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Case Summaries

Representative cases

Campbell, Lauter & Murphy has developed expertise across a diverse set of practice areas. The firm's underlying emphasis is its ability to litigate complex matters in each specialty area, as well as successful appellate work following the jury process.

The firm focuses upon team building within certain practice areas - intellectual property, construction & real estate, catastrophic injury/product liability and business dispute matters.

Early evaluation and identification of unique legal strategies - designed to deliver the best possible, most cost-effective results - is the cornerstone to Campbell, Lauter & Murphy's approach to all matters.

Personal Injury

Clayton v. Blalock
(San Diego Superior Court)

In this case, the firm represented the owner of a truck that was involved in a seven vehicle accident on Interstate #5 in Glendale, California. Our client's truck was impacted by a truck in the #4 lane - that then caused our client's tractor-trailer to uncontrollably skid and impact five passenger vehicles alongside the guardrail/medium strip - after it traveled across lanes #1 and #2. All cases were settled prior to trial, with the last case being settled the day before the start of trial. Most of the damages were paid by the truck that started the accident. Although the plaintiff in the last case to settle had more than $1,000,000 in past and future medical expenses, our client's insurance carrier successfully settled that claim for $50,000. Both the client and the carrier were pleased with the result with the results that were achieved by Partner John Campbell, just before the last/biggest case went to trial.

Marika v. North American Van Lines
(San Diego Superior Court)

CLM successfully defended North American Van Lines (a self-insured) as a result of a serious personal injury. One of the client's large tractor-trailer vans struck a young boy on his way to school, severing his leg just above the ankle joint. The driver never saw the young boy - who went into the crosswalk on his bicycle at a time when the truck had already started its wide turn. The young boy was a model plaintiff. He recovered to the point where he went back out for the wrestling team at Poway High School following the injury, wrestling with his prosthesis. The case was settled on the verge of trial because of the emotional issues involved. All parties were pleased with the settlement that was achieved.

Noon v. U.S.A. Track & Field
(San Diego County Superior Court)

Plaintiff, a former San Diego High School athlete and NCAA shotput champion, presented claims that his suspension from competition during the investigation of plaintiff's refusal to provide a urine sample had caused plaintiff to not be selected for the 1992 U.S. Olympic Team. The lawsuit, seeking in excess of $10,000,00 in general and special damages, was filed against U.S.A. Track & Field; its general counsel; and its director for drug testing - all represented by CLM - as well as the track and field coach for UCLA; the Regents of the University of California; and UCLA. The case could not be settled before trial.

Following a six week trial, the jury returned a verdict in favor of plaintiff. U.S.A. Track & Field then pursued motions for new trial on the basis of numerous motions that had been filed with the trial court before the case went to a jury. As a result of new facts that were discovered following trial, but before the filing of our motion for new trial, the trial court allowed additional post-trial discovery. The evidence that was uncovered in the post-trial proceedings challenged the veracity of plaintiff's claims - as to whether or not he had in fact taken performance enhancing substances at the University of Georgia prior to receiving the requested 48-hour testing notice.

On the basis of the "new" case evidence, the trial judge reversed the jury verdict and ordered a new trial. The trial court's ruling ordering a new trial was then appealed by plaintiff. Defendant U.S.A. Track & Field cross-appealed on all of the legal rulings made by the trial judge leading up to trial. The Fourth District Court of Appeal ruled on March 18, 1998 that judgment would be entered in favor of defendant U.S.A. Track & Field - on the issues that had been briefed by CLM prior to the start of that trial. Plaintiff appealed the Fourth Appellate District's ruling to the California Supreme Court, where the decision of the Court of Appeal was upheld. The matter was then remanded to the trial court for purposes of an entry of judgment in accordance with the Fourth District Court of Appeal's decision, holding in favor of defendant U.S.A. Track & Field on all grounds. U.S.A. Track & Field was also entitled to its cost on appeal as the prevailing party.

Santaniello v. Callahan & Gauntlett
(San Diego Superior Court)

Our client's law firm had filed an action to collect unpaid fees and costs. A "retaliatory" cross-complaint was then filed by the former clients - alleging legal malpractice in the underlying lawsuit. Our firm defended on the cross-complaint for malpractice at the request of the law firm's malpractice insurance carrier (ICW). The case could not be settled prior to trial. At trial, CLM obtained a directed verdict in favor of our clients (i.e., the firm and its involved attorneys) on the malpractice claims that had been alleged by our client's former clients.

