Intoxicated Plaintiff Wins $38 Million Verdict for a Fall He Cannot Remember

Britney Buscaglia

On November 16, 2008, Plaintiff James Von Normann, a 25-year-old salesman, was found laying in the parking lot of the Newport Channel Inn in Newport Beach, California. Paramedics found Plaintiff unresponsive with a score of nine on the Glasgow Coma Scale, which rates patients on a scale from 1-15 based on scores in three categories: eye opening response, verbal response and motor response. Patients with scores between two and eight are usually considered to be in a coma.1 Plaintiff was transported to Western Medical Center in Santa Ana with a skull fracture and severe traumatic brain injuries. There, hospital physicians ordered a blood draw which revealed Plaintiff’s blood alcohol content to be .267 - more than three times the legal limit for driving while intoxicated.

Although Plaintiff had checked out of the Newport Channel Inn before the fall, he remained on the premises for reasons unknown. When Plaintiff woke up from the coma three weeks later, he had no memory of what had happened. There were no witnesses to how plaintiff ended up in the parking lot. As a result, Plaintiff’s counsel had to rely on circumstantial evidence to prove his case against Defendant, Newport Channel Inn.

Plaintiff alleged that the hotel was negligent in the maintenance of its property, claiming that Plaintiff fell from a second floor balcony where the railing was eight inches too low, in violation of California codes. A biomechanical expert testified that certain shin abrasions and ankle bruising found on Plaintiff could have only happened by scraping the skin over a railing. Other experts testified that Plaintiff’s skull fractures were consistent with falling from a height, rather than a simple trip and fall.

Defendant claimed that Plaintiff’s injuries were caused by a ground-level fall due to his own intoxication. To support this point, an expert in kinesiology (the scientific study of human movement) testified that a fall from a second story building would necessarily have involved more than just skull fractures. Further, Defendant noted that the only blood found at the scene was on a first floor walkway, several feet away from the point on the balcony from which Plaintiff claimed he fell.

The jury found for the plaintiff, holding the Defendant 85% responsible for the Plaintiff’s skull fractures, severe traumatic brain injury and the resulting dementia. The jury awarded $38,628,127 in total damages, which was reduced to $32,833,908 to account for Plaintiff’s 15% comparative fault.
VERDICT: $38,628,127
ACTUAL: $32,833,908
COURT: Superior Court of Orange County, California

1 Russ Rowlett, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, How Many? A Dictionary of Units of Measurement, (July 31, 2001), http://www.unc.edu/~rowlett/units/scales/glasgow.htm

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