The attorney for The Cliffs says the majority of a multi-million dollar verdict handed down today in a wrongful death lawsuit filed against the resort hotel holds no monetary value based on how fault was assigned.
"It's as worthless as Monopoly money," said Attorney Darren Epps, who represented The Cliffs in the civil trial that ended with the jury awarding $6.7 million to Aaron Rittger for the death of his wife in Shell Beach in 2011.
Jurors in the case were asked to assign fault to each of the parties involved in Tricia Rittger's death, which included herself, Leonard Williams, the driver of the car that killed Rittger, the city of Pismo Beach and The Cliffs, Epps said, noting the most responsibility, 36 percent, was attributed to the woman's actions on the night she was killed. The Cliffs was found to be 10 percent at fault.
"It's not as simple as taking 10 percent," Epps said. "But the net result is that The Cliffs is responsible for paying the family just under $1.6 million."
The jury awarded Aaron Rittger $1.7 million in economic damages for the loss of his wife's income over her lifetime and $5 million in non-economic damages, which compensate the loss of her love, training and partnership, among other things. His attorneys had been seeking more than $21 million in damages.
Epps added it's his belief the jury made the appropriate decision placing the majority of responsibility for the tragic fatality on Tricia, who was likely texting when she was struck and killed.
"I think that's undisputed now," Epps said about Rittger texting as she crossed Shell Beach Road. "That was the biggest reason Tricia was hit."
Jurors in the wrongful death lawsuit filed against a popular Shell Beach resort hotel awarded the family who filed the litigation $6,709,300 for the accident that took the life of 39-year-old Tricia Rittger, also finding she was partially to blame for her death.
Los Osos resident Tricia Rittger was struck by a SUV on Nov. 19, 2011, in front of The Cliffs Resort while crossing Shell Beach Road and died as a result of her injuries, leaving behind a husband, Aaron, and then 4-year-old daughter, Erin.
Following his wife's death, Aaron Rittger filed a civil lawsuit against the resort, its owner, John King, the city of Pismo Beach and the driver of the SUV.
The case against the driver was resolved, and a $1.5 million settlement with Pismo Beach was reached in October last year, however, an agreement with The Cliffs couldn't be reached, forcing a two-week jury trial that ended with today's verdict.
"Today justice was delivered to the family of Tricia Rittger," said Attorney Ryan Harris. "I am proud of the family's desire to effectuate change and their courage to take this case to trial."
In its verdict, which took three days of deliberations to reach, the jury found The Cliffs, King, Pismo Beach, Rittger and the driver of the SUV all at fault for the fatal accident.
On the night she was was hit and killed, Rittger parked her vehicle in the resort's east lot because the west lot was full. The contents of her purse were found under the hotel’s front desk manager’s vehicle, which was parked in the west lot.
King couldn't be reached for comment.
Evidence presented during the trial showed the resort didn't comply with a permit as well as its own employee parking policy requiring the business to reserve the east parking lot for hotel and restaurant employees only, while keeping the west lot open for guests and the public.
The Cliffs' attorney contended the accident occurred because Rittger was distracted, possibly texting, while crossing the street.
According to police investigations, Rittger looked north toward the approaching SUV and hurried to make it across the street. However, she was struck by the front right corner of the vehicle before she could safely reach the sidewalk and died at Arroyo Grande Community Hospital.
"The jury is the voice of our community, and their message is loud and clear: life is precious, and safety is paramount," Harris said. "We are thankful this dispute was decided in a court of law with all of the facts revealed, rather than in the court of public opinion."
The Cliffs has agreed to work with Pismo Beach to put in traffic controls and a blinking lighted crosswalk to improve safety in front of its hotel, where Rittger was struck, Harris said.
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