How Was A House Painter Awarded $58 Million After Losing Half His Skull in a Bar Room Beating?

By attorney Jon Rosenfeld – I am always culling the news stations to learn about strange, or unusual cases involving negligence. This is a very intriguing story about a fellow who was seriously harmed in a bar room brawl.

House painter Antonio Lopez Chaj, age 43 sustained severe brain damage that resulted in the loss of half of his skull and the inability to speak, has been awarded $58 million dollars by a jury. At a news conference Chaj and his attorneys stated that there was an award against a security company in Torrance Superior Court.

According to Chaj’s attorneys this is one of the largest settlements in ever awarded in California and they expect the security company to appeal the award. His lawyers said that before he ever receives any of the awarded compensation there may have to be settlement negotiations with the company.

Attorney Federico Sayre stated that Chaj was attacked when he was attempting to stop an attack on two of his relatives by a bartender and bouncer at a Wilshire bar. The security guard who was untrained and unlicensed beat Chaj, using a baton and then kicking him once he was down on the ground in the head eight times. The security guard then smashed Chaj’s skull against pavement outside of the bar four times. The security guard identified as Emerson Quintanilla and the bartender who was the manager disappeared Sayre said. The attorney said that Quintanilla should not have been working and believes that it was an assault akin to road rage.

According to Sayre the altercation took place on April 20, 2010 at a neighborhood bar the Barra Latina, where Chaj, this brother and two nephews. This is when one of Chaj relatives was involved in a confrontation with the bartender/ manager who then used brass knuckles on the individual
When Chaj attempted to break up the altercation, by saying “stop beating my nephews.” Sayre said this is when the security guard then turned and beat Chaj unconscious.

How Did He Get So Much Money?
Many people would say, “hey, this is unfair that the victim got so much, how could a painter get that”. The tort reformers would definitely say this is an example of an out of control award. But there is a formula and method to this madness. Don’t forget that Chaj was transported to the hospital, with part of his skull missing. While the doctors were able to save his life, he sustained severe brain damage. Sayre said Chaj now requires 24 hour nursing care and is unable to speak. He will also face more surgeries.

This means in addition to his pain and suffering, his medical bills and lifetime nursing care will add up. In fact, the jury would determine how much money he would lose over his lifetime in lost wages, costs of hiring assistants and a live in nurse, surgeries, etc. These are called economic damages. Then they would also determine a value for past, present and future pain and suffering.

Typically a judge can move to perform an additur , or remittitur to to add more, or subtract from an “out of control award”, for example Tort reformers don’t want judges and juries to decide awards. They [tortfeasors and their friends] want to be able to put a fixed amount that you or a loved one can recover, so it can then be a cost of doing business. In other words, they want “being held accountable” to be a fixed cost.

However, in the case at bar, it is possible that a higher court could send the case back with instructions to reduce or add more, or reverse the verdict, based upon a procedural or substantive issue of law. We will be watching the case closely and will update you accordingly.

Citations and Sources:
The Ehline Law Firm PC personal blog
Joint Committee Report on California Damages