$28,900,000 :: Mota v. City of L.A.

JURY VERDICT: Poor street maintenance lead to crossover accident

Can a city be held liable for an accident caused by a drunk driver? Was the auto accident caused by poor street maintenance or drunk driving?

On January 21, 1991, a group of friends were driving along Alameda Street near Pacific Coast Highway when they were struck by an uninsured and inebriated driver who crossed the center line. Christina Mota, Elsa Mota, and Salvador Elizarraz had no major injuries. But their companions, Isabel Alvarez and Ivy Michelle Birbragher, sustained serious and life-threatening injuries. Isabel was rendered a partial paraplegic, and Ivy a full paraplegic. Both ladies were 24-year-old. Their injuries changed their lives forever and would require lifetime care.

Richard Koskoff’s job during this trial was to convince the jury that this was no simple drunk driving accident, but also a result of negligence and poor street maintenance by the City of Los Angeles. Through patience and expert testimony, he successfully argued the City of Los Angeles shared liability with the drunk driver.

“The facts Koskoff produced at trial showed that the city’s negligence in maintaining the road led to the accident. The center line was obscured by gravel and dirt and was no longer reflective at night. There were no pavement markers or highway dots (the raised domes that serve as lane dividers) that could have alerted [the driver] that he was driving into the other lane of traffic and thus prevented the accident.”

The defense argued that the driver was solely to blame, and during trial, never successfully answered why the street wasn’t properly maintained.

The jury returned a $28.9 million verdict in favor of our plaintiffs. The city was found responsible for 65% of the liability and the drunk driver for 35% of the liability. The city protested the verdict, but eventually settled the case for $9 million.

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