Hawkins v. Goodyear Tire
(Clark County District Court, Las Vegas, Nevada)

The firm represented the automobile dealership involved in the sale of an allegedly defective Firestone tire, which delaminated and exploded, causing serious injuries to the Plaintiffs. At the request of the client, there were no settlement negotiations and the case proceeded to trial, along with the manufacturer of the tire. Following opening statements on the first day of trial, the firm received a rare judgment of non-suit for his client.

Rocha v. Chapman's Las Vegas Dodge, Inc.
(Clark County District Court, Las Vegas, Nevada)

Partner John B. Campbell defended the retail seller of a Dodge Caravan, which rolled and crashed when a Firestone tire exploded. In the incident, the father of the family was killed and his 12-year old son suffered permanent brain injuries. The mother and two younger daughters (who were seat-belted) suffered minor injuries. The tire manufacturer settled all claims with plaintiffs just prior to trial. Key evidence indicated that the failed tire had been altered by the firm's client. The case presented numerous issues of product and negligence liability with respect to the car dealership. CLM successfully settled this dangerous case for approximately $200,000 and eliminated a potential exposure for many times that amount.

Carlson v. De Anza Resort and Golf
(San Diego Superior Court)

This was a premises liability action where the incident occurred at the Mission Bay Golf Course. The golf ball that was struck by the co-defendant golfer was an errant and reckless shot that went swiftly through a 2" chainlink "protective safety fence," striking plaintiff in his left eye. Plaintiff's initial settlement demand to our clients (the City of San Diego; the owner/operator of the golf course (De Anza); and the management company (Terra Vista) that ran the golf course) was $11,000,000, based on a claim for permanent and total blindness in the left eye; related pain and suffering; and a substantial claim for punitive damages. Motions for summary judgment were denied on the doctrine of primary assumption of the risk. Just before the first trial date, plaintiff amended his complaint to allege punitive damages against our clients - alleging that our clients were on notice of this dangerous condition and intentionally chose not to fix it for financial reasons. Numerous motions were brought concerning the punitive damage claim, both before and after the amendment - and two petitions for writs of mandate were filed with Fourth District Court of Appeal. Just before the final trial date, the Court granted our motion for summary adjudication and dismissed the prayer for punitive damages. As a result of pre-trial rulings by our trial judge on 40 motions in limine before the first trial on liability and damages, both sets of defendants agreed to try only the issues of damages. At that trial, plaintiff's counsel asked for not less than $6,000,000 in damages and a maximum of $10,000,000 for plaintiff's injuries, his multiple operations, and his blindness in one eye - for the remaining 50-years of plaintiff's life expectancy. In a very emotional decision, the jury returned its verdict for approximately $1,100,000 - only $400,000 more than Partner John Campbell requested in closing argument.

Gilliam v. Richardson
(San Diego Superior Court)

A 31-year old woman fell 10 feet from the balcony of her boyfriend's apartment in Pacific Beach, California. She suffered severe injuries, including brain injuries resulting in permanent cognitive disorders requiring lifetime care. In her suit filed against the firm's client (the apartment owner), she alleged that the 60-year old structure had a guardrail much lower than that required by recent building code requirements and that it should have been retrofitted to comply after several building remodels over the years. The plaintiff claimed more than $15,000,000 in past and future damages. The firm bifurcated the jury trial on the issues of liability and damages and tried the liability phase first. Following a 7-day jury trial, the firm won a defense verdict. The plaintiff appealed the verdict on the grounds that the trial judge erred - but the Court of Appeals upheld the verdict.

Smith v. San Dieguito Unified High School District
(San Diego Superior Court)

Partner John Campbell represented the Torrey Pines High School Foundation that sponsored the 1998 Grad-Nite at Torrey Pines High School, an event for the seniors that had graduated earlier that afternoon. On his way home the next morning from Grad-Nite, one of the graduating seniors fell asleep at the wheel of his vehicle, crossed four lanes of traffic, and fatally struck a young District Attorney and mother of two young children while she was jogging on San Dieguito Road. The case presented numerous legal issues of first impression with respect to liability of a high school district and a charitable school foundation - for injuries caused by a graduate in an off-campus motor vehicle accident. The driver's family paid policy limits and received a good faith settlement. Mr. Campbell's Motion for Summary Judgment (in which the high school district joined), was successful on the issue of duty. The case was then aggressively appealed by the law firm representing the deceased plaintiff. After a very emotional appellate argument, the Fourth District Court of Appeal upheld the decision of the trial judge (The Honorable Vincent Di Figlia). The appellate decision was not certified for publication.

