Neighbor denied negligence for leaky water heater
|Negligent Assembly or Installation, Premises Liability - Dangerous Condition, Slips, Trips & Falls - Slip and Fall, Products Liability - Manufacturing Defect|
|Virginia Baltierra v. Virginia Underwood, Bellegrove Homeowners Association, and Bradford White Corporation, No. GC046593|
|Superior Court of Los Angeles County, Pasadena, CA|
|C. Edward Simpson
- Bruce M. Brusavich; Agnew & Brusavich; Torrance, CA, for Virginia Baltierra
- Christopher R. Baker; Law Office of Christopher R. Baker; Beverly Hills, CA, for Bradford White Corporation
- Barry J. Reagan; Slaughter & Reagan, LLP; Ventura, CA, for Bellegrove Homeowners Association
- Jay T. Rubin; Mark R. Weiner & Associates; Glendale, CA, for Virginia Underwood
- self-insured Bradford White Corporation
- State Farm Insurance Cos. for Virginia Underwood and Bellegrove Homeowners Association
On Jan. 13, 2010, plaintiff Virginia Baltierra, 65, a retiree, awoke in her first floor condominium at the Bellegrove complex in Pasadena and discovered extensive water damage coming from the ceiling. The water came from a leaking electric water heater located on the patio of a third floor tenant, Virginia Underwood. Baltierra subsequently called the fire department and headed outside when she heard the siren. After exiting her unit, she slipped and fell on a riverstone surface, injuring her left leg and lower back.
Baltierra sued Underwood and Bellegrove Homeowners Association, as well as the manufacturer of the water heater, Bradford White Corp. She alleged that Underwood and Bellegrove were negligent in the installation of the water heater, that Bellgrove was also negligent in the design of the condominium and that Bradford was negligent in the manufacturing of the water heater. Baltierra further claimed that the defendants' negligence created a dangerous condition.
Baltierra claimed that the subject water heater was defective and negligently installed on Underwood's patio. The plaintiff's safety expert testified that the Building Code required a drain pan for the heater to pump into, but that it was never installed. Thus, Baltierra claimed that Underwood was responsible for the contractor that negligently installed the heater. She further claimed that the riverstones used in the common area where she slipped were a slipping hazard when combined with her shoes that had become wet from the water damage.
Bellegrove and Bradford both reached confidential settlements with Baltierra, prior to trial. The matter subsequently proceeded to trial against Underwood only.
Underwood contended that she did not need a drain pan for the heater since it was located outside on the patio. She claimed that she acted reasonably in hiring a contractor and plumber for the installation of the heater, and that it wasn't her fault the contractor didn't realize the heater did not slope away from the building, which was what caused the water damage. In addition, Underwood claimed that Baltierra's shoes should have been dry by the time she reached the riverstone surface, since she walked over her carpeted living room that was not damaged by the water.
The trial was bifurcated. Therefore, damages were not before the court.
Baltierra was taken by ambulance to an emergency room and then transferred to Kaiser Permanente in Pasadena. She sustained a fractured of the left femur, for which she had a pre-existing rod removed. Baltierra underwent an arthroplasty (replacement) of her left knee, with the insertion of a new rod. She then followed up with physical therapy. Baltierra also claimed an aggravation of a longstanding lower back condition, consisting of a herniation and arthritic stenosis, and subsequently underwent a lumbar laminectomy at L4-5 over a year after the accident.
Baltierra claimed that while her back condition had mostly resolved, she still experiences residual left knee pain and discomfort, requiring the use of a cane. She alleged that as a result, she is limited in walking, shopping and playing with her grandchildren.
Thus, Baltierra claimed roughly $300,000 in total medical costs and would have sought recovery of damages for her past and future pain and suffering.
Defense counsel conceded to Baltierra's femur fracture, but would have argued that the plaintiff's lower back injury and subsequent treatment were due to a pre-existing injury and unrelated to the slip and fall.
The jury found that Underwood was negligent, but that her negligence did not cause Baltierra's damages. Thus, it rendered a defense verdict.
Plaintiff's counsel will file a motion for a new trial.
This report is based on information that was provided by plaintiff's and defense counsel.