Helping Families who Suffered from Morgue Negligence

Helping families deal with grief and mortuary negligence

Helping Families Who Have Suffered from Morgue Negligence

By Albro L. Lundy III

The Intersection of my Personal and Professional Experience

When you are an attorney, your clients don’t often call you with good news in their lives. Usually someone is calling because they are facing a difficulty, sometimes a very big one in their life. And sometimes, they call because they know you have faced or dealt with a similar difficulty.

It has been that way in my life. My father, USAF Major Albro L. Lundy Jr., was lost in the Vietnam Conflict in 1970, flying search and rescue over Laos. My family had been told that he was dead, actually Killed In Action, Body Not Recovered. For years that is what we believed until information started to surface in 1990 that he might have survived the incident. The story of the search for him is too long to tell here, and could actually take a book to tell. In many ways what I learned along the way has impacted my career as an attorney.

While searching for my father, I learned more than I ever wanted to about human remains and using DNA testing and dental records to prove identity. I also learned the high value placed on returning a body with dignity to a family and treating it with honor. The US government spends millions of dollars and many servicemen and women have given their lives to bring back a body to a grieving family.

It was this experience of mine, this experience with remains and identification, that led a good friend to refer one of their newly widowed friends to me. She had received a knock on the door late at night from the crematorium where she thought her husband had been cremated a few weeks before. They asked her to identify pictures of a body that they thought was her husband – since they realized they had cremated the wrong body. The ashes she thought were his were sitting on the mantle close by. Shocked and horrified, she needed to seek and discover the truth of what happened to her late husband, and receive justice for the dishonor to her husband’s body as well as the traumatic shock that the news and pictures of her partially decomposed husband had caused her. She could not identify him through the photos and needed to find alternate means to identify his remains through intra-oral photographs and dental record comparisons. Many times the bodies that came home from Vietnam had only the dental records to make identifications as well. After helping her confirm the identity and finally honor her late husband’s wishes, we were able to help her also receive a significant settlement for the emotional harm and trauma she suffered through this mistake.

This experience has given me the training, education and skill to assist other families in need when they have experienced negligence by a mortuary, crematorium or morgue. Our law firm has helped families presented with the wrong ashes, missing bodies, and identification of bodies. This is something we hope no family even needs to go through. But if you suspect something unusual has happened to the body of your loved one, know that there can be help and legal remedies. Our culture places a high value on the dignified treatment of a body after death and allowing it to rest in peace. Our law firm stands ready to help families with this sad and difficult part of life when needed.

Please Note: This document does not constitute legal advice. Please consult an attorney for legal advice on what to do in a particular situation.

Albro Lundy III attorney

Albro L. Lundy III

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Día de Los Muertos and Mortuary Negligence

Day of the Dead

Día de Los Muertos and Mortuary Negligence

By Albro L. Lundy III

Reflections on Resting in Peace

This week many countries and cultures celebrated All Souls’ Day also known as Día de Los Muertos in the Latin culture. In our office, Diane created an All Souls’ Day display on her desk with funeral programs and mass cards to honor her friends who have died this past year. She included marigolds (the traditional flower in Mexico for the Day of the Dead) and items with special meanings to make a lovely shrine. As I stopped to admire it, I realized that I had been friends with most of the people she was honoring. And it gave me pause to reflect on life and death. I had just exchanged condolences with another attorney I have never met but who is opposing me on a case. He indicated he had a death in the family and apologized for his delay in responding to me. I responded that it was times like these that made us realize what was most important in life. He immediately agreed and we, two adversaries, shared a moment beyond the case at hand.

Rest in peace. That most common phrase is truly meant for both the spirit that has passed into afterlife as well as those of us who remain in these mortal coils. Death is part of life although in this modern world we try to hide that fact. Gone are the days when the kitchen table or the living room couch served as the resting place for the body of a deceased loved one while the family gathered for their final goodbye or in the Irish tradition, a wake.   Nowadays the body is whisked away by “professionals” and we are left to trust that they are going to handle our loved ones with as much respect as we would. But I am always left wondering if that really is true. You see, I have handled many mortuary and crematory negligence cases and I have seen true horror stories (too graphic to describe here) of how they treat your loved one’s remains.