(San Diego Superior Court)

This was a premises liability action where the incident occurred at the Mission Bay Golf Course. The golf ball that was struck by the co-defendant golfer was an errant and reckless shot that went swiftly through a 2" chain-link "protective safety fence," striking plaintiff in his left eye. Plaintiff's initial settlement demand to our clients (the City of San Diego; the owner/operator of the golf course (De Anza); and the management company (Terra Vista) that ran the golf course) was $11,000,000, based on a claim for permanent and total blindness in the left eye; related pain and suffering; and a substantial claim for punitive damages. Motions for summary judgment were denied on the doctrine of primary assumption of the risk. Just before the first trial date, plaintiff amended his complaint to allege punitive damages against our clients ­ alleging that our clients were on notice of this dangerous condition and intentionally chose not to fix it for financial reasons. Numerous motions were brought concerning the punitive damage claim, both before and after the amendment ­ and two petitions for writs of mandate were filed with Fourth District Court of Appeal. Just before the final trial date, the Court granted our motion for summary adjudication and dismissed the prayer for punitive damages. As a result of pre-trial rulings by our trial judge on 40 motions in limine before the first trial on liability and damages, both sets of defendants agreed to try only the issues of damages. At that trial, plaintiff's counsel asked for not less than $6,000,000 in damages and a maximum of $10,000,000 for plaintiff's injuries, his multiple operations, and his blindness in one eye - for the remaining 50-years of plaintiff's life expectancy. In a very emotional decision, the jury returned its verdict for approximately $1,100,000 ­ only $400,000 more than Partner John Campbell requested in closing argument.

AAA American Pacific v. San Marcos Mobile Estates
(San Diego Superior Court - North County Division)

The Park was alleged to have slandered and interfered with the contractual relations of AAA American. The case was vigorously contested. Ultimately, plaintiff's six figure demand was reduced substantially, and a very advantageous settlement was reached for the Park by Partner Ron Lauter.

Radovich v. Pacific Cremation Care, Inc.
(Riverside County Superior Court)

Nancy Radovich and Michael Radovich (sister and brother-in-law of the decedent) claimed that the defendants mishandled and mutilated decedent's remains - as well as sold organs and body parts, among other claims, including claims of other unscrupulous practices. When the Riverside Sheriff's office served the search warrant and conducted the search of our clients' facility in Lake Elsinore, California in March of 2001, one of the body parts recovered was the head of the decedent. As noted below, there were "several head cases" where the head of a particular decedent was discovered by the authorities in one of the freezers at our clients' crematorium. In a very emotional case, Partner John Campbell and Associate Jon Van de Grift were able to get our clients' insurance carrier to settle this case prior to trial (subject to all applicable reservations of rights) for $260,000.

Hillyer v. Brown
(San Diego County Superior Court)

Plaintiffs were Clemencia Hillyer (the widow), Mary Hillyer Rodriguez (the step-daughter) and Jose Hillyer Rodriguez (the step-son) of the decedent. Plaintiffs claimed that, instead of cremating the decedent (Mr. Hillyer) pursuant to contract, the defendants had sold his body parts. Like the facts in Radovich, Abbott and Zamazanuk, the Riverside Sheriff's office found the disarticulated head of the decedent during the search of our client's facility. Settlements were reached with two of the three plaintiffs - Jose Rodriguez and Mary Rodriguez. A settlement was also reached with the mortuary defendants, which contracted with plaintiffs for the cremation of Mr. Hillyer's remains. The final settlement demand that we received for Clemencia Hillyer - from her counsel - was $1,200,000. Accordingly, the case for damages asserted by the widow of the decedent went to trial in October of 2004. Counsel for the 25-year widow of the decedent (Ms. Clemencia Hillyer) asked the jury to award somewhere between $5,000,000-$10,000,000 - for the alleged injuries that had been sustained by the widow as a result of what had occurred. In closing argument, Mr. Campbell asked the jury to award between $300,000-$400,000 - should the jury find that there was a breach of contract that was intended to benefit the plaintiff. The jury returned a verdict only $50,000 more than argued by Mr. Campbell. As a result of pre-trial settlements and credits that were obtained from those prior settlements, the net verdict was $325,000 - only $25,000 more than had been offered to plaintiff during trial.

