Landlord Must Pay $2.5 Million to Burned Boy

LOS ANGELES DAILY JOURNAL

A Los Angeles landlord must pay $2.46 million to a 9-year-old boy who severely burned himself on a stovetop burner that his mother turned on because the landlord failed to maintain the apartment heater, a jury said Monday.

The jury unanimously found that Nathan Korman and his Korman Center Enterprises Inc. were negligent in not maintaining or inspecting the heater in the 28-unit Hollywood apartment building where Quantez Castillo lived with his mother, Endria, and younger brother.

The jury also found that “clear and convincing evidence of malice oppression and fraud” on the part of Korman and his building maintenance company (run by his mother, Esther), paving the way for a jury trial on punitive damages. (Castillo v. Nathan Korman & Korman Center Enterprises Inc., BC264310, filed Dec. 21, 2001.)

“The jury has sent a message [to the Kormans] that we’re not going to stand for that in this city…a city as large as Los Angeles, an ultra modern city,” said Garo Mardirossian of Mardirossian & Associates, Inc., Quantez’s attorney. “This is not a third-world country here.”

“I feel so happy for this young man,” an ebullient Mardirossian added, noting that Quantez is a “gifted child,” reading several grades above his first-grade reading level.

“This little boy has gone through hell and back and he needs this type of news so that he could now start planning for his future.”

Russell S. Wollman of Murchison & Cumming in Los Angeles represented Korman and KCE Wollman declined to comment until the punitive phase of the trial is concluded.

The jury awarded the boy $3.2 million , to be split 75-25 percent between Korman and KCE and “others”. Mardirossian said “others” likely refers to the mother, Endria, and the verdict would be reduced by 25 percent, reflecting the finding that she was partly at fault.

Quantez was 6 years old when the accident occurred on Dec. 21, 2000. He awoke about 10 p.m. and went to the kitchen to get a glass of water, according to Paula Lawlor, an investigator with Mardirossian. He went to warm his hands over the stove and his nightshirt caught on fire.

His right hand, arm and shoulder sustained second- and third-degree burns, Lawlor said. Doctors removed 13 percent of the skin from his back to cover the burns during two surgeries so far.
Quantez will require further surgeries and painful rehabilitation as he ages, Mardirossian said, so his skin can stretch and grow with him. Quantez was 49 inches tall and weighed 53 pounds at the time of his injuries, Mardirossian noted.

According to Mardirossian, the Kormans testified at trial that they never performed maintenance on the heater in the Castillo’s apartment, relying on the gas company and tenants to inform them of any problems. Lawlor said California law requires landlords to provide and maintain heaters with their units.

The verdict will reverberate throughout the landlord and apartment ownership community, Mardirossian said, sending a strong message that landlords have to stop buying buildings and siphoning the money out of them.

“They’re going to understand that you better have policies in place to make sure you have habitable apartments so you don’t subject children and families to these kinds of dangerous conditions,” he said.

The punitive damages phase of the trial will start next Monday before Judge Edmon in Dept. 68.

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