Unfortunately the bottom line for some of these organizations that provide cut-rate crematory services or sometimes even high-end funeral services is how much money they can make and they cut corners. Their economic welfare triumphs over your emotional well-being.

A powerful but not well-known legal tool I have used is a case decided by the California Supreme Court that makes an exception (the only real exception in contract cases) that emotional distress damages can be recovered for a mortuary’s breach of their contract and failure to respect and care for the remains of your loved one.

There is enough pain when losing loved ones without it being compounded by the people you entrust for their peaceful repose.   If you have any suspicions there has been mishandling of your loved one’s remains, you should definitely investigate. The sacred duty of caring for your loved ones after their death should remain inviolate.


Albro L. Lundy III attorney

Albro L. Lundy III

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Muhammad Ali & Me – Fighting for POWS

Muhammad Ali travels to Vietnam with Albro Lundy

Albro L. Lundy III, Muhammad Ali, Carol Hrdlicka, wife of MIA/POW USAF David Hrdlicka in Hanoi, Vietnam in 1994

Muhammad Ali and Me – Fighting for POWs in Vietnam

By Albro L. Lundy III

Larger than Life

I always thought that Ali was larger than life until I was sitting across from him on a chance limousine ride we shared to the Philadelphia airport. This was long before Parkinson’s disease quieted the voice of this great orator. And my conversation with him was nothing less than ethereal. At that point, he became simply a man with a great heart. I was a young attorney and suddenly working on the biggest case of my life – trying to discover the truth about what happened to my father, USAF Major Albro L. Lundy Jr., when his Skyraider plane was shot down December 24, 1970.

Looking for my Father

In my mind, I had lost my father when I was 10 years old while he was flying a search and rescue mission. I later found out it was a secret mission to save the lives of Laotian allies and CIA operatives. One day, one Saturday the day before Easter in 1991, I received a letter from a judge in Kentucky who said my father, who had been declared dead but his body had never been recovered, might still be alive and held prisoner as a Prisoner of War in Vietnam. I wept when I read this letter for I had done nothing to save my father those 20 years.

So I set off on a quest to bring my father home should he still be alive and held in captivity in the communist recesses of Laos or Vietnam. I didn’t meet many people who knew where Laos was much less how it was involved in the Vietnam War. I traveled all over America and even to Southeast Asia in my quest.

Meeting The Champ

On one of these journeys, on that chance ride I shared with the Champ, I shared with him the story of my lost father. The Champ asked me, “Do you believe he is still alive?” I answered, “The only spiritual, the only logical, and the only moral thing I can do is to believe he is alive until I can prove otherwise.” Ali looked at me, his dark eyes searching my soul and connecting with my heart. He said to me, pounding his right fist into his left palm repeatedly, “You and me, let’s bring him home. Let’s go get him.”

I had no experience with Muhammad Ali until this point and my doubting Thomas mind was amazed yet wondered if what Ali had declared, that we would find my father together, was nothing more than an empty promise. Ali was a man of his word. In the months that followed an expedition to communist Vietnam was arranged by Let Freedom Ring Inc., a nonprofit organization.

Muhammad Ali Travels to Vietnam to Save Instead of Fight

Ali and I, with a cadre of POW family members and advocates, took off to North Vietnam, a country that by refusing to fight, Ali had risked his freedom and had been stripped of his World Champion Belt. He would not to go Vietnam to fight then but now was willing to go there to save. I can recall like it was yesterday, Ali sitting next to me as we were landing on a dilapidated airstrip in North Vietnam saying, “I can’t believe I am here. I spent so much of my life fighting not to come. But now I am here to bring your dad home.” I had no response. The magnitude of his statement and the reality that I was living took my words away. I just reached over and grabbed his hand and said “Thank you.”

Meeting with the North Vietnamese

I thought that if anyone could bring my dad home if he was still alive it was Muhammad Ali. When we met with the Premier of North Vietnam and later the Politbureau, which really controlled the decision making of North Vietnam, Ali was brilliant in negotiations. I will always remember him describing to the Premier how the world was his home and each county was a room within it; and we as family living in that home should work together for peace.

