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Palla v. L M Sports, Inc.

United States District Court, E.D. California

December 2, 2019

Manisha Palla, Plaintiff,
v.
L M SPORTS, INC. dba LAKESIDE MARINA and dba ACTION WATERSPORTS OF TAHOE; L T LEASING, INC.; PAUL GARCIA; and DOES 1-50, inclusive, Defendants. AND RELATED ACTIONS.

          FINDINGS OF FACT AND CONCLUSIONS OF LAW-DAMAGES PHASE

          JOHN A. MENDEZ UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         Following an accident on Lake Tahoe that resulted in an above the knee amputation of her right leg, Plaintiff Manisha Palla brought a negligence claim against L M Sports, Inc.; L T Leasing, Inc.; and Paul Garcia. L M Sports and L T Leasing then filed a limitation of liability action under 46 U.S.C. §§ 30505 et seq. The Court consolidated the two cases, then bifurcated the issues of liability and damages. See Related Case Order, ECF No. 12; Palla v. L M Sports, No. 2:16-cv-02975-JAM-EFB, 2019 WL 427300 (E.D. Cal. Feb. 4, 2019).

         Garcia initially participated in the suit. But since the withdrawal of his attorney in June 2018, ECF No. 72, Garcia has only made one appearance with the Court: on March 4, 2019, when he testified during the liability phase of the trial.

         After conducting a ten-day bench trial on the issue of liability, the Court issued findings of fact and conclusions of law. ECF No. 284. Ultimately, the Court found Garcia and L M Sports's negligence caused Palla's injuries. Id. 35-36. It further found Garcia was 80% at fault for Palla's injuries and that L M Sports was 20% at fault. Id. at 31-33. Finally, the Court concluded L M Sports failed to show it lacked knowledge of the negligent conditions that gave rise to Palla's injuries. Id. at 33-36. As a result, it was not entitled to the limitation on liability afforded by section 30505 (b) . Id. L M Sports appealed the Court's decision in this first phase of the lawsuit. ECF No. 287.

         Having waived her right to a jury trial, the Court proceeded to hold a nine day bench trial on the issue of Palla's damages. See ECF Nos. 309, 345. Palla and L M Sports offered in-person and deposition testimony from Palla, four people who were on the boat when the accident occurred, a first responder, a treating physician, Palla's mother, Palla's friend and co-worker, and seven expert witnesses. Numerous exhibits were also admitted at trial by both parties. The Court has considered the documentary evidence, the testimony of each witness, as well as the parties' trial briefs, their joint pretrial statement, and their stipulations. See ECF Nos. 316, 335, 336, 329.

         I. FINDINGS OF FACT

         Palla's Background

         1. Manisha Palla was born to Suvarana and Sukender Palla on May 8, 1994 in San Jose, California.

         2. She was raised by her maternal grandmother in Hyderabad, India and Portland, Oregon for the first five years of her life.

         3. Palla spent the rest of her childhood in Portland, Oregon with her mother, father, and younger brother.

         4. Growing up, Palla maintained a strong academic record, had lots of friends, and participated in several extracurricular activities, including basketball, volleyball, and taekwondo.

         5. Palla travelled extensively-both domestically and internationally.

         6. Palla testified that, before her accident, she never had hesitations about traveling; nor did she feel like there were physical limitations on what she could do.

         7. For example, Palla had been backpacking, skydiving, and regularly went camping with her family.

         8. After Palla graduated from high school, she moved to Atlanta, Georgia, where she attended Emory University.

         9. At Emory, she continued to lead an outgoing and active lifestyle.

         10. Palla graduated from Emory when she was twenty-two and began working at System Application Products ("SAP").

         11. Palla was excited to have a job in an internationally- focused company, and eager to make her way as a woman in an industry dominated by men.

         12. She met Mariah Koeltl during the SAP interview process.

         13. Palla and Koeltl became fast friends when SAP hired them to both work in its Chicago office.

         14. They saw each other at work nearly every day.

         15. They ran together; planned trips together; went to social gatherings together; and talked about their hopes for the future.

         The Accident on Lake Tahoe

         16. On July 24, 2016 Palla went to Lake Tahoe with a group of her SAP co-workers.

         17. The group went tubing on the lake with a boat and an innertube they rented from L M Sports.

         18. After Palla took her turn tubing, she swam back to the boat.

         19. When re-boarding, her legs were struck by the boat's propellers.

         20. Palla's screams alerted people on the boat of her injuries.

         21. She felt excruciating pain in one of her legs, but no sensation in the other.

         22. One of her legs had been struck by the propeller, while the other was completely lodged between the two counter-rotating propeller blades.

