Smart & Final Inc. may go to trial in Los Angeles Superior Court over damages awarded to a woman who was injured when she tripped in a six-inch hole outside its Santa Monica Boulevard store.


The discount grocery store won a partial victory last month when an appellate panel discredited part of the testimony of Suzanne Wilson-Fellows' doctor. His testimony accounted for nearly half the jury's $97,000 award, according to its Nov. 30 opinion. But the 2nd Appellate panel also agreed that Wilson-Fellows should receive a new trial on the damages issue.


Wilson-Fellows sued the Commerce company after injuring her ankle, knee, shoulder, back and neck in a fall outside its store at 12210 Santa Monica Blvd., where a remodeling project was under way. In 2003, a Los Angeles Superior Court jury awarded her $96,886 in damages.


The jury allocated 10 percent of the fault to Wilson-Fellows, with the remaining liability split between Smart & Final and its contractors, J.H. Malven Construction Inc. and Malven & Sutton Corp., a now-defunct related company.


Of the jury's award, $45,000 was said to be for future neck surgery, court papers say. The figure was reached based on the testimony of Dr. Robert Audell, the orthopedic surgeon who treated Wilson-Fellows. After the verdict, Smart & Final asked the judge to reconsider that portion of the award on grounds that Audell had not seen Wilson-Fellows for more than a year when he testified at trial in September 2003.


The judge agreed to reduce the total award by $45,000, but only if Wilson-Fellows did not concede the reduction on her own. Wilson-Fellows stood by the initial award and appealed the reduced award, seeking a new trial.
The appellate panel agreed that Audell's testimony "was based not on medical evidence but on 'assumptions of fact without evidentiary support,'" the opinion states. But the panel also sent the case back to Los Angeles Superior Court to determine total damages.


Piper Pull


Piper Rudnick LLP's merger announcement last week likely has no immediate impact on the firm's Los Angeles offices but "it is a stepping stone in building L.A. into a significant law firm presence," said Jeffrey Rosenfeld, the firm's managing partner for Los Angeles.


On Jan. 1, Piper Rudnick will become DLA Piper Rudnick Gray Cary. It will be one of the largest firms in the world, with 2,700 lawyers in 18 countries and projected 2005 revenues of $1.5 billion. The new firm is the product of Piper Rudnick's proposed merger with London-based DLA LLP, announced last week.


In October, the firm announced a separate merger with Gray Cary Ware & Freidenrich LLP, based in Palo Alto. Neither of the firms with which Piper plans to merge has a Los Angeles office.


Hit Hard


A Sherman Oaks resident is asking a Los Angeles Superior Court judge to reconsider an earlier ruling that found his inattentiveness caused him to be struck by a car in West Hollywood, leading to brain injuries.


Jason Eli Sayers claims that the City of West Hollywood is liable because it is responsible for the poor lighting, obstructing foliage and a malfunctioning remote sensor lighting system designed to alert drivers of crosswalks. In a two-week trial, he submitted petitions from hundreds of pedestrians claiming the crosswalk at Sunset Boulevard and Alta Loma Road is dangerous, as well as documents acknowledging the intersection has been among the worst pedestrian crosswalks in West Hollywood.


In November, the trial judge said Sayers could have looked around any obstacles, such as parked cars, created by the design of the crosswalk.


Staff reporter Amanda Bronstad can be reached at (323) 549-5225, ext. 225, or at abronstad@labusinessjournal.com .

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