Jury finds KSBY employee largely at fault for own death
August 20, 2014
By JOSH FRIEDMAN
A San Luis Obispo jury determined Wednesday morning that a woman struck and killed by a car near a Pismo Beach hotel in 2011 was largely at fault for her own death.
The jury awarded the family of KSBY sales manager Tricia Rittger a $6.7 million sum, but Rittger’s relatives will receive less than one quarter of that amount. The Cliffs Resort and its parent company, King Ventures, must pay the Rittger family about $1.6 million, despite being issued a small portion of the blame for the accident.
“In the scheme of things with all the possibilities, I am pleased with the verdict,” said Darren Epps, The Cliffs’ attorney. “We appreciate the jury’s work on this case. They deliberated for almost two and a half days.”
On Nov. 19, 2011, a vehicle struck and killed Rittger as she was crossing Shell Beach Road on her way to meet friends at the Cliffs Resort.
Tricia Rittger’s husband Aaron Rittger, sued the hotel for $22 million, claiming his wife’s death could have been prevented. Rittger’s attorney Ryan Harris argued that The Cliffs was responsible for the accident because it neglected enforcing its conditional use permit which prohibits visitors from parking in a lot across Shell Beach Road.
On Wednesday morning, the jury distributed blame for the accident, finding Rittger the most at fault among all parties involved. The jury found Rittger 36 percent responsible for her own death.
The driver who collided with Rittger held 34 percent of the responsibility for the crash, the jury determined. The Cliffs and King Ventures each received just 5 percent of the blame.
The jury distributed the remaining 20 percent of the blame to the city of Pismo Beach. For years, the city chose not to enforce the provision of the permitting agreement with the city stipulating that visitors could not park in the lot across the street from the hotel.
Prior to going to trial with The Cliffs, Aaron Rittger also sued Pismo Beach and settled with the city for $1.5 million. Pismo Beach officials said they paid out the settlement to save legal fees and that they did not believe the city was liable.
The jury did not find any malice on the part of The Cliffs or King Ventures and thus awarded no punitive damages. The $6.7 million award to Rittger’s family comprised of $5 million for personal losses and $1.7 million for economic losses.
Though The Cliffs and King Ventures only shared a total of 10 percent of the fault, the defendants must pay nearly $1.6 million to Rittger’s family.
The hotel is responsible for $500,000 of the $5 million awarded for personal losses. It must also pay approximately $1.1 million out of the $1.7 million awarded for the Rittgers’ economic loss because California law stipulates that another party at fault must assume the losses of defendants who cannot pay.
In addition, the Cliff’s and the city are to install a crosswalk with flashing lights to increase pedestrian safety at the scene of the accident. The city previously considered installing a crosswalk but deemed it unnecessary.
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