‘PMC negligent’ says Storz wrongful death jury—but not liable

  • Devin Storz, in a photo taken by friends, showing the happy, playful spirit he was known for.

    Devin Storz, in a photo taken by friends, showing the happy, playful spirit he was known for.

By Patric Hedlund
In a verdict that plaintiff’s attorney James Edward Noriega says is “inconsistent,” a 12- person Bakersfield jury voted 11-1 on Monday, March 25 that the Pine Mountain Club Property Owner’s Association was negligent in allegedly not allowing a 100-foot pine tree to be removed from the property of Kip and Toni Storz in Pine Mountain. The same jury then voted 11-1 that PMC’s negligence was “not a substantial factor” in the death of the couple’s son, Devin Storz, 21.

The popular young man was asleep at home on the morning of January 18, 2010 when an estimated 75 mph wind gust brought the tree crashing down onto the back half of the house, where young Storz was sleeping. His father, Kip Storz, was in the kitchen making coffee. To first responders, it appeared as if a bomb had exploded, vaporizing half the home into rubble.
PMC’s defense attorney John Levitt disagreed that the verdict was inconsistent.

“You can be negligent and not have that be a substantial factor in the injury,” he said. That second vote by the jury ended their deliberations, with no award to the plaintiffs.

The defense attorney had suggested in his closing arguments to the jury that if the family had trimmed the tree it might not have come down. He confirms that he also told the jury that if the family felt it was a risk, “they should have cut down the tree despite the association’s rules.”

Defense attorney Levitt said Noriega asked the jurors for $5 million for the parents’ loss,

The trial consumed five and a half full days in court. The jury was chosen on Monday, March 18. Witnesses were called through the week, with closing arguments on Friday. The verdict was delivered before lunch on Monday.

“It is a tragedy and we and our client feels bad for the Storz and we believe the jury did the right thing.”
felt the tree was a risk, “they should have cut down the tree despite the association’s rules.”

The wrongful death suit hinged on the claim of the family that they had asked for permission to remove the tree, after another about 8 feet away had to be taken down for safety reasons. Kip Storz and Jim Gardner told of a visit by PMC employee Bob Clark during which he said he didn’t think it needed to come down. Clark denied that. Tom Yancey of the PMCPOA Environmental Control Committee said he was never asked to come to the property. Storz said that former PMC directors Lee Benevidez and Frank Sanchez told him that if he removed the tree without association authorization, the POA could put a lien on his house, the lawyers recalled.

PMC’s defense attorney Levitt said Noriega asked the jurors for $5 million for the parents’ loss of their son.
Noriega reported that the Storz family were stunned at the verdict. “They are beside themselves, as you can imagine,” he said.

The trial consumed five and a half full days in court.

“It is a tragedy and we and our client feel bad for the Storz family, but we believe the jury did the right thing,” Levitt said.

Noriega said that he is weighing the grounds for appeal to ask for a new trial.

 

This is part of the March 29, 2013 online edition of The Mountain Enterprise.

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