Price v. Street
(San Diego Superior Court)

The firm represented the defendant (an attorney) in an assault and battery case involving resultant personal injuries. In a dispute involving the handling of a lawsuit, the plaintiff (also an attorney) transferred the case to the defendant to handle in her place at the request of the client in that matter. Fearing that certain documents left in the file would expose the plaintiff to a malpractice action, the plaintiff appeared without notice at the defendant's law office and demanded the case file. The defendant, based upon legal reasons and the instructions of the client, refused. The plaintiff then initiated a physical altercation with the defendant; was injured; and thereafter sued the defendant for battery and negligence. Following a four-day trial, the jury returned a defense verdict in favor of the firm's client.

Frost v. Radke
(San Diego Superior Court)

The firm represented a university fraternity and one of its officers (a student) was accused of striking the plaintiff (also a university student) during an altercation at an on-campus fraternity party. Alcohol was involved and the fraternity was accused of negligence in supervising the event. The student officer was accused of assault and battery. The plaintiff suffered permanent injuries to one eye, as well as other minor injuries, and sued the fraternity for negligence. Following a six-day trial, the jury awarded a nominal sum to cover medical expenses and dismissed the claim for punitive damages against the student fraternity officer. Further, the fraternity received a defense verdict. By confidential settlement, the case was later settled in lieu of appeal by plaintiff.

Yon v. Goetz, Trinity Products, Li and Kian Yank Intl.
(U.S. District Court, So. District of California)

This was a copyright infringement, fraud and conversion case brought by an individual against our client (Trinity Products) and others in the US District Court. Plaintiff (a professional photographer) asserted that our client and its CEO (a licensed attorney) - as well as defendant Jet Li (the martial arts movie star) and Mr. Li's production company - sold clothing and other products with Li's likeness over the Internet and at our client's retail clothing store, using photographs taken of Li by plaintiff. Within three weeks after our firm was brought into this complex copyright infringement case, a nominal settlement agreement of $45,000 to plaintiff was worked out among all parties at a mediation before the United States Special Magistrate (The Honorable Nita Storms). Of that settlement amount, our client paid a nominal sum, with the rest of the settlement being paid by others.

Lennar v. Auto-Owners Insurance Co.
(Maricopa County Superior Court)

CLM's client (Auto-Owners Insurance Company) was sued for bad faith in its failure to cover plaintiff based upon an additional insured endorsement. Plaintiff claimed over $20,000,000 in damages based upon settlements that it had made and its accompanying defense costs. Partner Ron Lauter argued many different theories on a successful summary judgment motion - but most importantly, Mr. Lauter argued that it was the claims made by the plaintiff that determined whether coverage existed, rather than how the defendant-insured viewed those claims. The trial court agreed with these arguments, and the case is currently on appeal.

Mission Plaza Associates v. Insurance Company of the West
(San Diego Superior Court)

Partner John Campbell represented Insurance Company of the West ("ICW") on a bad faith claim involving that insurance carrier's alleged failure to provide a defense following numerous tenders by the insured. The litigation involved a manuscript policy concerning ICW's defense obligations under an "OL&T" insurance policy. The case was successfully settled on the verge of trial.

Nationwide Mutual Insurance v. Evans
(San Diego Superior Court)

This is a multi-million dollar liability claim involving the 2002 "Gavalin Fire" in San Diego County. Approximately 40 residences were destroyed or damaged in a brush fire that was allegedly started because of an agricultural burn 48-72 hours earlier. Numerous insurance companies (who had paid claims to first party insureds) have sought subrogation for amounts paid for the homeowners' losses. Forty-eight (48) homeowners have also filed for amounts that were not compensated by insurance. The California Department of Forestry and the North County Fire Protection District submitted claims for the cost of controlling the fire. The total damage claim exceeds $35,000,000. Our client (San Diego Shutter) is an Orange County business that, unfortunately, had on its payroll two ranch hands that worked on an avocado ranch owned by the owner of San Diego Shutter. Motions for summary judgment as to whether the ranch hands were truly employees of San Diego Shutter are pending. Because the injured plaintiffs have demanded personal contributions towards any settlement by the family that owns San Diego Shutter and the subject avocado ranch (the Evans's), this case has not been settled. The case and all discovery has been stayed until the statute of limitations has run for all such claims. The total amount of insurance coverage for this $35,000,000 demand is approximately $1,500,000. Both the cause and origin of the fire are in dispute.

