After a nearly three-week trial, a San Luis Obispo County jury awarded a total verdict of $6,709,300 in the wrongful death case of Tricia Rittger, a Los Osos woman who was struck and killed by a car while crossing Shell Beach Road outside Pismo Beach's Cliffs Resort in 2011.
The jury—which reached its decision on Aug. 20—apportioned fault among the Cliffs (5 percent), owner John King (5 percent), the city of Pismo Beach (20 percent), the driver of the vehicle that struck Rittger (34 percent), and Rittger herself (36 percent)—finding all parties were responsible to some degree.
According to Ryan Harris, the primary attorney for the Rittger family, the Cliffs and King share the same insurer—which will pay out just shy of $1.6 million in total to Rittger’s husband and daughter. The city and the driver have already settled with the family, meaning the fault found with them in the Aug. 20 decision is symbolic and not monetary. Pismo's insurer settled with the Rittger family for $1.5 million in October 2013, and the driver's insurer previously settled for an unknown amount.
“Today, justice was delivered to the family of Tricia Rittger,” Harris wrote in an email to New Times. “I am proud of the family's desire to effectuate change and their courage to take this case to trial.”
Attorneys for the Rittger family had originally asked for a total of $21.7 million in compensatory damages from all parties.
Harris added that the Cliffs and King agreed to pay their $1.6 million portion within 30 days and will also work with the city to install a blinking, flashing crosswalk with traffic controls at the intersection where Rittger was killed, dedicated to her memory.
During the trial, attorneys for the Rittger family argued that the Cliffs actively ignored a binding permit that forbids guest parking in the lot across the street. Walking to the Cliffs from this lot necessitates crossing Shell Beach Road—on which cars can travel up to 40 mph—at a juncture that lacks a crosswalk, signing, or proper lighting—which is how Rittger was killed on the night of Nov. 19, 2011.
Attorneys for the Cliffs and King argued that Rittger was texting and thus distracted when she crossed the road, placing primary blame on Rittger, the driver who hit her, and the city—which chose not to add lighting or a crosswalk to the road segment.
Ultimately, the jury found Rittger herself (36 percent), the driver (34 percent), and the city (20 percent) to be more responsible that the Cliffs (5 percent) and King (5 percent), but still ordered the Cliffs and King to pay roughly $1.6 million in compensatory damages. That cost will be covered by insurance, and Harris said that “the Cliffs will go on.”
Darren Epps—attorney for the Cliffs and King—didn’t respond to a request for comment from New Times as of press time.
In a separate matter, Pismo's insurer—the California Joint Powers Insurance Authority (JPIA)—also filed a lawsuit against the Cliffs and King on Nov. 18, 2013.
That suit seeks general damages, special damages, and attorney's fees on top of a refund—with interest—of the $1.5 million settlement the JPIA paid out on Oct. 24.