Then, he brought up my father and asked – if he was held by the Vietnamese (who ruled Laos), would they release him? And I can remember so clearly, the Premier saying, “Champ, if this was between our peoples, we would have resolution. But this is between our governments. And out of my and your hands.” Later when we met with the Politbureau, they so much as admitted that they still held prisoners of war, but under their interpretation of the Geneva Convention did not consider them prisoners of war but air pirates and merely criminals deserving of Vietnamese punishment.

A Gracious Ambassador

It was tragically devastating when we realized that our hopes of Ali bringing a man, a POW, home were not going to happen. At that point, we then needed to be as cordial as we could to the North Vietnamese yet not allow them to use us as propaganda. This was not an easy task. In 1994, Ali was one of the most recognizable men in the world.

Crowds followed him wherever we went. He would always entertain the children who flocked around him with magic tricks and give them simple hugs of love. Ali was not interested in tourist attractions and government appointments. He came to bring the POWs home, and if he couldn’t do that, he had little patience for the rest of what the Vietnamese had planned for him. But he ultimately made a decision for equanimity. If he couldn’t bring the POWs home, he could at least be the ambassador for the US and the World. And he was.

We all mourn the loss of Muhammad Ali. I was blessed to understand and experience how great a man he really was, the Champ, the dancer in the ring, the humanitarian — truly greater than most people will ever know. He was the Greatest.

Albro Lundy III attorney

Albro L. Lundy III

BB&L Wins California Supreme Court Victory

Albro Lundy argued before the California Supreme Court to change the use of 998 settlement offers and allow for the use of multiple offers to be taken into consideration for awarding expert fees in the Brownco v. Martinez case. The Court decided unanimously to allow recovery of fees from the date of the first offer. This changes 40 years of legal precedent. In the words of the court:

“Section 998 of the Code of Civil Procedure[1] was enacted to encourage the settlement of lawsuits prior to trial. The statute accomplishes this purpose by providing for augmentation and withholding of the costs recoverable at trial when a party fails to achieve a result better than it could have obtained by accepting an offer of compromise or settlement conforming to statutory requirements. Among other things, section 998 provides that a defendant may be ordered to pay a reasonable sum to cover the plaintiff’s postoffer costs of expert witness services when the judgment is not more favorable than the plaintiff’s settlement offer. (§ 998, subd. (d).)

The terms of section 998 do not prohibit a party from making more than one settlement offer, but they are silent as to the effect of a party’s multiple offers. In this action, we consider whether a later offer extinguishes a previous offer for purposes of section 998’s cost-shifting provisions. We conclude that where, as here, a plaintiff makes two successive statutory offers, and the defendant fails to obtain a judgment more favorable than either offer, allowing recovery of expert fees incurred from the date of the first offer is consistent with section 998’s language and best promotes the statutory purpose to encourage settlements.”

Baker, Burton & Lundy is proud to contribute to streamlining the legal process and reducing litigation by making the process more fair and efficient.

High Court Ruling Aids Settlements

High Court Ruling Aids Settlements

Decision cements some of the benefits, drawbacks of multiple settlement offers.

By Emily Green, Daily Journal Staff Writer
June 11, 2013

The state Supreme Court on Monday endorsed the expansive application of a unique settlement offer that raises the stakes for civil defendants who go to trial, with the stated purpose of encouraging cases to resolve early.

Plaintiffs’ attorneys cheered the decision, which they said would encourage their use of so-called Section 998 offers. Such tenders differ from regular settlement offers in that they operate as a carrot and stick tool.

If a plaintiff makes a 998 offer which the defendant rejects, and then wins more money at trial than the offer amount, the defendant is on the hook for 10 percent annual interest on the judgment extending back to the date of the offer, as well as the plaintiffs expert fees.

Defendants also use 998 offers, but they tend to do so less frequently because the payoff is smaller. If they come out ahead on a 998 offer rejected by the plaintiff, they can have the cost of their expert fees covered.

The question before the state Supreme Court concerned an issue that had split the state courts of appeal: What happens when litigants make more than one settlement offer? Which one should apply – all of then, or just the last offer?

