Plaintiff in Disability Discrimination Case Scrambles to Settle Case For Less Than the Original Offer Following Opening Statements
During a weeklong trial in San Francisco, Burnham Brown partners Cathy L. Arias and Robert M. Bodzin defended a major university, a property owner and a property manager against a claim that an adult student was discriminatorily denied handicapped-accessible housing because of his physical disabilities. The allegedly wheelchair bound plaintiff sought damages in excess of $10,000,000, for personal injuries, medical expenses and future lost earnings. Plaintiff's complaint sought recovery under theories that included the Unruh Civil Rights Act, the California Public Accommodations Law, the Consumer Legal Remedies Act, the Unfair Business Practices Act and the False Advertising Practices Act. Prior to jury selection, the Consumer Legal Remedies Act claim was dismissed and the claims under the Unfair Business Practices Act and the False Advertising Practices Act were bifurcated and set to be ruled upon in a subsequent bench trial. After being forced to elect between the remaining claims, plaintiff abandoned the Unruh Act claim and proceeded to trial on the California Public Accommodations Act claim. The court rejected Plaintiff's attempt to argue negligence claims to the jury which had not been included in the complaint.
Prior to trial, Plaintiff rejected an offer which could have paid Plaintiff and his attorney more than $250,000. Following opening statements and the first day of witness testimony, plaintiff lowered the settlement demand to $650,000 and when it was rejected, sought to settle for the original offer. Ultimately, the case settled for $200,000, which was less than the original settlement offer before trial and about the cost defendants might have incurred to finish the jury and bench trials.
Ms. Arias is the chair of Burnham Brown's Employment Law Department and has been defending discrimination and civil rights cases for fifteen years. Mr. Bodzin is a partner who has been trying both personal injury and commercial litigation cases in New York and California for the past decade.