Family seeking $22 million for KSBY manager’s death

August 12, 2014

text cliffs 2By 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.

texts cliffsAt 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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Mr. Holly

Let;s do a little math here.


Funeral expense $8000

Lost wages (estimate) 21 years at $125,000 $2,650,000


Total costs of expenses and lost wages $3,450,000


Could the ambulance chaser please tell us how they came up wit a balance of $19.342,000?


Of Course their cut on a successful verdict is probably 50% which would account for

$11,000,000.


Kevin Rice

Easy. Punitives, special damages, pain and suffering…


OH, and ATTORNEY FEES. Don’t forget that one, of course! The most important of all.


3 putt

Punitives require fraud, oppression or malice. Not available here


The deceased’s pain and suffering are not available.


Attorneys fees are not an independent item of damage.


The big damages are for lost love, comfort and society.


kayaknut

One thing I wondered about, did she park across the street because that parking is closer to the cliffs and easier to get in and out of instead of the hotel parking on the same side? If so, this was her choice and not the hotels.


JMOpinion

And a big thank you to Cal Coast News for their continuously unbiased reporting of the news. Especially since this involved a KSBY employee, I don’t think the spin has been fair.


JMOpinion

I am hoping this makes it to trial, and the people finally make a statement against frivolous lawsuits and greedy attorneys. Shame on the family for allowing this woman’s life to be exploited by greed. Personal responsibility, people. I hope the jury has the balls to stand up and do the right thing.


Pelican1

Looking both ways before crossing wouldn’t have cost a dime, Instead, by not doing so, it cost a life and now $22million. How absurd indeed.


Mike Byrd

Suing for out of pocket expenses and perhaps lost income is one thing, but trying to take advantage of a tragedy in the family to become filthy rich is quite another. It diminishes and sympathy for this family’s loss.


Kevin Rice

OH GOOD GRIEF! It’s someone else’s fault to the tune of $22M because someone didn’t cross the street safely with due regard for their own welfare???


Isn’t Mattison the law firm behind this scam? That dude and his wife donate tens of thousands to all the WORST politicians in this county…. Hill, Caren Ray, etc.


Kevin Rice

Checked. Different ambulance chaser firm in this case. Same difference.


3 putt

Slander per se on both counts.


Jorge Estrada

Is it legal to use the system for extortion? Maybe that needs to be considered too?


OnTheOtherHand

I recognize that the ability to file lawsuits is needed to rein in the power of those who would use their economic power, political power and access to high-powered lawyers to screw others. However, this is a prime example of how the the mere threat of lawsuits can also be abused due to the cost of fighting them. Extortion is the correct word — maybe not legally but certainly in most people’s moral values.


I think that when a case like this goes to trial, the jury (or judge if no jury) should be allowed to declare a lawsuit to be a nuisance suit if they feel it has no significant merit.A countersuit by the defendants should then be permitted in such cases with damages to be found not only against the person filing the nuisance suit but also against any lawyers acting on his/her behalf. Maybe if those lawyers had a more significant risk from losing, they would be less inclined to recommend or even participate in such suits.


To make sure that individuals without lawyers (i.e. inmates) didn’t abuse the system without the help of lawyers, they should be prohibited from ever representing themselves again in a lawsuit without legal help if they are found to have filed a nuisance suit.


BeenThereDoneThat

O.k. day in court and all of that but from seeing what I’m seeing not good for her case. Texting…………I’m walking across….never finished or sent and one minute later calling 911??? To me it shows her focus seemed to be more on her phone than surroundings.


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