SM COURTHOUSE — In a win for City Hall, a judge this week denied a motion for a new trial in the case of an 83-year-old woman who sought $4 million after she fell while riding a Big Blue Bus and was left partially paralyzed.
A jury in February determined City Hall was not liable for Beatrice Kaufman’s injuries, deciding the bus driver had allowed her sufficient time to be seated.
Arguing the verdict should be thrown out because of insufficient evidence and jury misconduct, her attorneys with Santa Monica-based firm Greene, Broillet & Wheeler asked for a new trial May 6 but were denied by Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Norman P. Tarle.
Lawyers handling the case in the Santa Monica City Attorney’s Office said a video of the 2008 accident from the BBB’s onboard camera showed Kaufman remained standing, holding onto a support beam as the bus began moving. They said only after the bus had left the curb did she attempt to find a seat. She broke her hip in the accident and sustained other injuries that have left her paralyzed below the waist.
In his ruling, Tarle said the video tape disproved the plaintiff’s claim of insufficient evidence.
“The undeniable fact is that the plaintiff had in fact grasped a safety pole before the bus started moving, and fell after the bus started moving because [she] let go of the safety pole and attempted to maneuver to another place on the bus,” he wrote.
Kaufman’s attorneys also argued the jurors had rendered an illegitimate verdict by pre-judging the case and by failing to properly deliberate — claims Tarle dismissed.
Debra Kanoff, one of City Hall’s attorneys on the case, said the judge made the right decision by focusing on the videotape evidence.
“The tape is worth its weight in gold,” she said.
City Hall had proposed offering Kaufman a settlement of $25,000 before the case proceeded to trial. Kaufman’s attorney had asked for $3.95 million, Kanoff said.
In an e-mail on Friday, one of Kaufman’s attorneys, Geoff Wells, said he was “very disappointed that the judge did not focus on the conduct of the driver but only on the conduct of the 83-year-old passenger” in the ruling.
Kaufman’s lawyers had argued the bus driver’s statements after the fall expressing surprise that Kaufman had not been seated revealed the driver’s negligence.
Wells said no decision about whether to file an appeal in the case has been made. But he said: “We must accept the judge and jury’s decision. I respect our jury system and we must move on.”