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Founding Partner Jeffrey S. Behar obtained a Defense Verdict in a “All or Nothing/Bet the Farm” Jury Trial

Mr. Behar was recently engaged in a classic “All or Nothing/Bet the Farm” wrongful death and catastrophic injury jury trial in the Los Angeles Superior Court.  The case involved an inflammatory set of facts involving the contact of an aerial boom lift into overhead high voltage power lines resulting in the electrocution death of the decedent which was captured by live videotape and shown to the jury.

Despite a multi-million dollar excess policy limits demand in a case involving a wrongful death and catastrophic injuries with overwhelming sympathy involved (“the most unnatural human act is for a parent to have to bury their own child”), Mr. Behar received a defense verdict.

FACTS

Wrongful death electrocution case.  The accident happened at a tow yard in Watts, Southeast Los Angeles. Mr. Behar represented AT&T, the owner of a cell tower on the tow yard property and Vinculums, the company which was using a boom lift to service the cell tower.  At the end of each workday, and at the end of the job, the work crew would remove the keys from the ignition and place them in the concealed engine compartment on top of the fuel tank.  This was despite being instructed by our own job foreman to the crew to take the keys home with them at night.  Also, during the 3-week project, there were signs of tire tracks that should have placed the crew on notice that someone was using the boom lift at night without authority.

On the evening of the accident, the sons of the tow yard owner, plaintiff’s decedent, age 22, and his brother, age 15, took the boom lift to trim an overgrown tree on the property. In the dark, the decedent’s brother was leaning out pulling the tree branches back with one hand while holding his cellphone flash to illuminate the control panel with the other. The decedent had one hand on the joystick while hacking away at the tree limbs with a machete with the other.

Decedent was not aware that the overhead, energized power lines were in close proximity to the top of the tree. He elevated the boom into the 34,000 volt power lines and was electrocuted. His body was on fire as his brother attempted to put out the flames emanating from his head. Then the brother jumped 30 ‘ off the boom onto the adjacent roof to save himself sustaining blow out fractures to both legs.

The father heard the explosion and ran out to the boom lift trying to turn it off and nearly electrocuted himself. He was forced to watch as his son burned to death.

The entire incident, including multiple explosions as the boom continues to bounce up into the power lines, was captured by a nearby security camera and shown to the jury.

Plaintiffs’ experts testified that the insured defendant was in violation of its own IIPP safety manual and in violation of Cal OSHA and ANSI regulations.

The defense was that plaintiffs had no right or permission to use the boom lift and essentially stole it. They were unqualified and untrained to operate a 26,000 pound piece of sophisticated machinery.

Additionally, Mr. Behar called a mechanic engineer who examined the ignition switch and found it was damaged which suggested that the decedent may have used a screwdriver, instead of the key, to jimmy the ignition to start the lift that evening.

DAMAGES

Parents sue for wrongful death of their son. The brother sued for Dillon v Legg emotional distress and for his own injuries.

The case involved a 4-week trial with 32 witnesses called, including 12 experts. The trial received some press coverage.

RESULT

Plaintiffs asserted a pre-trial policy limits demand of $16 million, which was declined. Subsequently, the plaintiffs’ attorney made a global demand of $40 million. In closing argument, plaintiffs’ attorney asks the jury to award $60 million.

In his 1 ½ hour closing, Mr. Behar asked the jury for a defense verdict.

Jury was in deliberations for 3 hours. Jury returned a defense verdict!