Recent Firm News

Heavy Lyfting

Partners Christopher Beeman and Ashley Meyers obtained a Defense Verdict after a month long jury trial in Sacramento, California. The jury found that the accident, which resulted in the deaths of two passengers using the Lyft rideshare application, was 100% the result of the negligence of co‐defendants Lyft and its driver.

On December 27, 2017, 22‐year‐old Wyatt Zmrzel contacted Lyft for a ride home for himself and his uncle. The Lyft ridesharing app matched Zmrzel with Lyft driver Rafiullah Amiri. Amiri was supposed to drive Zmrzel from Downtown Sacramento to his home in Loomis. The fastest route would have been via I‐80 East. For unknown reasons, Amiri went Northbound on Highway 99. At approximately 10:30 the Amiri/Lyft van was in the median at Highway 99 and West Catlett Road facing Westbound. Our client was driving Southbound on Highway 99 at 82 MPH in a 65 MPH zone. She saw the van in the median at some distance but believed that it was waiting for her to pass. As she neared the exit for West Catlett Road, the Amiri/Lyft van began to roll into the Southbound lanes of Highway 99 at a slow speed. At two seconds before the collision, Amiri accelerated, placing his van directly into her path of travel in the number 2 lane. The two vehicles collided.

Wyatt Zmrzel died a half hour after the collision. Lyft and Amiri both alleged that our clients’ speed was the cause of the accident, relying heavily on the testimony of their retained accident reconstruction expert. We presented an accident reconstructionist who explained that the key time period to look at was the two seconds before impact when the Lyft driver accelerated, and that, with that small of a window, it would not have mattered if our client was travelling the speed limit because she did not have enough time to avoid the fatal collision.

The jury rejected the arguments regarding our client’s speed and found that while she was negligent, her negligence was not a substantial factor in causing the accident. Plaintiffs asked the jury for an award of $35 million. Lyft suggested an award of $3 million. The jury verdict was for $6 million against Lyft and Amiri solely. The verdict was an emotional one for our client who now has closure following a traumatic accident and very lengthy litigation.

When Clapp l Moroney Speaks, People Listen

Matt Constantino was a panelist at the Association of Defense Counsel of Northern California and Nevada’s Annual Construction Litigation Seminar in Walnut Creek. Matt’s topic was “Strategies in Defending HOA Claims” and he presented from the perspective of the developer and general contractor. The presentation was videotaped by the ADC and is available on their website.

Victory is our client’s!

Senior Partner Chris Scheley and Associate Kirill Devyatov prevailed on a Motion for Summary Judgment in a premises liability action filed against our client and his three brothers in Sonoma County. The plaintiff (a real estate agent) was voluntarily assisting the Defendant brothers in painting their property, when he fell from a self-supporting A-frame ladder provided by one of the brothers. Plaintiff claimed that he fell because the Defendants failed to protect against harm and failed to discharge their duty by failing to hold the ladder plaintiff fell from. His wife sought loss of consortium damages.

In oral argument, Chris and Kirill convinced the judge that plaintiff did not produce any evidence establishing that holding the ladder or not holding it would have made any difference in the ladder’s stability, and that there was no evidence establishing a causal link between the Defendant brothers’ conduct and the plaintiff’s fall.

Chris Scheley recently prevailed on a motion for summary judgment in a wrongful death case involving a staircase collapse at an apartment complex that killed a young man in his mid-20’s. The plaintiffs alleged that our client, a sub-contractor hired to repair the staircases at the apartment complex two weeks prior to the incident, were responsible for failing to inspect and shore-up the subject stairway and demanded $2,000,000 to settle their claim on behalf of the man’s parents and friends who were present during incident and were seeking emotional distress damages.

The case was transferred to Chris Scheley by the carrier after prior counsel was reluctant to proceed with a MSJ. Chris successfully argued that our client was instructed to complete repairs on another building as a “sample” by the property manager before proceeding onto the other buildings and, as a matter of law, the evidence showed that our client did not control the subject building or owe a legal duty to either the deceased or his friends

The Trifecta

Chris Beeman and Team picked three juries in three counties over the last third of 2018.

