Family seeking $22 million for KSBY manager’s death
August 12, 2014
By JOSH FRIEDMAN
The family of a KSBY sales manager who was struck and killed by a vehicle in Shell Beach is seeking $22 million in damages.
On Nov. 19, 2011, Tricia Rittger parked in a lot across from the Cliff’s Resort. While she was crossing Shell Beach Road on her way to meet friends at the resort, the vehicle struck and killed her.
Rittger’s husband Aaron Rittger filed a lawsuit on behalf of the family against the City of Pismo Beach and the Cliffs Resort, claiming his wife’s death could have been prevented had the resort owners adhered to a conditional use permit that limited parking. The city settled with Rittger’s family, paying out $1.5 million, even though Pismo Beach officials said they did not believe the city was liable for the death.
The Cliffs Resort, though, has gone to trial with Rittger’s family, and the case is ongoing in San Luis Obispo Superior Court. Aaron Rittger is requesting that the jury vote to award the family $22 million for funeral costs, loss of income, court costs and general damages.
Last week, a witness in the trial testified that Rittger was walking with her head bowed and her arms bent in front of her just prior to the crash. Alicia Lewis, who was walking behind Rittger when the accident occurred, said it looked like Rittger was text messaging at the time of the accident.
On Thursday, Judge Barry LaBarbera officially admitted two photos of the victim’s cell phone, taken after the accident, as evidence in the trial. The photos of Rittger’s phone display a text message conversation with the friend she was meeting at the club.
The text conversation between Rittger and Sarah Johnson, Rittger’s friend, began at 6:49 p.m. on the evening of the accident. A Pismo Beach dispatcher received the 911 call regarding the accident about one minute later at 6:50 p.m.
At 6:49 p.m., Johnson texted Rittger, “We just got here.”
Her next message, which was incomplete and never sent, said, “I’m walking across,” according to photos submitted to the court.
Johnson then messaged Rittger twice after the accident, unaware of what had occurred.
At 7:01 p.m., Johnson wrote, “Are you okay?”
At 7:15 p.m., Johnson texted, “I’m starting to worry. :(“.
An attorney for Rittger’s family argued that the Cliffs Resort is at fault for Rittger’s death because the hotel violated its conditional use permit.
A small parking lot intended for employee use is located on the east side of Shell Beach Road, across from the hotel. When the Cliffs first opened in the 1980s, it received a conditional use permit from the city that only allowed hotel employees to park in the eastern lot.
Ryan Harris, the plaintiff’s attorney, claims the Cliffs put Rittger in danger by allowing her to park her car in the prohibited lot, which required her to cross Shell Beach Road where there is no crosswalk or warning sign.
Darren Epps, the attorney representing the Cliffs, is arguing that crossing Shell Beach Road does not actually pose much danger. Epps summoned a traffic engineer who backed his claim and has contended that the city did not view the crossing as a danger, either.
For years, city officials did not enforce the conditional use permit requirements. In several letters sent to the city requesting to know if the resort was in compliance with its zoning and conditional use permit requirements, city officials responded with letters that either noted no issues or in one case an issue with a walkway to the beach.
Additionally, city officials considered putting in a crosswalk on Shell Beach Road but deemed it unnecessary, a former city engineer testified.
Some resort employees admitted to bypassing hotel policy and parking their cars in the resort’s main lot. At times, that resulted in visitors being “forced” to use of the restricted lot, Rittger’s attorney said.
The trial resumes at 10 a.m. Tuesday. Rittger’s attorney has already rested his case, and Epps is expected to conclude his case Tuesday.
It is unclear whether jurors will reach a verdict in the next few days because LaBarbera is scheduled to be absent from court for much of the week.
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