verdict, the judgment was satisfied, which suggests that a confidential settlement may be the reason that counsel were not responsive to requests for information. Some trial attorneys provided more information for this analysis than others, as is evident in the synopsis that follows.

The goal of the analysis is to assist attorneys to better evaluate the strengths of their cases and to provide evidence to support a settlement demand and offer. It is clear that times are changing and local juries are willing to award larger sums than in the past.


Cunningham v. Davila, et al,
Case No. 16CV02213

Plaintiff Counsel: H. Gavin Long , Bisnar | Chase, LLP Newport Beach.

Defense Counsel: Jack Reinholtz and Steve Maslauski , Prindle, Goetz, Barnes & Reinholtz, Long Beach. (For Halcyon Horizons Inc., dba Narconon Redwood Cliffs.); Michael Descalso
and Tracy Trimble, Lewis, Brisbois, Bisgaard & Smith, San Francisco. (For Bright Futures Recovery.)

Trial Judge: Hon. Paul Burdick

Facts and Background
John Cunningham, 58 years old, married 26 years, father of two girls, and retired from Boeing, was addicted to Benzodiazepines (Ativan, Xanax). John’s sister paid “Redwood Cliffs” (turned out to be Halcyon Horizons, a Narconon facility) $37,500 for John to get rehabilitation treatment. After John arrived in San Jose (he resided in Washington), Halcyon sent him to Bright Futures Recovery (BFR) for detox. The family paid another $5,000 to BFR. After seven days of “detoxing” at BFR, John walked into his bedroom at BFR, took a belt and hung himself in his closet.

Plaintiff contended that John had been addicted to “Benzos” for about four years and had been to five detox programs, but relapsed after each one. In July 2015, John had his last relapse before going to Redwood (Halcyon). His wife Cindy believed that she needed more help in getting John to stop relapsing. Plaintiff contended that John and Jan informed Redwood of John’s extensive psychiatric history, suicidal ideations, hospitalizations and the medications he was taking, including Remeron (for depression); and that Redwood informed Jan and John that John would be perfect for its rehabilitation program. When John arrived at Redwood on August 15, 2015, he was taken to Bright Futures Recovery (BFR) for detox because Redwood did not offer medically assisted (taper) detox, which John needed before he could start actual rehab. At the time, BFR had only been open for 6 weeks and was owned and operated by Cheree Davila who was 25 years old and a former addict who had been treated at Redwood.

Plaintiff contended that BFR detox had an inexperienced staff, minimal supervision of clients, no withdrawal assessments, no treatment planning, no higher level of care policy, and no suicide assessments. Plaintiff further contended that BFR was so badly run that Davila did not even know that one of the risks of mismanaging a detox was that a client might commit suicide. John was taken to the ER three times in five days for Benzo withdrawal because BFR never assessed the extent of John’s withdrawal, failed to have John properly medicated because BFR was keeping the prescribing MD, Dr. Stephen Stein (prescribing the taper meds) uninformed about John’s condition, and that the facility failed to give John his depression meds. On August 22, 2015, between 7 a.m. and 12 p.m., BFR staff left John unchecked and untreated. At 12 p.m., Davila went looking for John and found him hanging by a belt in his bedroom closet. After John died, the family learned that Redwood was really Narconon, Scientology’s version of detox/rehab. Plaintiffs sued Narconon because John was obviously unfit for Narconon given that its program had no psychiatry staff and was not based on traditional medicine. Narconon also referred John to BFR. Plaintiffs sued BFR for numerous reasons, including, but not limited to keeping John in withdrawal through withdrawal mismanagement and leaving John alone unchecked and untreated for the five hours leading up to his death.

Halcyon contended that John arrived at their rehab facility in the early morning, slept for about five hours, and then was taken to Dr. Stein, a private practitioner who contracts independently for both Halcyon and BFR; that Dr. Stein recommended that John receive his detox treatment at a facility like BFR, and that Dr. Stein prescribed phenobarbital as a “tapering” medication while John detoxed; that John was then transported to BFR; and that because John spent only eight hours at Halcyon before he went to BFR, and since he did not complete the program, the treatment fee was refunded to his family. Halcyon further claimed that it fully disclosed the program to John and Jan through its website and contract; that John and Jan signed the contracts disclosing the program, and that Halcyon sent John to Dr. Stephen Stein who referred John to BFR and who approved the detox level of care for John (non-medical residential detox), which was BFR’s level of care.

