2022-2023 has been an incredibly busy time for the Urbanic trial team.
Lanham v. Romero
In a jury trial entitled Lanham v. Romero located in Sacramento County in August 2022, Urbanic and his client faced allegations of devastating injuries stemming from an admitted liability auto accident. Plaintiff and his attorney in the case, insisted that the accident caused him to undergo spinal and shoulder surgeries that would prevent him from returning to work in construction ever again. Plaintiff’s case was bolstered by the testimony of the surgeons who performed the surgeries, who both testified that the injuries sustained in the accident directly caused the medical conditions and pain and suffering leading to the surgeries. Plaintiff’s demand before trial was $6 million. Although the defendant’s insurer had offered plaintiff a settlement of $501,000, negotiations broke down. At trial, plaintiff’s attorney asked the jury to award in excess of $7 million in damages.
Urbanic and his team saw weaknesses in plaintiff’s evidence. Utilizing careful review of medical records dating to before the accident and the persuasive testimony of his own medical experts, Urbanic hammered away at the plaintiff and his experts. The jury agreed. Its total award of $62,100 was but a fraction of the amount previously offered. As a result, Urbanic was able to deduct his client’s costs and expert witness fees totaling more than the verdict from the final judgment. Plaintiff’s Motion for New Trial was denied by the Court.
Gill/Whitmire v. Caltrans, et al.
On February 9, 2017, a tragic accident occurred in which a worker was killed and another severely injured on state Highway 17 between San Jose and Santa Cruz, while working on a crew performing emergency debris removal after a series of powerful storms. An operator of a dump truck while going in reverse in bad weather struck both men. The decedent’s son, also a construction worker, witnessed the incident and death of his father. The employer of the workers was shielded by workers’ compensation laws. As a result, plaintiffs (the injured worker and his wife, the decedent’s son who witnessed the accident and his mother and sister) sued Caltrans and other defendants. Urbanic and his team represented Caltrans, which became plaintiffs’ focus due to insurance limitations of other defendants. Caltrans maintains that it has no liability as a matter of law under what is known as the Privette doctrine. Two motions for summary judgment and trial motions on that issue were all denied by the court. This issue has been preserved for appeal. Before trial many settlement efforts were unsuccessful. The plaintiffs globally sought approximately $8 million from Caltrans.
The case known as Gill/Whitmire v. Caltrans, et. al., proceeded to trial in Santa Cruz Superior Court in March 2023. Dozens of witnesses testified. Plaintiffs claimed that Caltrans had a duty for their safety and breached that duty by failing to adequately control the work of its subcontractor. Their attorneys asked the jury to issue awards totaling over $90 million and to hold Caltrans 90% responsible. Ultimately the jury awarded the family of the deceased $12,500,000 and the injured worker and his wife $7,711.000. However, the jury found Caltrans to be 23% liable while the plaintiff workers and their employer were found to be 70% liable. After various credits and reductions, the judgment against Caltrans in favor of the decedent’s family totaled $2,970.000 and in favor of the injured worker and his wife in the amount of $1,914,000. Both awards were well below the pre-trial settlement demands of the plaintiffs. A post-trial motion filed by Caltrans is pending and the parties have agreed to continue settlement discussions.
Percoats and Bettencourt v. Panoche Water District
In Percoats and Bettencourt v. Panoche Water District, employees of a San Joaquin Valley water district sued claiming they were owed back wages and were retaliated against for participating in Federal and State investigations against the District in 2016, and for filing their May 2018 lawsuit against the District. Joseph Urbanic and his team were assigned the defense of the retaliation claims only. The case proceeded to trial in May 2023 in Fresno County Superior Court. Over defense objections, plaintiffs attempted to take advantage of particularly salacious testimony involving alleged criminal and fraudulent conduct of the prior water district leadership. Although plaintiffs were awarded back pay, Urbanic and his team convinced the jury that plaintiffs failed to prove retaliation, thus attaining a defense verdict for his client.