The MGM Grand Hotel Consolidated Fire Cases
(United States District Court for the District of Nevada)

In the Federal Multi-District Litigation and class action that followed the disastrous hotel fire at the Las Vegas MGM Grand Hotel, the firm represented a major corporate defendant, owned by a Fortune 100 company, which supplied and installed certain plastic components in the hotel. When the plastics were heated and burned, they emitted deadly gasses, which allegedly contributed to many deaths and injuries. The firm's aggressive defense resulted in extracting his client from the litigation before trial for a nominal, nuisance-value settlement in the class-action settlement.

Defina v. Gosch Automotive
(Riverside Superior Court)

Partner Ron Lauter represented an automotive company in a wrongful termination claim in which plaintiff alleged he was fired because of a perceived disability arising out of a heart condition. Plaintiff would not go below $350,000 during the settlement negotiations and the case proceeded to binding arbitration. After several days of testimony, plaintiff realized that his case was not as strong as he thought and that there was a reasonable likelihood of a defense verdict. Therefore, on the last day of the arbitration and before closing arguments, a settlement conference was held with the arbitrator. The case settled for much less than plaintiff had been requesting.

Scherler v. Montgomery Ward Co.
(United States District Court, Southern District of California)

The firm represented Montomery Ward and Cole National Corporation in defending a suit alleging wrongful termination and retaliation brought by an employee of an optical department in a Montgomery Ward department store in San Diego. Plaintiff alleged that the store's owners encouraged him illegally to try to add unwanted services and products to increase sales and to lie on inventory returns and broken or defective items to increase store credits and create more profit. He maintained that he was terminated in retaliation for ethically refusing to engage in deceptive sales practices. The requested general, special and punitive damages exceeded $5,000,000. Through aggressive discovery, the firm proved that the plaintiff was not performing properly, that he never received threats or improper orders to deceive customers and that his documentary evidence did not support his claims. The case was dismissed by a U.S. District Court upon defendant's motion for summary judgment. The Plaintiff appealed the decision. The U.S. District Court for the Ninth Circuit affirmed the dismissal in an unpublished decision (Scherler v. Montgomery Ward, Case No. 86-5921).

Shaffer v. Debbas
(San Diego County Superior Court)

Plaintiffs were claiming damages for construction defects to a 15,000 square foot custom home in Rancho Santa Fe, California. Punitive damages and personal injuries due to mold were also being sought. At one point, the claimed damages from plaintiffs exceeded $10,000,000. After a six week jury trial, the jury returned a verdict of approximately $200,000 in property damages (as had been argued by Partner John Campbell in closing argument), and awarded very little in the way of personal injuries. During their closing argument, plaintiffs' counsel had asked for approximately $2,000,000 in property damages and another $8,000,000 in personal injury damages and emotional distress. That jury verdict resulted in an appeal by plaintiffs to the Fourth District Court of Appeal, and then to the California Supreme Court. The verdicts were sustained on appeal.

Martin Aguirre v. Lewis Homes of California
(San Bernardino County Superior Court)

This case was extremely complex. The initial damage claims (from this single family home development of some 300 homes) exceeded $15,000,000. There were more than 70 parties involved - as a result of five separate phases of construction. Each phase incorporated new plans and specifications, substantive changes to the homes and new subcontractors, among other complex facts. As a means of resolving the matter quickly, Partner John Campbell "carved-out" those parties that did not want to offer much money in settlement (i.e., the roofers, the concrete subcontractors and certain others). Mr. Campbell then assigned our client's Type I indemnification rights and claims for prevailing party attorneys' fees to plaintiffs. The case was especially difficult because of the need of the developer to get the case settled with as little adverse publicity as possible (and because of the needs of the various AI carriers, who had assumed the defense obligation for the developer).

BRE Properties, Inc. v. M.H. Podell Co.
(Alameda County Superior Court)

CLM is currently defending the general contractor of a 450-plus unit apartment project in Freemont, California. Plaintiff is claiming more than $40,000,000 in construction defects and other consequential damages - relating to the failing hardboard siding. The project was built in two phases and involves more than 60 subcontractors and design professionals. The case involves numerous construction issues, as well as very difficult insurance issues. Our firm was brought in from Southern California by one of the insurance carriers of the client, who was not pleased with the initial progress being made in this case. Partner John Campbell is presently handling this pending litigation.

