On April 25, 2019, the Appellate Court for the Second District reversed a win for a homeowner of a midcentury home- the Sheats-Goldstein residence- featured in the movie “The Big Lebowski,” forcing him to now face another trial with a man who fell onto a hillside while working at a party at the house.
The three-judge panel unanimously vacated the jury verdict won by defendants James Goldstein (“Goldstein”), owner of the Sheats-Goldstein residence, and production company, Ring the Alarm LLC, which was hosting a record label launch party at the house when plaintiff Edward Harry (“Harry”) was injured.
Harry, who was hired by Ring the Alarm to serve as a site representative - working to protect the house from partygoers - fell from a “floating” balcony and suffered several spinal fractures, the opinion said. He sought more than $2.5 million in damages in the first trial, according to the opinion.
The panel held that the trial court had erred in allowing the defendants to argue at trial that they were shielded by the “firefighter's rule,” which holds that someone hired to handle a dangerous situation can't sue the person who hired them if they are injured in that dangerous situation. “Harry was hired to protect the house from its guests, not to protect people from the house, and thus the rule does not apply to him.”
The panel further added, “There is no evidence in this case to suggest that Harry was hired to keep people from falling off the platform…Indeed, Goldstein denied that the platform was dangerous. He offers no evidence explaining why he would have required a site representative to protect against a danger he refused to acknowledge.” The panel also explained, “Goldstein hadn't provided any public interest reasons to apply the firefighter's rule in this case… unlike many of the cases applying the rule, there is no ‘broader incentive' to place the risk for a dangerous home on the individual site representative, rather than the homeowner.” Thus, “the jury should not have been instructed on the firefighter's rule, and it should not have been included as the first two questions on the verdict form.” The panel held that this error was prejudicial, and remanded the case for a new trial.
Judges Nora M. Manella, Audrey B. Collins and Brian S. Currey sat on the panel for the Second Appellate District.
Harry is represented by David J. Lederer and Casey A. Hultin of Lederer & Nojima LLP, and Holly N. Boyer and Shea S. Murphy of Esner Chang & Boyer.
Goldstein and Ring the Alarm are represented by Kevin N. Heffernan and Jay D. Brown of Friedenthal Heffernan & Brown LLP.
The case is Harry v. Ring the Alarm LLC et al., case number B286084, in the Court of Appeal of the State of California, Second Appellate District.
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