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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MBwaiter

The grand jury should investigate why the City Attorney for Pismo Beach settle for 1,5 million and should be fired if he recommended settlement. Oh wait this is the same City Attorney who settled the prayer lawsuit for 6 figures.


HarryMalone

As KAYAKNUT so accurately stated…


“simple it’s not their money”


Chena Cat

Tricia is the only one responsible for her death. It’s called personal responsibility…accountability. When she taught her children to safely cross the street, did she demonstrate by taking out her phone and begin texting and walking across the street as an example? Nope. Stop, look both ways, and cross when safe……making eye contact with any driver approaching, and being ready to stop, or retreat if the car does not slow down, and or stop.


bobfromsanluis

“Tricia is the only one responsible for her death.” Wow; she wasn’t the one driving the automobile operating under the influence of excess alcohol consumption; she didn’t suggest to the city that there not be street lights in the area; she didn’t suggest that the hotel place a parking lot that could be accessed by the public in an area that did not offer a marked cross walk with adequate signage …


The sad reality is that this woman did contribute to her death by crossing in an unsafe manner, possibly not paying enough attention to her surroundings, but the whole picture needs to be considered. If she had access to a well lit, marked crossing, if she had had a driver who was operating in a legal, safe manner, this whole situation could have turned out much different.


The blame is not just on the pedestrian who was killed; there are many factors that contributed to the accident; the whole point though is that both drivers and pedestrians need to keep a situational awareness when there is any possibility of accidents like this happening.


roxy756

The driver was not impaired.


gangsta1

Wow! I must have completely missed any news of impairment on behalf of the driver involved in this accident. your documented proof might help with my mistake. please clear this up.


slocalgal

The Cliffs should provide safe parking in the hotel parking lot. Instead, they cordon off much of the lot for valet parking which leaves the parking lot without adequate parking for self parking guests. There is rarely enough parking for the hotel guests, which is the responsibility of the Cliffs. We have parked in the upper lot while we stayed overnight at the hotel. It was very difficult to cross the busy street with cars whizzing by at a high rate of speed. Further, due to its remote location and lack of security, our car was broken into during the night and our cd player and other valuables were taken. The hotel refused to take responsibility for that, too.


The hotel bears some responsibility in ensuring their guests are not put at risk by having to navigate across an road where cars travel at a high rate of speed.


pasoparent5

1) Do not leave valuables in your car. That’s pretty much common knowledge whether you’re parking at a lot near a Four Seasons or a Motel 6.


2) If that intersection is SO dangerous, how many other pedestrians have been killed before or after Tricia Rittger? None. Zero. Zip.


3) Put your phone down and stop texting when you’re driving a car OR walking across an intersection.


The Cliffs shouldn’t pay one dime to Mr. Rittger OR his greedy attorney. The taxpayers of Pismo Beach shouldn’t have had to pay, either. Apparently the city manager and city attorney didn’t have access to Tricia’s phone which CLEARLY shows her texting at the time of the tragic–yet 100% preventable–accident.


roxy756

Valet is FREE…why wouldn’t you opt for that safety and convenience?


roxy756

Cliffs does provide safe parking…it’s called VALET…and it’s FREE!


Russ J

Why is that speed limit not 30MPH. Are these traffic engineers flaming a-holes? There is so much pedestrian and bike traffic on that road. It just seems so stupid that there’s a 65MPH corridor right along side this road and most of the idiots on this road sail along at 45+ MPH.


OnTheOtherHand

How else would all the people using the road to dodge the rush-hour traffic jams on the adjacent freeway actually benefit from doing so? (This comment is only semi-sarcastic.)


Actually, the shoulders are wide enough for bikes and pedestrians to safely use with 45 MPH traffic there — except if they are crossing the road. For that reason, and the fact that there is a 4-way stop at Spyglass less than 100 yards away, a slower speed limit would be appropriate for the area fronted by the hotel.


whatdouno

I would still really like someone to explain to me how it’s different for an employee to cross here than a guest. Would it have been acceptable for an employee to be hit because that was an approved use of the lot? The truth of the matter is no. Would a cross walk have stopped the accident? No.

The driver of the vehicle and the pedestrian have absolute responsibility.


Kevin Rice

I suppose one might argue that employees could receive special “safety training” on how to cross the street—you know, like in kindergarten. Look both ways.


obispan

Read up, safety professional! Why are not lighted exit signs required in houses many times the size and complexity of businesses where they are required? Why are employee areas treated differently than public areas with regard to safety and exiting? Occupancy groups and assumed familiarity with the facility.


Russ J

Exactly the point my wife just made to me. Spot on.


roxy756

I agree with you, but let’s not gloss over the fact that personal responsibility, whether on the part of Rittger or the driver who hit her, is key here…this was an ACCIDENT…certainly no one anticipated or intended this tragedy!


Pelican1

What’s the difference between a lawyer and a catfish? One is a slimy, bottom dwelling, scum sucker. The other is a fish.


justchuck

The first three letters of ”conscience” are ”con” and I think that is what the family and attorney are trying to do. I feel for the family but tons of money will not return their loved one.


pasoparent5

Agreed. I realize Tricia left behind a husband (and young child?) but this frivolous lawsuit sets a horrible example before Tricia’s little one.


Aaron Rittger: Use your wife’s tragic (but wholly preventable) death as an opportunity to teach your child about personal responsibility (put your phone down, stop, look and listen!) instead of trying to extort $$ first from the hotel, then from the taxpayers of Pismo Beach.


JB Bronson

There may well be a special place in hell for attorneys who exploit situations like this.


godislanguage

The smoking gun.


This is an outrage!


Shame on Aaron Rittger for bringing any civil action in this accident. Why stop at the City of Pismo or The Cliff’s restaurant? Why not sue Verizon too, as well as the maker of the cell phone!


This individualism and I’m a victim is plain WRONG!


What kills me, is this phone evidence had to have been part of any police investigation in this accident and should be part of any discovery. Why the City of Pismo settled is also shameful. I’ld like to see it and know what is states, but you can’t expect anyone to be responsible for this accident given this phone record.


But clearly, this is a very sad and tragic accident. Suing the people of Pismo and the Cliffs add up to greed and is more indicative to what’s wrong with people today.


Shame on Aaron Rittger for bringing this to the light of public attention and to try to profit on his wife’s death.


SHAME ON YOU for pulling at the heart strings of the people of SLO County and wasting the courts time, the jurors time and adding expense to the rest of this for this tragic accident!!!


kayaknut

Why did the city of Pismo settle?, simple it’s not their money, had the settlement come of someone’s budget or even better the salaries of those that made the decision to settle I would guess the outcome may have been different.