July 9, 2020
Congratulations to the Burnham Brown trial team of Paul Caleo and Mark Heisey in obtaining a great jury trial result on June 30, 2020 in what we believe was the first civil jury trial concluded in the post-lockdown COVID-19 era in Alameda County and perhaps in Northern California if not statewide. Mr. Caleo and Mr. Heisey represented Kirk and Cindy Watkins in Safi Nairobi v Watkins, Action # RG17847233 in this landlord/tenant and premises liability/breach of warranty of habitability lawsuit. Plaintiff, a tenant in a studio apartment owned by the defendants alleged she was poisoned by toxic mold as a result of a roof leak in a rainstorm and claimed she was injured and damaged for the rest of her life, and argued that her compromised immune system made her more susceptible to illness. Whereas the defendants did not dispute that there was a roof leak caused by a rainstorm in October 2014, they immediately responded to fix the roof leak and remediate and clean the studio apartment and argued that evidence based medicine confirmed that plaintiff was not injured by the presence of mold in the studio apartment.
Plaintiff’s demand for most of the lawsuit was $2.5 million. The defendants served a CCP 998 statutory offer for $100,000 in June 2018. After starting trial on February 19 before Judge Evelio Grillo, the parties were sent to a further all day mandatory settlement conference where the plaintiff lowered her demand to 650K and the defendants offered 235K. In closing arguments, plaintiff’s counsel asked the jury to award a total of $4,885,042 in total damages. After deliberating for a day and a half, the jury returned a verdict awarding damages to plaintiff totaling $93,290 made up of $79,290 in past economic damages; $5000 in future economic damages; and $9000 in past general damages and zero for future general damages. Further, the jury found that the plaintiff was 15% at fault for her own injuries and damages and that defendants were not liable for Intentional Infliction of Emotional Distress or Concealment nor for punitive damages. The defendants will be filing a cost bill as the prevailing party in this lawsuit.
This jury trial was stopped on March 17 with only two to three days to go when Governor Newsome handed down the shelter-in-place directive in response to the then burgeoning COVID-19 pandemic. Both parties requested the trial judge not to order a mis-trial but rather put the trial in hiatus until a later date when the court could consider completing it with guidelines that would ensure the safety and wellbeing of court staff, the litigants and most importantly the jurors. Both parties are indebted to the trial judge and the Superior Court for their efforts in allowing the jury trial to re-commence on June 25 and to complete on June 30 under circumstances that involved all persons wearing face masks at all times and maintaining safe distances. The Burnham Brown trial team of Paul Caleo and Mark Heisey sincerely thank the 13 jurors who agreed to return to finish this trial after a hiatus of more than three months during the pandemic. The jurors in this case demonstrated a commitment to civic duty and their community that should be commended especially during these difficult times.
Mr. Caleo and Mr. Heisey also want to acknowledge and thank the efforts of their co-counsel at trial, Walter John McMath of Hartsuyker, Stratman & Williams-Abrego in Oakland.
Don’t hesitate to email either Paul Caleo or Mark Heisey at email@example.com and firstname.lastname@example.org to find out more about the trial and what it was like to conduct witness examination surrounded by clear plexi-glass on three sides and do closing argument to a socially distant jury with a facemask on!
Congratulations again to the Burnham Brown team and its experienced trial lawyers.