         23. Palla reached down to touch one of her legs-it felt "squishy in some parts" and "hard in other parts." She testified that it did not feel like an "in tact human leg."

         24. Efe Ozyurt, Regan Roberts, Sean O'Dea and Alvaro Gilsanz Herranz jumped in the water to help Palla.

         25. They were unable to free Palla's leg from the blades.

         26. The police and the boat rental company were called for help.

         27. While awaiting help, Ozyurt and O'Dea held Palla's face out of the water to prevent her from drowning.

         28. Notwithstanding their efforts, Palla's face still sunk below the water several times.

         29. Palla testified that she thought she was going to die.

         30. When Deputy Les Lovell arrived at the scene, Palla was "paling gray," nearing unconsciousness.

         31. Lovell and his partner freed Palla from the propellers and handed her over to Marine One.

         32. When Lovell removed Palla from the water, she was unconscious and no longer bleeding.

         33. At that point, Lovell believed Palla was "either dead or in grave shape."

         Palla's Stay at Renown Memorial Hospital

         30. Palla did not regain consciousness until the morning after the accident.

         31. She was alone when she awoke, intubated, at Renown Memorial Hospital.

         32. Palla got the attention of a nurse outside her room.

         33. The nurse came in and pulled back the blanket covering Palla; Palla saw for the first time that the doctors had amputated her right leg above the knee.

         34. Palla's mother ("Dr. Palla") went to her daughter's hospital room once she learned Palla was conscious.

         35. Palla wrote her mother notes, asking whether she would still be able to accomplish the goals she once had.

         36. Palla feared she would never run again; that she would never get married; that she would face discrimination in India; and that she would lose her job.

         37. Dr. Palla could not provide her daughter reassurance; they both cried.

         38. Four days after the amputation of her right leg, Palla began experiencing severe phantom pain.

         39. Palla testified her phantom pain felt like electrocutions where her lower right leg used to be.

         40. By July 31, Palla was experiencing phantom pain all hours of the day.

         41. Palla returned to Portland, Oregon on August 4, 2016.

         42. Her mother learned how to change Palla's bandages and watch for eschar so Palla could recover at home rather than at a rehabilitation center.

         Palla's Rehabilitation in Portland, Oregon

         43. Palla spent five months recovering at home in Portland, Oregon.

         44. Her phantom pain improved during this period of time but never went away completely.

         45. Palla also had trouble sleeping.

         46. Despite taking anti-anxiety and anti-depressant medication, she consistently suffered from nightmares where she would effectively re-live the accident on Lake Tahoe.

         47. While in Portland, Palla required her mother's help to get out of bed, go to the restroom, shower, change her wound dressings, and prevent blood clots from forming.

         48. Palla went to a hypnotist once while she was in Portland.

         49. She did not, however, see a therapist.

         50. During the first month of her rehabilitation, Palla developed necrotic tissue on her residual limb.

         51. Necrotic tissue is tissue that has died because it lacks sufficient blood supply-it causes skin discoloration and poses risks of infection.

         52. Palla's doctor recommended non-surgical treatments for Palla's necrosis.

         53. When these non-surgical treatments failed, Dr. Palla took her daughter to Dr. Samuel Vincent Bartholomew.

         54. Bartholomew recommended surgeries to cut out the dead tissue ("debridement") and then graft healthy tissue onto the open wound.

         55. Bartholomew performed the first debridement surgery on September 6, 2016 and conducted two more debridements over the next three weeks.

         56. Between each of the debridements, Dr. Palla had to change the dressings on Palla's wound several times a day.

         57. Each time Dr. Palla put new gauze on the wound, it dried to the tissue and fat below.

         58. When removed, the gauze ripped apart from the underlying wound.

         59. Palla testified this was an extremely painful process-both because of the physical pain and because of the guilt she felt for causing her mom so much anguish.

         60. On September 27, Bartholomew performed a successful skin graft.

         61. He used skin from Palla's upper left thigh as the donor site.

         62. Palla now has a large, rectangular scar in that area.

         63. While recovering, Palla largely spent her time in bed.

         64. She also spent some time writing.

         65. She published two blog posts: one called "Opportunity of Adversity" and one called "38.991° N, ...


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