Cambridge HOA v. Odmark / Welch
(San Diego County Superior Court)

The firm represented the developer/builder of a 290 unit luxury townhouse project in La Jolla, California. The claims ranged from soil subsidence to defective roofs, windows, crawl space ventilation, mold and stucco problems. After a six-week trial, the plaintiff sought an award of $12,500,000. The firm recommended an award of no more than $1,100,000 to repair legitimate, provable defects. The jury returned a verdict of $1,100,000, a victory for the client and its insurers.

EKM Corporation v. Weir and Knowledge Road, Inc.
(San Diego County Superior Court)

In this 2004 case, a speedy resolution was necessary for CLM's clients in order to not jeopardize pending governmental contracts. Partner John Campbell was contacted by an East Coast corporation by way of referral (because of CLM's strong nationwide reputation and case record). The clients were sued by a San Diego corporation for breach of its former employee's duty of loyalty - and for both conspiracy to interfere and for intentional interference with economic relations. Plaintiff was a management systems and service provider to private and governmental agencies, located across the country. After one of plaintiff's directors resigned his position and took a new position with defendant (our client), certain contracts were transferred from plaintiff to defendant. There were valid reasons as to why the employee chose to leave plaintiff's employ. Pursuant to Mr. Campbell's cost saving recommendations to his clients, no written discovery was sent out. Instead Mr. Campbell took immediate action by quickly taking the videotaped deposition of plaintiff - before an answer and/or cross-complaint to plaintiff's alleged claim was filed. As a result of the tactical questions that Mr. Campbell put to plaintiff during that deposition, plaintiff offered a complete dismissal of the entire action at the end of the first day of his testimony.

Product Liability/Toxic Tort Cases

In 2005 and 2006, Mr. Koska defended a fuel distributor in a case alleging the wrongful death of one plaintiff and cancer of another plaintiff, allegedly from inhalation of fumes at an industrial facility in San Diego. Mr. Koska obtained summary judgment for his client after months of litigation. The case is still ongoing and there are approximately 30 defendants remaining.

In 2006, Mr. Koska defended a paint company from allegations that inhalation of paint and paint thinner fumes had caused pulmonary fibrosis in an individual who had a bilateral lung transplant. The case arose from the first highly publicized environmental raid by Orange County officials and resulted in the conviction of one individual. After a year of litigation, and with a summary judgment looming, the case settled for a very low figure.

Product Liability Cases

In 2006 and 2007, Mr. Koska defended Biddeford Blankets in a case involving a house which was destroyed by an allegedly defective electric blanket. The case involved multiple issues surrounding product identification and foreign component part manufacturers. After a year of litigation, the case was dismissed on motion as to Mr. Koska's client.

In 1991, Mr. Koska tried the first of numerous cases pending against Sunbeam Corporation around the United States for burns and fire damage due to allegedly defectively designed and manufactured electric blankets. Despite allegations of some 500 prior fires, the case went to a jury verdict. The plaintiff turned down a large six-figure offer, and the jury returned a verdict of 50% fault to the plaintiff and a low five-figure verdict to plaintiff, despite his multiple surgeries for 3rd degree burns. The remaining cases around the United States thereafter settled.

Early in Mr. Koska's career, he tried and won his first case involving product liability on behalf of the Sunbeam Corporation. The 1973 case involved an allegedly defective electric blanket which had burned down a portion of a house. Mr. Koska continued to handle and try cases throughout the early-1970s and defended actor Beau Bridges in 1976 in a case involving allegations regarding the burning of a home Mr. Bridges was renting. The case resulted in a defense verdict for Mr. Koska's client.

Comparative Fault

In 1976, following the California Supreme Court's historic finding of comparative fault statewide in Li v. Yellow Cab, Mr. Koska tried the first California case resulting in a published opinion involving a percentage finding of comparative fault. In Rangel v. Graybar Electric Co., the appellate court upheld the finding of 95% fault on the part of the plaintiff; Mr. Koska represented the defendant in the matter.

Construction Law

(Maricopa County ­ Phoenix, Arizona)

Partner Ron Lauter successfully defended the roofer on the second major construction defect lawsuit in Arizona to go to trial, which just concluded in December of 2004. The plaintiff homeowners initially demanded $9,000,000 for all of the alleged defect claims, and contended that approximately $2,400,000 of that amount was attributable to the work of the roofer. During trial, the Judge made rulings that reduced plaintiffs' case to approximately $5,200,000 on all defect claims and reduced the amount being claimed for alleged roofing defects to approximately $1,400,000.

