After nearly three days of deliberations, a jury awarded just over $6.7 million to the family of a woman struck and killed by a vehicle on Shell Beach Road as she walked toward The Cliffs Resort in Pismo Beach in 2011.
On Wednesday morning, a jury awarded Aaron Rittger, husband of the late Tricia Rittger, $6,709,300 in total damages. Because of the nature of civil cases, in which percentages of blame are assigned to various parties who can reach separate settlements, Rittger will receive only approximately $1.6 million from The Cliffs and owner King Ventures.
The $1.6 million was calculated based on Tricia Rittger’s potential earnings, as well as about $500,000 in nonmonetary damages.
Neither the city nor the driver are affected by the jury verdict because both have already settled with the Rittger family. In October 2013, the settled a lawsuit with the city of Pismo Beach for $1.5 million. The family also previously settled out of court with the driver for an unknown amount.
The family had originally sought $21.7 million.
Although the jury found The Cliffs Resort negligent in the accident, it also found Rittger and the driver of the vehicle that struck her at fault, concluding that their fault was greater than that of The Cliffs.
The jury also found that the city of Pismo Beach, which owns the street on which the accident occurred, knew about the dangerous condition of the road long enough to have prevented the accident.
In total, the jury found Rittger and the driver were most at fault — 36 and 34 percent, respectively — the city at 20 percent fault, and The Cliffs and King Ventures at a combined 10 percent fault.
Evidence presented during the two-week civil trial showed that The Cliffs Resort failed to comply with a conditional use permit prohibiting hotel guests from parking in a 48-car parking lot across Shell Beach Road from the resort, which the Rittger family’s attorneys argued would have prevented Rittger’s death.
“Today, justice was delivered to the family of Tricia Rittger. I am proud of the family’s desire to effectuate change and their courage to take this case to trial,” wrote Ryan Harris, the Rittger family’s attorney, in an email following the verdict. “The jury is the voice of our community. And their message is loud and clear: Life is precious, and safety is paramount.”
“From The Cliffs’ perspective, we’re pleased with the verdict. The jury worked hard, and the facts and jury instructions were extensive,” said Darren Epps, attorney for The Cliffs Resort.
“We recognize this was a tragic accident, and we wish the Rittger family nothing but the best.”
According to both parties, Cliffs Resort owner King Ventures pledged post-trial to work with the city of Pismo Beach to install a blinking lighted crosswalk on Shell Beach Road in front of the hotel to improve pedestrian safety.
Harris said the Rittger family welcomed the move.
John King, co-owner of King Ventures, did not respond to a request for comment Wednesday.
In November 2011, Rittger, a longtime sales manager at KSBY, was struck by a southbound vehicle as she attempted to cross Shell Beach Road toward The Cliffs Resort. Questions were raised in testimony about whether Rittger was texting on her cellphone and distracted when she crossed the road.