The answer: It depends.

Justice Marvin R. Baxter wrote the opinion for the unanimous court. Martinez v. Brownco Construction Co. Inc., 2013 DJDAR 7341

He said that if the party that makes more than one Section 998 offer wins a judgment less favorable than the first offer, but more favorable that the later offer, the controlling offer is the last one. That is to say, if a plaintiff makes an offer for $100,000, and then a second offer for $50,000 – both of which the defendant rejects – and then the plaintiff wins $75,000 at trial, the plaintiff can win 10 percent interest on the judgment extending back to the date of the second offer.

That calculation changes, however, if the plaintiff makes two offers and then beats both offers at trial. Then, the court said, the plaintiff is eligible to receive interest and the cost of expert fees extending to the date of the first offer.

“Not only do the chances of settlement increase with multiple offers, but to be consistent with section 998’s financial inventive and disincentives, parties should not be penalized for making more than one reasonable settlement offer, “ Baxter wrote. “Nor should parties be rewarded for rejecting multiple offers where each proves more favorable than the result obtained at trial.”

Baxter also wrote that if there are allegations of gamesmanship, the trial court has discretion to make that determination and deny interest on the judgment or expert fees.

The case stems from two settlement offers Gloria Martinez made to Brownco Construction Co. Inc. after her husband was severely injured on the job.

Three months after the accident, in 2007, she made a 998 offer for $250,000. Two and a half years later on the eve of trial, she made a second 998 offer for $100,000.

The company rejected the offer, and Martinez won $250,000 at trial. Subsequently, she sought to recover interest on the case and cost of expert fees. The trial court held that Martinez couldn’t recover expert fees incurred between the two offers because the second offer extinguished the first one. The appellate court reversed and said the last offer is not necessarily the operative offer for purposes of cost shifting.

Sacramento plaintiffs’ lawyer Roger Dreyer, who was not involved in the case, described the state Supreme Court’s decision as “hugely important” for trial lawyers. He said he was often reluctant to make second 998 offers for fear that it would eviscerate the first one – and the potential to win interest extending back to the first offer.

“This may be the most important statute in the civil code as it affects trials,” Dreyer said. “It’s a strategic tool. It’s also a tool that forces the defense to evaluate their options.”

Albro Lundy III, who represented Martinez, said the court’s decision puts pressure on the litigants to settle.

“It increases the risk of going forward to trial and it lowers the risk of making a subsequent offer, and therefore increases the possibility of settling.”

Brownco Construction’s attorney, George M. Lindahl, called the decision “well reasoned.”

“I was hoping they would go the other way on it. But the law was in need of clarification.”

Lindahl cautioned that the decision could leave trial courts burdened with resolving complaints of gamesmanship in 998 offers – an argument he said he would now make in this case.

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Bleeding Life

Bleeding Life, Albro Lundy donates blood

Bleeding Life

Having Already given 140 pints, Albro Lundy continues to donate Blood

Published Nov., 2013 in Pulse: Healthy Living for the South Bay
Written by James Mills
Photographed by Michael Neveux 

Dedicated to the cause of giving blood, for his 52nd birthday Albro Lundy asked his family to donate a pint of blood in lieu of presents. “I was so proud,” reports the native Angelino. “We all went to Torrance Memorial together and donated at the same time. We took up all the chairs.”

Since he moved to Palos Verdes in the mid-1990s, Torrance Memorial Medical Center has been Lundy’s preferred place to donate blood. He goes in every two to three months.

“Torrance Memorial is just a really great place to give blood,” says Lundy, now 54. “They’ve got a nice spot; big, huge, picture windows overlooking the airport. You can watch the planes come in and out while you’re giving the blood. It’s free parking. No hassles. It’s a great group of people there. They’re very skilled.”

Donating blood has been a part of his life since he was a teenager. “I’ve donated 140 pints in my lifetime,” brags Lundy, a trial lawyer with the Hermosa Beach-based law firm Baker, Burton & Lundy. “I’ve been giving blood since I was 16. I had a high school teacher who said it was a good thing to do. So I did, and it was a great feeling—not just physically but spiritually too. You’re saving someone’s life by giving blood.”

