Bakersfield lawyer wins $2.8 million verdict in accident case

By Steve E. Swenson
Californian staff writer

A Bakersfield attorney has won a $2.8 million verdict in a San Diego accident case that involved a painter falling 45 feet during the construction of an apartment complex.
The verdict on behalf of Joseph L. Hefner, who was 24 years old at the time of the Jan. 3, 1986 accident, was obtained after a San Diego County Superior Court trial in which Hefner was represented by attorney John C. Hall of Bakersfield.
Hall explained Saturday that Hefner became his client while he was being treated a the Centre for Neuro Skills in Bakersfield. Hefner suffered brain damage causing difficulty in controlling his behavior, memory and speech.
The defendants in the trial were Crow-Western Co., which does construction in the western United States, and Tone Framing Inc. of San Diego. Although a jury reached its verdict in November, further judgments in the case have and are continuing to be made, Hall said.
The following account is taken from a settlement conference statement:
Hefner was painting the eaves of one of the three-story buildings in a construction project known as The Mirada at La Jolla Colony in San Diego. He was standing on a balcony landing that had no guard rails.
Although there were no witnesses to the accident, and Hefner has no memory of it, it appears from physical evidence and the testimony of witnesses who last saw Hefner that as he was painting the eaves, he stumbled on debris on the landing.
Hefner’s supervisor asked the construction superintendent for scaffolding before the accident, but the request was denied. There also were reports that guardrails were requested for the balcony landing, but the superintendent denied being aware of such requests.
Hall said jurors believed the defendants tried to cut safety costs and that formed basis of their verdict.
The defendants argued that Hefner was not wearing a safety belt and should not have been painting in a dangerous situation. Hall replied Hefner was ordered to do a job and was doing it the best he could.
Hefner has already encountered $360,000 worth of medical bills in connection with the accident. Although the verdict was for $2.8 million, a pretrial settlement agreement reduced the amount to $2.7 million – $2.3 million plus $430,000 in workers’ compensation benefits used for medical expenses, Hall said.
The attorney fees were about $805,000, which is 35 percent of the $2.3 million settlement.
Hefner moved to Springfield, Mo., where he lives on a horse ranch along with his parents in separate residences. Hall said Hefner’s father is the conservator for the money for him. Hall said the accident has left Hefner in a condition where he needs limited supervision.