Halcyon and BFR claimed that, had they known John had revealed a plan to kill himself with a gun, they never would have accepted John as a client. BFR claimed that they sent John to the ER three times, and that John was assessed for suicide each time and the ER cleared John each time to return to BFR. BFR claimed Dr. Stein approved John to detox at BFR; that on August 17, BFR contacted Dr. Stein about John’s increased anxiety and that Dr. Stein adjusted John’s meds accordingly. BFR claimed that they set up an appointment for John to go back to Dr. Stein on 8/20 (2 days before John hung himself), but John refused to go. BFR claimed they were constantly monitoring John since the facility was very small, staff was always in the facility, and there were only four clients at BFR during that week. BFR introduced a lot of John’s prior records showing previous suicidal ideations, lack of family support, non-compliance with doctors’ orders and failed rehabs. BFR and Narconon claimed John had a poor prognosis and a shortened life expectancy given his addiction, repeated relapses, lack of family support and untreated PTSD. (When John was in the Coast Guard, he witnessed three of his friends drown).

Injuries and Other Damages
Wrongful death damages claimed by Cindy, Carely and Chelsea Cunningham.

Demands and Offers
Plaintiff 998 Demand: BFR: $1,000,000 (policy limits); Narconon: $1,000,000 (policy limits).
Defendant 998 Offer: BFR: $350,000; Narcanon: $100,000.

Jury Verdict: $11,000,000

Additional Information
The case appears to have been resolved in early 2020, and the information contained herein has only been obtained via internet sources and basic information from the court.

Lovejoy v. Santa Cruz Transportation, LLC, et al,
Case No. 18CV01126

Plaintiff Counsel: Tyson Wiles of Wiles & Wiles LLP, Dan Schaar and Eva Silva of Carpenter, Zuckerman and Rowley.

Defense Counsel: Phillip Segal and Cassady Toles of Kern Segal & Murray.

Trial Judge: Hon. Paul Burdick

Facts and Background
This case involved a taxi cab that ran a red light and collided with Plaintiff at 35 miles per hour. Liability was stipulated three months before trial. Plaintiff suffered a two-level cervical discectomy, left shoulder surgery, and radio frequency ablation in her low back.

Demands and Offers
Plaintiff’s 998 offer March 2019: $499,999.99
Defendant’s 998 offer August 2019: $250,000.00


Verdict: $1,510,000.00 ($550,000.00 past non-economic & $960,000.00 future non-economic)

Plaintiff: Dr. Christopher David Summa, M.D., M.B.A
Defense: Dr. David Bradshaw, M.D.

Additional Information
Plaintiff’s claims were limited to non-economic past and future pain and suffering damages only.

Kiner v. Zero Motorcycle, Inc.
Case No. CV182261

Plaintiff Counsel: Daniel Dell’ Osso

Defense Counsel: Nandor Krause

Trial Judge: Hon. Paul Burdick

Facts and Background
This was a product liability case in which Plaintiff alleged that a poorly designed and manufactured cast aluminum foot peg on a Zero Electric motorcycle failed during a demonstration ride,
causing the 71-year-old driver to lose control of the bike, cross the center line of Granite Creek road, and collide head-on with a pick-up truck. The rider, Mr. Yelensky, was fatally injured and was survived by his adult daughter (50) for whom he was providing no economic support. The verdict was for non-economic losses only.

Offers and Demands
Plaintiffs 998 Demand: $999,999
Defendants 998 Offer: $475,000

Verdict, for past and future non-economic losses $1,008,000.00 ($360,000 past noneconomic losses; $648,000 future noneconomic losses).

Plaintiff: Mark Shattuck, Ph.D. Accident Reconstruction and Biomechanics; John William Morris, Ph.D.: Materials and Metallurgy; Randy Nelson: Motorcycle Handling
Defense: Shane Kennett, PhD.: Metallurgy; Kirsten White: Accident Reconstruction

Additional Information
In a key ruling, the Judge excluded certain aspects of testing done by a defense expert because the expert was unable to establish that the foot pegs he tested were substantially similar to the foot pegs on the motorcycle Mr. Yelensky was riding at the time of the crash.