After ten weeks of trial, the jury (which deliberated almost four days) awarded about 7% of what plaintiffs were requesting, or approximately $425,000. Of that amount, the jury returned an award against the roofer of only $132,000 which was $118,000 less than what Mr. Lauter's client/carriers had offered in settlement to plaintiffs prior to trial.

During post-trial interviews with the jurors, it was learned that several of Mr. Lauter's "trial themes" were instrumental in helping the jurors reach their verdict. For example, throughout the trial, Mr. Lauter stressed that plaintiffs' use of extrapolation (i.e., taking a small sample and multiplying that extrapolation/percentage throughout the project as a way of trying to prove plaintiffs' alleged defects) amounted to speculation, and should be rejected. The theme was "no extrapolation without verification."

During cross-examination, Mr. Lauter was also able to discredit many of the homeowners on the witness stand, demonstrating that they were either exaggerating or fabricating their testimony. Again, as a result of post-trial interviews with the jurors, it was learned that many of the homeowners were simply not believed. All in all, the case could not have gone better.

Environmental Law

Moore v. Rancho Calavero Mobile Home Park
(San Diego Superior Court - North County Division)

Partner Ron Lauter successfully settled this case for Rancho Calavero in which the plaintiff alleged numerous wrongful actions, including the existence of excessive moisture on his lot, leading to rust and mold in his mobile home. Plaintiff was a chronic complainer and would have continuously been a thorn in the Park's side. Therefore, the only acceptable settlement would be to move him out of the Park and that is exactly what was accomplished.

Sanbag v. Kleinfelder, Inc.
(San Bernardino Superior Court)

A claim for professional negligence against geotechnical engineers (and other defendants) arose out of the slope failure during the expansion of State Route 71 in San Bernardino - that caused the County of San Bernardino to purchase approximately six homes that were at the top of the ridge where the slope failure occurred. The County claimed that our client Kleinfelder and others were responsible for this $5,000,000 claim, as well as certain delay damages. Approximately six months after receiving the formal claim from SANBAG (San Bernardino Associated Governments), our firm negotiated a business settlement of the dispute between our client (Kleinfelder) and one of its bigger clients (San Bernardino County). As a result of the settlement, Kleinfelder paid a confidential amount less than $150,000. In addition, the County of San Bernardino agreed to pay certain unpaid invoices on the continuing project, which has taken years to complete. Because of the professional manner in which we mediated this case with representatives of SANBAG - Kleinfelder did not lose one of its major governmental clients. Moreover, once this case was completed - Kleinfelder continued to do additional work for SANBAG on other projects. Our firm has represented Kleinfelder throughout Southern California for more than 10 years.

Water/Toxic Tort Cases

For over ten years, beginning in 1997 and culminating in the summer of 2007, Mr. Koska served as lead defense counsel for American States Water Company in the successful defense of tort cases involving allegations by 3,000 plaintiffs of ingestion of contaminated water over a 20-year period. All cases were dismissed in favor of Mr. Koska's client on motion in Los Angeles and in Sacramento following remand from the California Supreme Court in Hartwell v. Superior Court (February 2002). The cases in Sacramento were not appealed.

The cases in Los Angeles were appealed, and the landmark opinion rendered on August 24, 2007, In Re: Groundwater Cases, affirmed the dismissal in favor of Mr. Koska's client. The ruling also confirmed that California has a safe harbor for PUC-regulated water utilities against suit as long as the utilities are in compliance with all federal and state safe drinking water laws.

Prosecuting Responsible Parties-A Controversial Case Against the State of California and its Agencies

From 1999 to 2004, Mr. Koska prosecuted a case against the State of California, California Regional Water Quality Control Board and Dept. of Toxic Substances Control on theories of inverse condemnation, nuisance and trespass for their oversight authority involving Aerojet General Corporation's cleanup of contaminated well fields in Rancho Cordova, California. At the same time, Mr. Koska prosecuted Aerojet General Corporation for contaminating American States' well fields in Sacramento. The cases were consolidated for trial and resulted in settlements valued at over $100 million.

Defense of Clean Air Act Violations

Mr. Koska was part of the defense team in the case of State of North Carolina v. Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) (January 2009). This historic case involved claims by the State of North Carolina that emissions from TVA smoke stacks in three states were polluting the state of North Carolina as a result of wind currents in the southeastern United States. The allegations involved claims of nuisance and issues pertaining to the Clean Air Act.