Giving blood not only saves a life; in Lundy’s case, it helped him meet his future wife. “I was organizing a blood drive on campus at UCLA. Cathi and I were both working as English writing tutors. I asked her, ‘So what would you think about working on my blood drive?’ How’s that for a pick-up line?”

The couple are parents to three sons and a daughter. The three oldest children have all adopted the habit, each giving blood regularly at their colleges. Lundy is hopeful his youngest son will also start donating once he turns 16.

Lundy has traveled abroad extensively, including to Laos where he (unsuccessfully) searched for his missing-in-action fighter pilot father who was shot down decades earlier. Blood donation centers do not allow people to give for a period of time after such trips as a precaution—in case they picked up a blood-borne disease such as malaria. After the Laos trip, Lundy couldn’t give for two years. But he was back to it just as soon as it was permitted.

“Its value is extraordinary,” says Lundy. “You know you’ve saved one person’s life, but sometimes it’s up to four people’s lives. The blood can be used for up to four different people. That’s incredible to be able to do that in terms of charity. I give my blood, and it can’t be abused. I give my money to somebody, and I don’t know where it goes. Even if someone steals the blood, the only value it has is to somebody who needs it to save their life.”

Pulse logo, Torrance Memorial Hospital

Albro Lundy: Heart of the Law

Albro Lundy: Heart of the Law

by Robb Fulcher

Peninsula People/Easy Reader, April 28, 2010

Peninsula resident Albro Lundy III, who has helped win billions of dollars for California consumers through energy lawsuits, has added the title Trial Attorney of the Year for his dogged work in an accident case that has improved the safety of state roadways.

The case that would win Lundy the prestigious award from the Consumer Attorneys of California not only made the roadways safer, it greatly improved the future of a man close to Lundy’s heart.

On its face, the case was an extremely difficult one. It centered on a single-car accident on the night of Jan. 16, 2006 in the high desert, at the T-intersection of Highway 62 and Highway 177 in a rural northeast corner of Riverside County. The plaintiff was 77-year-old Clete Schmidt, a lifelong friend who had been a surrogate father to Lundy in his youth.

Schmidt was on his way to Lake Havasu when he was unable to see a stop sign in time to stop, crashing into a five-foot stony embankment just beyond the intersection and crushing his Ford Crown Victoria. He spent two months in intensive care, nearly died on several occasions, and emerged a ventilator-dependent quadriplegic with some arm movement.

As attorneys examined the condition of the public roadway, the state claimed there were at least six signs indicating that there was a stop ahead on a relatively straight road. No other vehicles were involved, and the victim was a 77-year-old ex-attorney who lived in Palos Verdes. In light of the severity of injuries, the case would be intensely defended.

Going for it

The attorney and his partners at the firm of Baker, Burton & Lundy had just finished joint litigation on two energy pipeline conspiracy cases that brought California consumers nearly $4 billion in settlements, when Lundy told his partners he wanted to take Schmidt’s case.

Lundy told his partners the costs could run several hundred thousand dollars, and he estimated there was a 5 percent chance of victory. In light of his 40-year relationship with Schmidt, he offered to run the case himself and spare his partners the risk. The partnership vote to take the case was unanimous and immediate.

Lundy and his team made multiple trips to Caltrans archives in San Bernardino and Sacramento, and spent hundreds of hours at and around the scene of the accident looking for witnesses or evidence to demonstrate that the roadway was unsafe. A theory of liability began to develop.

A longtime resident of Riverside County recalled that many years before, the roadway had contained “Botts Dots,” ceramic discs that warn drivers through vibration, which had been removed or destroyed. Then, after five days’ search in the San Bernardino Caltrans office and three more in Sacramento, a “needle in a haystack” was found in the form of photographs verifying that Botts Dots had existed at the approach to the intersection 30 years ago.

Lundy said Caltrans knew the Botts Dots were an important warning system approaching a stop sign in the desert, and had even replaced them at least once in the 1990s. However, Caltrans did not maintain them and never replaced them subsequently in spite of pictures in their own files showing the deterioration.