Elayne Higbee v. William “Cal” Deason
Case No. 17CV02468

Plaintiff Counsel: David Spini and Sam Forbes-Roberts.

Defense Counsel: Ian Fraser-Thomson / Arlen Litman-Cleper of Cesari, Werner & Moriarty, APC.

Trial Judge: Hon. Timothy Schmal

Facts and Background
Plaintiff claimed she sustained a significant Lis franc foot fracture after stepping into a pothole caused by erosion on County property adjacent to property owned by Defendant, and regarding which Plaintiff claimed Defendant encroached by extending into the County right-of-way. Plaintiff underwent two surgeries and claimed she would require two future surgeries. Plaintiff alleged that Defendant controlled the location where the erosion was located. Defendant contended that he did not own, possess, or control the area where Plaintiff was injured. Defendant further contended that Plaintiff was alcohol impaired at the time of her fall, and that Plaintiff had knowledge of the erosion area’s existence for multiple years prior to her fall.

Demands and Offers
Plaintiff’s counsel refused to mediate unless the $300,000 policy limits were offered. Plaintiff filed a 998 Demand for $300,000 and Defendant filed a 998 Offer for $200,000. Defendant eventually offered to pay the $300,000 policy limit prior to the first witness being sworn at trial. Plaintiff demanded $750,000 prior to trial and asked jurors to award her $2.1 million dollars. Defendant offered to pay Plaintiff his insurance policy limits of $300,000 prior to trial.

Findings included that Cal Deason, the insured, controlled the area of plaintiff’s fall; Cal Deason was negligent in the maintenance of his property; Cal Deason’s negligence was a substantial factor in plaintiff’s injury; Plaintiff was negligent; and
Plaintiff’s negligence was a substantial factor in her injury.

Plaintiff’s past economic damages: $25,000;
Plaintiff’s future economic damages: $70,000;
Plaintiff’s (non-economic) past pain and mental suffering: $205,000;
Plaintiff’s (non-economic) future pain and mental suffering: $200,000.

Comparative fault:
a. William Cal Deason 50%
b. Plaintiff Higbee 50%

Plaintiff’s total damages: $500,000 reduced to $250,000.

Plaintiff: Vincent Marino, MD; Tate Kubose, MD; Jeff Nielsen P.L.S; Daniel Dykman P.E, G.E.
Defense: Olin Edmundson, P.L.S; Keith Donato, MD; Robert Post PhD (no experts testified at trial).

Additional Information
The Judge refused to instruct jurors to apportion fault to the County based on Dangerous Condition on Public Property and refused the defense request to include the County on the verdict form.

Christiopher Tuosto v. John Glina, et al
Case No. 17CV00265

Plaintiff Counsel: Lisa Flint; Michael Moran.

Defense counsel: Barry Marsh

Trial Judge: Hon. Paul Burdick

Additional Information
Out-of-town counsel has not provided additional information about this case.

Jeymmy Alphonso v. Garrett Hossfeld
Case No. 18CV00253

Plaintiff Counsel: Deborah Heller, Law Office of Ben Glen

Defense Counsel: Jon Heaberlin, Rankin | Stock | Heaberlin law firm.

Trial Judge: Hon. Syda Cogliati

Facts and Background
This was a personal injury case arising out of a motor vehicle collision that occurred when defendant driver made an unprotected left turn in front of the vehicle in which plaintiff was
a passenger. Plaintiff suffered TMJ injuries.

Plaintiff: Charles Syers, DDS (ret’d from UCSF) and Donald Missirlian, DDS of San Francisco.
Defense: Craig Pettengill, DDS (South Bay) and David Hatcher, dental radiologist from Sacramento.

Offers and Demands
Plaintiff: $250,000 pre-trial.
Defendant: $50,000 and $65,000 during trial, but withdrawn quickly.

Defense verdict. The jury decided the defendant driver was not negligent in making his left turn.

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