A construction site injury trial (plaintiff was an inspector who almost lost his foot due to an exploding underground line) in Santa Clara settled favorably before opening statements when Paulo Kline Simon convinced the trial judge to exclude plaintiff’s seven figure diminution of earning capacity claim. No money was paid by our general contractor client. In Kern County, we substituted in three months before trial of a high speed motor vehicle collision case with conceded liability and a long-expired $1 million policy limits demand. With multi-million dollar life care plans and future lost wage claims black boarded for the spinal injury, Plaintiff asked the jury to award $6.3 million dollars. The net award to plaintiff was $460,000, with post-trial motions pending. Finally, with Adrianne Duncan as second chair, in Alameda County we defended a convenience store owner who was sued when a security guard shot and killed an unarmed Hispanic male over a parking dispute. The policy limits of $4 million were demanded pre-trial by the lawyers representing the surviving parents and son of the decedent, and in closing arguments the jury was asked to award at least $5 million. The net award to plaintiffs was a total of $690,000.

All told, the “asks” for these three cases totaled $15 million, and our clients ended up paying just over $1 million… A winning ticket!

Vucinich Throws a No-Hit Double Header!

After a four week jury trial, Founding Partner Jeff Vucinich obtained a defense verdict in Alameda County Superior Court on behalf of an East Bay municipality. Plaintiff claimed that he was injured while riding his bicycle across a highway overpass and was struck from behind by a motor vehicle. The road had been designated by the municipality as a bicycle route. Plaintiff claimed that the roadway was a dangerous condition and that the designation of a bicycle route across the overpass contributed to the incident. As a result of the incident, plaintiff sustained a severe brain injury. Plaintiff presented past and future economic damages of nearly $4 million and requested a jury verdict of $14.5 million. The jury unanimously reached a verdict in favor of our client, and found the driver of the motor vehicle 100% at fault.

Later that same day, the firm was pleased to learn that Jeff Vucinich had prevailed in a court trial that took place a few months prior, also venued in Alameda County. In this case, the buyers and sellers in a real estate transaction entered into a contract for the purchase of a home in a local Bay Area city. When the sale fell through, the Buyers sued our clients, the Sellers, for breach of contract; breach of the implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing; conversion; negligence; interference with tenants’ rights; and trespass. Through motion practice prior to trial, Jeff persuaded the judge to dismiss all of the plaintiffs’ claims except for breach of the implied covenant of good faith. At trial, Jeff used a combination of key documentary and oral evidence to argue that the Sellers did not act in “bad faith” in the performance of this contract. Jeff noted that the Buyers put on a compelling and sympathetic case and sought damages of over $875,000. The Court took the matter under submission and returned judgment in favor of the Sellers.

To top it off, Jeff also successfully obtained a dismissal by way of motion under the doctrine of qualified immunity for a local city Police Department that was sued for injuries caused by the accidental discharge of a weapon wherein the bullet struck an individual in the heart and remains lodged there to this date. The original demand in the case was $3,000,000. A motion to dismiss under the doctrine of qualified immunity was granted and recently upheld by the Federal Court of Appeals.

He is a Cy Young candidate

Breaking Good

Chris Beeman and Ashley Meyers recently won a motion for Nonsuit in Napa County Superior Court. The case involved an allegation of negligent property management against our firm’s client, whose adult son was using and selling methamphetamines and was involved in burglarizing and then burning down the Plaintiffs’ vacation home in Napa.

Our client lived with her adult son at a home owned by her parents. Plaintiffs argued that the Defendant was acting as a property manager and that she had an obligation to investigate suspicions regarding her son’s drug use and possession of stolen property, which they allege was stored at her home where her son lived. Plaintiffs further contended that she had an obligation to either evict her son or to contact the police based on her suspicions. After the Plaintiffs’ case in chief, the Court rejected the Plaintiffs’ argument and granted the Motion for Nonsuit. The Court determined that no duty exists for property managers which would extend to crimes which occurred outside the managed property. The Court also found that, under the Rowland v. Christian factors, balancing the burden on the Defendant with the foreseeability of the injury, the burden on a parent to evict her adult child or to report him to the police was substantial and the act of residential burglary and arson were not adequately foreseeable to overcome that significant burden. Based on these factors, the Court determined that the Plaintiffs had not established the existence of a duty owed by the Defendant to the Plaintiffs, and dismissed their case.