It was additionally discovered that a large double arrow “End of the Road” sign had been removed or lost, and not replaced. A further theory of liability was developed based on a berm cut into the road across from the stop, which eliminated a driver’s recovery zone.

Remarkable Win

The evidence uncovered and the theories developed resulted in a jury verdict on liability of 90 percent to Caltrans and only 10 percent to Schmidt. The jury ordered Caltrans to pay $11.6 million to Schmidt and his wife Marlene.

State officials later told Lundy that because of the jury verdict, Caltrans began inspecting all similar T-intersections in rural environments to make appropriate corrections. At the trial it was discovered that, except for one alcohol-related accident, seven other accidents over a 21-month period all involved drivers over the age of 50 whose response times required more warning on the high speed highway to come to a complete stop.

Caltrans also revamped the safety precautions at the intersection where Schmidt was injured.

Schmidt’s injuries left him in a precarious condition and the slightest thing, even a cold, is life threatening, Lundy said.

The case was tried on an expedited basis in a converted school classroom before Judge Lillian Y. Lim, sitting by special assignment.
“The ability to prosecute a case on an expedited basis against a governmental agency, and to allow the decision to be made by a jury of his peers, allowed Clete and his wife Marlene Schmidt to see a decision in his lifetime and receive an award that would give him the dignity of first-rate medical care throughout the rest of his life that would have otherwise been unavailable,” the Consumer Attorneys of California stated. “It also spared his family from the shame and anguish of being unable to pay his medical expenses or provide appropriate care and to avoid the eventual prospect of bankruptcy.”

To the rescue

During the trial’s 11th hour Lundy, facing medical complications of his own, enlisted the aid of noted attorney Gary A. Dordick as co-counsel. The attorneys alternated witnesses and shared opening and closing arguments.

A particularly poignant moment occurred when Dordick was questioning Marlene Schmidt. Speaking of Clete’s penchant for giving, Dordick referred to Clete’s befriending of an 11-year-old boy who had lost his father in the Vietnam conflict. This young man had joined the Schmidt family on every vacation and had become part of the family. When Dordick asked Marlene who this young man was, she pointed across the courtroom and declared it was Albro Lundy. Gasps from the jurors were audible.

Two months into the case, Lundy visited Schmidt in the intensive care unit at the Eisenhower Medical Center at Palm Springs. Lundy felt dizzy and thought he might have a minor concussion from a fall he had taken during a recent skiing vacation. As the symptoms grew progressively worse over the next week, he sought medical attention.

Lundy was diagnosed with a vestibular schwannoma brain tumor, and he handled the Schmidt case while undergoing 30 straight days of radiation treatment. The effects of the potentially life threatening brain tumor and radiation treatment included dizziness, double vision and periodic debilitating headaches which sometimes lasted for days.

Lundy brought Dordick into the case for extra assurance that Schmidt would have top-notch legal representation. Lundy also praised his firm’s litigation staff, Jeri Munn and Jenny Wood, and assisting attorney Norm Coe and Joe Barrett.

After the trial Schmidt paid tribute to Lundy, saying haltingly, “I took care – of him, and – now he took – care of me.”

David v. Goliath

The energy pipeline cases came about after gas prices spiked 16-fold at the California border at the turn of the decade. Energy companies blamed increased demand and a pipeline explosion, but Lundy and his partners didn’t buy the logic.

Thus began a dogged legal pursuit that, years later, won consumers $3.7 million in settlements from large companies accused of illegally killing pipeline projects, artificially raising the price of natural gas coming into California, causing electricity prices to soar, and contributing to California’s energy crisis of 2000 and 2001.

The attorneys’ work was hailed by Michael R. Peevey, president of the California Public Utilities Commission, who said it would “provide significant economic benefits to electric and natural gas consumers in California.”

Turning outward

Lundy and his partners donated massive chunks of their fees from the settlements – as much as 25 percent – to charities including the Christian nonprofit Floresta/Plant with Purpose which works to reverse deforestation and poverty in the world.

Lundy has been involved with Floresta since 1986 and has served on its board of directors for 10 years. He also serves as general counsel to the organization.

