The lack of a left turn signal or the implementation of alternative safety measures at a Redondo Beach intersection contributed to a 2012 collision in which a former UCLA offensive lineman lost part of his left leg below the knee, his attorney said Wednesday in asking a jury to award more than $50 million in damages.
Addressing the Los Angeles Superior Court jury during closing arguments in trial of Amir “Nick” Ekbatani‘s negligence lawsuit, lawyer Garo Mardirossian said the state of California and Caltrans knew about complaints made years earlier by citizens about the intersection of Pacific Coast Highway and Diamond Street, but did nothing to correct the problem before his client’s accident.
Caltrans attorney Jill Siciliano countered that the intersection, which the state inherited from the city of Redondo Beach, is not dangerous. She blamed the accident on the driver of the taxi van that struck Ekbatani.
“We are here because Mr. (Mesfin) Kinfu caused this accident,” Siciliano said. “He cut the corner and he caused Mr. Ekbatani’s injuries.”
Siciliano said Kinfu was familiar with the intersection because he had made a left turn there hundreds of times before. But this time he did not take the proper precautions, she said.
“He never hit his brakes, he never stopped,” Siciliano said.
According to Mardirossian, Ekbatani was riding his motorcycle north on PCH about 10:20 p.m. on July 14, 2012, when Kinfu, heading south, failed to yield the right-of-way when turning left onto Diamond Street, colliding with the motorcycle.
Mardirossian said the intersection is considered “skewed” because Diamond Street crosses PCH at a diagonal so severe that Caltrans is obligated to take extra precautions to protect motorists. He said the accident was preventable had a left-turn signal been in place because a red light would have stopped Kinfu from making his turn while Ekbatani was proceeding on a green light.
Mardirossian said other measures available included the striping of a two double-yellow lines to form a simulated median on the pavement that would have forced Kinfu and other drivers to drive further toward the center of the intersection before turning left. That measure would have given Ekbatani the extra time he needed to get through the intersection before Kinfu’s van smashed into his leg, Mardirossian said.
“This is what Caltrans could have prevented,” Mardirossian said. “This is what Caltrans is responsible for.”
Mardirossian said Ekbatani was once “a master of his body,” but now has to devote three hours a day to dealing with his prosthesis, making it difficult for him to get jobs he otherwise could compete for on a more level playing field. He also copes with stares, questions about whether he has a war injury and difficulties in being a part of the dating scene, Mardirossian said.
Ekbatani’s former girlfriend, ex-USC volleyball player Kelli Tennant, testified she canceled their marriage plans, in part because of the stress from doing double duty as the plaintiff’s fiancee and caregiver.
“Just imagine, this was an elite athlete who now all of a sudden has become a burden on others,” Mardirossian said.
Ekbatani, now 29, was a football standout at South High in Torrance and UCLA, where he played from 2006-09. He was presented with two game balls for victories over the University of Washington and the University of Tennessee, Mardirossian said.
After his playing career concluded, Ekbatani shed nearly one-third of his playing weight of more than 300 pounds, obtained an MBA at USC and did a stint at ESPN, Mardirossian said. He underwent 13 surgeries on his left leg and always carries a backpack with him that contains supplies to help him tend to that limb, Mardirossian said.
Ekbatani also sued Kinfu, but settled the part of the case against him before trial. Kinfu’s cross-complaint against Caltrans will be decided by the same jury.
–City News Service
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