Case Barnett Law Featured in the Daily Journal- Personal Injury: Premises Liability Settlement

Screen Shot 2015-12-02 at 11.34.18 AMVERDICTS & SETTLEMENTS

Friday, November 20, 2015

PERSONAL INJURY

PREMISES LIABILITY

Dangerous Condition

SETTLEMENT: $3,800,00.00

COURT/DATE: Riverside Superior/Aug. 10, 2015

JUDGE: Hon. John Vineyard

ATTORNEYS: Plaintiff- Case C. Barnett, Case Barnett Law Corporation, Schumann Rosenberg, Defendant- Daley & Heft LLP

FACTS: Audio/Visual technician Scharf, 58, volunteered to install electrical wiring at his church Calvary Chapel Temecula Valley, in Temecula.  On January 25,2005, Scharf fell off the top of a wall as he was trying to install cable and wiring inside the church.

PLAINTIFFS’ CONTENTIONS: Plaintiffs contended that defendant church and Pastor Nelson were negligent in their operation and management of a construction project at the church. Plaintiff claimed that because of the mismanagement of the project, Scharf was left alone on a Sunday night on a short timeline without adequate tools or supplies to complete the project he was requested to perform.

Plaintiff’s wife allegedly found her husband lying unconscious on the floor with blood and cerebral spinal fluid around his head. The Scharfs sued the church, the officer and director of the church, the owner of the premises, and the general contractor and its owner under various negligence causes of action as well as promissory estoppel and loss of consortium.

DEFENDANTS’ CONTENTIONS: Defendants contended that Scharf was negligent while performing the installation work.

INJURIES: Scharf claimed he fractured his skull, nose, and knee and broke several bones in his shoulder. He was in a coma for approximately three weeks. Plaintiff underwent knee replacement surgery. Plaintiff was later diagnosed with brain injury. The injury allegedly triggered a server mood disorder that was accompanied by psychosis, intense anger and paranoia. Scharf also allegedly showed symptoms of dementia.

RESULT: The jury found Calvary Chapel Temecula Valley and Nelson 49 percent liable and Scharf 51 percent liable.

The parties settled for $3.8 million prior to the damages phase of trial. The breakdown of damages included $2 million for life care and planning and $1.8 million for pain and suffering.

Advertisements

Can I Sue If I Was Hurt Or Injured Volunteering?

Scharf v. Calvary Chapel-Traumatic Brain Injury Settlement Won by Case Barnett Law Corporation

​Verdict: Church Found 49% Responsible

Settlement: 3.8 Million Dollars-

Churches must acknowledge the pastor/congregant dynamic and ensure that the desires of their followers to serve the church, doesn’t overcome safety precautions. CACI 401 discusses the basic standard of care in negligence cases. The last line instructs the jury, “You must decide how a reasonably careful person would have acted in defendant’s situation.” The key part of the instruction is in defendant’s situation.

Screen Shot 2015-11-24 at 3.48.58 PM
January 25, 2005, Dennis Scharf, a low voltage electrician had volunteered to run low voltage electrical for his church as part of a church remodel. On Sunday, Dennis arrived at church to be told by the head pastor that there was still work left to be completed, and the work must be completed that night. Mr. Scharf, feeling the pressure to please his church, his pastor and his God, spent the evening completing the job. Dennis ended up falling from a wall of approximately 12 feet, landing on his head suffering a serious traumatic brain injury. After clawing his way back from he edge of death, Dennis Scharf still suffered from serious cognitive and emotional deficits.

After more than eight years of litigation Case Barnett Law took the reigns of this case in 2013. We decided to change the theory of the case to better reflect the true shortcomings of the church and its lead pastor. We argued:

1) The reasonable person standard of CACI 401 means a reasonable pastor needs to acknowledge and account for his influence in the Church.

2) A reasonable pastor needs to ensure that his congregants are not unnecessarily exposing themselves to harm for the betterment of the Church.

3) A volunteer is an employee and should be protected by Cal-Osha standards.

4) A church assumes the responsibility for the safety of a worksite, when they choose not to hire licensed individuals.

The third issue would have meant that any Cal-Osha violations by the Church would have made them strictly liable for any injuries suffered by Dennis Scharf because of those violations. Ultimately, the court found that Dennis Scharf, as a volunteer was not a statutory employee and therefor not entitled to the protections of Cal-Osha. This issue is novel, as there are no cases directly on point. But, theoretically, if you have an individual, performing work that requires a license, and that individual does not have a license, then that individual becomes an employee pursuant to labor code section 2750.5. But, the court found that a volunteer, who is unpaid, does not get those protections (while someone paid, who is unlicensed, would get the protections).

Ultimately, the jury found that the general negligence of the church and pastor under theories 1, 2 and 4. The church had received a quote to get the work done for $35,000. The Church choose to With this decision, the Church assumed responsibility for the safe construction of the Church.

The defense in the case moved to bifurcate liability and damages. At first, we opposed the motion under the general theory that plaintiffs want the liability and damages issue to buttress each other. After further consideration, we withdrew our opposition to the motion, and decided that a jury would be more likely to put a greater liability on the church, if the amount the plaintiff was claiming in recover was not before the jury.

After 2 weeks of trial, a Riverside jury returned a liability verdict against the Church finding Dennis Scharf 51% responsible, and the Church and the Pastor 49% responsible.

The insurance company had rejected multiple offers to settle this case at or below the policy limits of $1million. Facing a potential substantial verdict, the insurance company came to the table willing to negotiate.

Rather than spend several more years in litigation regarding this case, and then trying to collect against the insurance company in a bad faith claim, plaintiffs agreed to settle all claims for $3.8 million. This settlement was nothing short of a miracle given that the case had been thrown out on appeal and the highest defense offer was $200,000.

If you have been injured in an accident contact Case Barnett Law for a free consultation.