Lundy has been a member of the St. Lawrence Martyr Parish in Redondo Beach and has served on its Parish council for four years, including a term as vice president.

Albro and his wife Cathi have been giving Engagement Encounter weekends for the Catholic Church for 23 years, aiming to help preserve marriage as the cornerstone of strong families. They have given weekends to more than 4,000 couples.

Lundy has donated blood since he was 16, and has topped a total of 115 pints.

> Read the article on the Easy Reader website.

Albro Lundy, Trial Lawyer
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Road Design Case Results in Safer Roads for California


Road Design Case Results in Safer Roads for California

Schmidt vs. California is an example of award-winning consumer attorneys at work not only for an individual but for all people. When Clete Schmidt got in a horrific accident at a rural T-intersection that left him a quadriplegic, Baker, Burton & Lundy made sure that California roadway managers Caltrans were brought to court for their negligent management of the dangerous intersection that caused Schmidt’s life-changing accident. For this work, Albro Lundy received the prestigious award of 2009 Trial Lawyer of the Year for California.

What Happened to Clete Schmidt

On the night of January 16, 2006 the case’s plaintiff, Clete Schmidt, a retired seventy-seven-year-old attorney, was on his way to Lake Havasu. Unable to see a stop sign in time, he crashed into a five-foot stony embankment just beyond a T-intersection. His Ford Crown Victoria was destroyed and Clete was close to death throughout his two month stay in intensive care. When he could finally leave the hospital, the impact had left him a ventilator-dependent quadriplegic with limited arm movement.

Taking the Case

In the early stages of investigation it appeared that there was no concrete evidence of liability against Caltrans. In fact, Albro Lundy III characterized the case as having a 5% chance of winning. But despite the great difficulty and expense the case would bring the company, the partners’ vote was unanimous to accept the challenge. It was simply the right thing to do.

The case began with an extensive discovery campaign by Albro Lundy III and his team. This included multiple trips to the Caltrans archives in San Bernardino and Sacramento and literally hundreds of hours spent at and around the scene of the accident by Albro and his associates to uncover witnesses and evidence regarding whether the roadway was unsafe.

Breakthrough and Mounting Evidence

During an interview with a longtime resident of Riverside County, the resident recalled that many years previously, the roadway had contained Botts dots which had been removed or destroyed, but had not been replaced. Botts dots are ceramic discs placed in the road to warn the driver through vibration of upcoming road changes, and Caltrans knew the Botts dots were an important warning system when approaching a stop sign in the desert. They had, in fact, replaced them at least once in the 1990s, but despite photos within their own files that showed the current state of deterioration, nothing had been done or planned for the near future.

Searching further, the team discovered that in addition to the missing Botts dots, a large double arrow “End of the Road” sign had been removed or lost and not replaced. An added danger was the man-made berm that cut into the road across from the stop sign, eliminating the room needed for recovery should a driver fail to slow down at a T-intersection. The truth was that this was a highly dangerous intersection that had been ignored for years: there had been 23 accidents in the 10 years prior to the Schmidt accident, with predominantly elderly drivers.

Presenting the Case

In an isolated Riverside County school house courtroom, BB&L’s litigation team developed, organized and presented a month-long case on the road’s dangers and its consequences for Clete Schmidt and his family. They produced a “Day in the Life” video showing the jury the catastrophic changes in Clete Schmidt’s life. They also presented courtroom graphics, computer simulations, and testimony from the life care planner, economic expert, medical fact witness, liability experts and ten lay witnesses.

The Verdict

The jury results came in with an astonishing outcome for Clete Schmidt and his wife Marlene: $11.6 million for Clete’s injuries and future medical bills, as well as one of the highest damage awards ever for loss of consortium. The verdict itself was remarkable both in terms of the liability apportionment and the damages awarded.

Help for All California Drivers

This case instigated many changes at Caltrans. Since the verdict, it began a review to make sure that the safety devices in similar T-intersections are installed and not missing across the state. The implementation of these safety devices at the intersection of Mr. Schmidt’s accident resulted in a drop to zero accidents in the following 15 months, illustrating immediate and lasting improvement in roadway safety. This intersection and all T-intersections throughout the State of California will be safer because of this verdict.