Defense of Contaminated Water Claims

In 1992, Mr. Koska defended a publicly-traded water utility against claims of injury and death resulting from the ingestion of allegedly contaminated water by some 270 persons. After less than a year of litigation, only 30 plaintiffs were left and the case settled with each plaintiff receiving approximately $6,000.

Defense of Air Pollution Claims

In 1989/1990, Mr. Koska defended the Dial Corporation in a case brought by over 100 plaintiffs alleging that Dial's chlorine plant, along with several other industrial plants in the area, had caused multiple injuries and death to the surrounding residents. In less than a year of litigation, the cases were dismissed in favor of Mr. Koska's client.

Defense/Prosecution Regarding Air Pollution Claims

In 1986, Mr. Koska defended Dial Corporation in litigation filed on behalf of 100 plaintiffs who had inhaled chlorine fumes, following a chlorine tank explosion at the Dial plant. He settled with the plaintiffs for a very reasonable figure. Thereafter, he successfully prosecuted the responsible parties for Dial and recovered a seven figure settlement.

Business Law

Innovative Medical Services v. Fresh Water Systems, Inc. & Cohen v. Freshwater Systems, Inc. (and other consolidated cases)
(San Diego County Superior Court)

This Trade Secret, Unfair Competition and Trade Libel action was filed by San Diego-based Innovative Medical Services ("IMS"), a publicly traded company, against our client Fresh Water Systems, Inc. ("FWS"), IMS' direct competitor in the field of water purification technology. The issues related to certain water purification technology (as applied to the national chain pharmacy market for reconstituting oral antibiotics). The related Cohen action was a Defamation action brought against FWS by a former employee who then worked for IMS. Other collateral actions were also consolidated to the main action involving parties on both coasts. The allegations in the underlying action asserted that a former IMS employee was coaxed into divulging trade secrets and customer lists to our client. Discovery was complex and technical because of the nature of the subject matter. Nevertheless, CLM was able to demonstrate that plaintiffs had very little basis for their claims against our client for alleged intentional interference with plaintiff's customer base or for the unauthorized use of any other trade secret or proprietary material. Attorneys John Campbell and Jon Van de Grift obtained a very favorable settlement of $10,000 that allowed the parties to move ahead with the development of their products and technology. As a result of the professional matter in which this matter was resolved by CLM - to the benefit of our client - our client was even able to collaborate with IMS on a new business venture.

Real Estate Cases


Mr. Koska defended Presley of Southern California in a landslide matter involving a large residence in the Encino Hills area. After Mr. Koska recovered several hundred thousand dollars from subcontractors, plaintiff obtained only a five-figure verdict from the jury.

Eminent Domain

He also became involved in both defending and prosecuting eminent domain and inverse condemnation actions on behalf of developers and individuals. In 1994, Mr. Koska defended Hopkins Development Company in a series of eminent domain actions filed by the City of La Mirada. Hopkins was the developer of a mixed-used project and was sued by the former tenants of a condemned shopping center. Mr. Koska obtained a defense judgment in the first case tried. The remaining cases thereafter settled reasonably.

This crossover with structure knowledge, land and water issues led naturally to the construction defect work which Mr. Koska has been involved in since the late-1980s.

Nuisance, Trespass, Inverse Condemnation

In the late-1980s, some 200 plaintiffs residing in an area of Malibu called "Big Rock" filed suit against the County of Los Angeles and the State of California following landslides in Malibu, California. The county and the state responded by filing cross-complaints against all of the homeowners alleging, in effect, that the homeowners had contributed to the landslides by their conduct involving septic systems. Mr. Koska was selected as lead counsel for all of the homeowners who were sued by the county and the state as cross-defendants. As lead counsel, Mr. Koska directed the activities of over 200 lawyers in the defense of the cases. The cases settled within a year of Mr. Koska taking over the defense, and the resident homeowners obtained approximately $95 million in settlements.

Recently, Mr. Koska was part of the team representing plaintiff Tennessee Nature Conservancy in a suit involving the dissolution of a watershed district. The case had far-reaching ramifications with reference to how and when a watershed district may be formed and, more importantly, how it may be dissolved.


Mr. Koska is currently prosecuting a partition action involving land owned by family members in an area zoned for automobile dealers. A favorable settlement is about to conclude involving cash payments, land swaps and lot line adjustments.

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Campbell, Lauter & Murphy, Attorneys at Law
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San Diego CA 92122

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