TBI Case Results in a Non-Suit

In Kern County, Chris Beeman started 2019 off with a bang by obtaining a non-suit on behalf of his janitorial service client. The plaintiff’s slip and fall in a Save-Mart store was caught on video surveillance and documented his head bounding off the concrete floor. Counsel contended that her 61 year old client slipped in wax left on the floor by our firm’s client and presented evidence of a brain injury with residual deficits. The trial judge granted non-suit after 7 days of evidence due to the failure of proof that the foreign substance was present as a result of our client’s involvement.

We Hit the Trifecta!

Football: Traumatic Brain Injury
Chris Beeman and Paulo Kline Simon recently prevailed on a motion for summary judgment on behalf of their clients in a contentious traumatic brain injury involving a youth football player. The plaintiffs alleged that our clients, a football league and the opposing coach, were responsible for the cognitive injuries allegedly suffered by the plaintiff during the course of playing football in the league. Chris and Paulo successfully argued that, in the addition to the fact that the plaintiff had signed a bodily injury waiver prior to participating in the league, as a matter of law, the evidence showed that our clients’ conduct was within the bounds of normal play, and that the plaintiff assumed the risk of injury so long as our clients did not increase the normal risks associated with playing tackle football.

Construction Site Injury
In a construction accident case in which the plaintiff suffered a significant knee injury, Chris Beeman and Paulo Kline Simon accepted a voluntary dismissal with prejudice from the plaintiff after the plaintiff received our motion for summary judgment. The motion, made under the Privette doctrine, established that there was no evidence which could possibly allow a jury to find that our general contractor client was responsible for creating the dangerous condition that injured the plaintiff. After serving the motion for summary judgment and supporting evidence, the plaintiff immediately offered to dismiss the complaint against our client for a waiver of costs.

Social Host Immunity
After extensive oral argument, Chris Beeman and Adrianne Duncan prevailed on motions for summary judgment on behalf of their clients, who organized and hosted a Halloween Party for a group of mostly college-age guests at a private residence. A twenty year-old guest at the party consumed alcohol at the gathering and, hours after leaving the party, was involved in a drunk driving accident that killed one Caltrans worker and badly injured another.

Plaintiffs argued that the party hosts were liable because the driver became intoxicated at the party they hosted. Chris and Adrienne successfully argued that the party hosts were immune from liability pursuant to Civil Code§ 1714, and that their clients could not be stripped of this immunity because they did not sell alcohol to anyone at the party. The court found that the social hosts met their burden and proved that they were immune from liability. Conversely, Plaintiffs failed to prove that either of the statutory exceptions to civil immunity found in Bus. & Prof. Code, § 25602.1 applied.

Top Trial Advocates and Masters in Trial

Clapp Moroney has more practicing members of The American Board of Trial Advocates (ABOTA) San Francisco Chapter than any other firm that specializes in civil litigation defense. ABOTA is an esteemed, nomination-only trial lawyers’ group comprised of members who have extensive trial experience and great reputations for ethics and civility. Jeff Vucinich, Ted Scheley, and Chris Scheley are all members, and Chris Beeman is the Past-President of the San Francisco chapter and a Trustee of the ABOTA Foundation. All of our named partners who practice outside the Construction Defect arena are proud to be part of this great group of seasoned trial lawyers.

Efficient and Effective

Partner Paul Sheng and his associate Mary Kate O’Neill recently obtained a voluntary dismissal with prejudice on behalf of a restaurant owner defendant in a premises liability case filed in San Francisco County Superior Court. The Plaintiff alleged that she suffered severe injuries to her hamstring and knee, including a three-tendon proximal hamstring rupture after she fell while walking across a polished concrete surface. The injury required surgical repair, and Plaintiff claimed over $70,000 in lost income and earning capacity. Paul’s team filed a concise Motion for Summary Judgment demonstrating that the floor was not a dangerous condition. The day before the arbitration hearing, Plaintiff dismissed the case in exchange for a waiver of costs.