Baker, Burton & Lundy’s Success

In Schmidt vs. California, Baker, Burton & Lundy’s litigation team fought with the same tenacity they fight every case. They conducted several months of their own investigation and incurred the financial burden of putting on a case against a state agency with governmental immunities and vast resources.

Not only did the team win and make roadways safer for all California drivers, Albro Lundy received the coveted award of 2009 Trial Lawyer of the Year for California for his work on the Schmidt case.

For more information on this case, watch the video to the right.

Verdicts and Settlements

Click here to view a more complete list of our verdicts and settlements.

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Local Attorney Named Trial Lawyer of the Year

Local Attorney Named Trial Lawyer of the Year

by Eric Michael Stitt
The Beach Reporter, November 25, 2009

Hermosa Beach lawyer Albro Lundy is trying to make California safer, one trial at a time.

Albro, a partner in the law firm Baker, Burton and Lundy, was recently named 2009 Trial Attorney of the Year by the Consumer Attorneys of California. The organization honored him because he helped win an $11.6 million lawsuit against Caltrans for a man who was turned quadriplegic and dependent on a ventilator, due to a lack of warning signs to motorists at an intersection in rural California.

Rancho Palos Verdes resident Clete Schmidt, age 77, was driving to Lake Havasu when he came upon the T-intersection on highways 62 and 177. Schmidt couldn’t stop in time after he saw the stop sign approaching the dead-end intersection and slammed into a giant boulder, Lundy said.

Once Schmidt’s family contacted Lundy, who specializes in consumer protection and personal injury, he began researching the history of that particular intersection. This case was special to Lundy because Schmidt had become a father figure to him after his dad was named a POW during the Vietnam War. While growing up, Lundy realized he wanted to become a lawyer like his mother so he could help people.

“I could make a difference, be helpful and improve people’s lives,” he said, which is exactly what he did for the man who helped raise him.

Lundy, along with co-counsel Gary Dordick of Beverly Hills, who also won the award, discovered within 18 months prior to Schmidt’s crash that there had been nine other accidents at that site. Eight of those were involving drivers older than 50 years old and unable to brake in time after seeing the approaching stop sign.

Lundy also found out that rumble strips had never been redone after the road was resurfaced in order to alert drivers that a stop sign was coming. In addition, a double arrow “End of the Road” sign had existed before the intersection, but disappeared and was never replaced, Lundy said.

Upon filing the lawsuit, Caltrans reposted the “End of the Road” sign. Then after the 12 jurors ruled in favor of Schmidt, a review was scheduled to analyze every T-intersection throughout California. Also, no accidents have occurred at that particular desert location since the Schmidt trial.

“Caltrans got a heads up that this is a dangerous place,” said Lundy, who has been an attorney for more than 25 years. “They made all these changes, they changed their whole paradigm.”

During the trial, Lundy also successfully fought a brain tumor and Dordick was diagnosed with Waldenstrom’s Macroglobulinemia Non-Hodgkins Lymphoma and is still undergoing treatment.

Lundy said this case was a huge victory for Schmidt and will keep similar accidents from occurring statewide.

Being acknowledged as Trial Lawyer of the Year by the CAOC helped bring this case to light and being given that honor has always been a dream of his. “It was one of those goals you don’t want to admit to,” he said, in case one never gets it. “It’s an amazing feat for me.”

Chris Dolan, president of the CAOC, said Lundy’s efforts in the Schmidt vs. California trial define the work ethic of the organization’s members. Lundy was the perfect choice and a well-deserved recipient, he added.

“The case represents the values in outstanding accomplishments to lawyers in our organization,” Dolan said. “It’s a highly coveted award and it’s a very prestigious award.” He said Lundy’s “outstanding performance” not only made a dramatic change for his client, but also improved the road safety for Californians.

Another recent trial and massive win that involved Lundy was a $4 billion claim against several energy companies. It was discovered that the CEOs had met and planned to restrict a few natural gas pipelines flowing to California. They were “caught red-handed,” he said. The payback to residents and businesses will depend on their usage, but some could receive $100 or more, Lundy said.

Albro Lundy, Trial Attorney
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