A Kern County jury has awarded $16.2 million to a man who suffered a brain injury after slipping and falling at an El Pollo Loco restaurant in Bakersfield six years ago.
The verdict was reached after a 14-day trial at which the restaurant's attorneys claimed William Kidd's cognitive problems were caused by pre-existing medical conditions, according to Kidd's attorneys at Faulkner Law Offices.
But Kidd never showed any symptoms until his fall at the restaurant on Mt. Vernon Avenue, said attorney Matthew Faulkner, who called it a "clear-cut case."
"They did it, it happened, (Kidd) had symptoms afterward and it's not going to get better," Faulkner said.
An attorney retained by WKS Corporation could not immediately be reached for comment Tuesday.
Kidd's injury is related in part to the grills at the restaurant.
Faulkner said thoroughly cleaning those grills can take as long much as two to three hours. The problem, he said, is that WKS Corporation, the large franchisee of the chicken restaurant, Denny's, Krispy Kreme Doughnuts and more, only schedules workers an hour after closing to do that job.
It was discouraged to work after that scheduled hour because the pay would dig into the general manager's bonus, which is based on restaurant profits, Faulkner said.
Faced with a situation where they had an hour to do a minimum of two hours' work, the restaurant's shift manager, cooks and other staff decided they wouldn't wait until closing to begin cleaning. Instead, they started cleaning grills as early as two hours before closing.
Cleaning while a restaurant is still open is generally frowned upon due to the possibility of "greasy, slippery stuff" making its into the dining area, Faulkner said. And that's exactly what happened in this case.
During the evening in 2012 when William Kidd visited the restaurant, the cook was cleaning in the kitchen, according to Faulkner. While still wearing wet boots, the cook then entered the dining area to wipe down tables.
Shortly afterward, Kidd came out of the bathroom, stepped on a slippery patch left by the cook and took a hard fall, slamming his head against the ground and tearing his quadriceps tendon off his kneecap.
Faulkner said Kidd suffered a brain bleed and had to undergo surgery. He has permanent brain damage — and a much increased likelihood of dementia later in life — as a result of the fall, Faulkner said.
Before trial, Faulkner learned from a former employee of the restaurant that the practice of cleaning before closing was still going on. He sent an investigator and they filmed the staff as they cleaned.
The attorney said he was relieved when Thursday's verdict came in. He'd been imagining the difficulties Kidd and his family would face in getting him ongoing healthcare, and pictured him in a nursing home where his needs wouldn't be met.
"Now they have the money to get the care and the nursing he'll need throughout his life," Faulkner said. "He'll have a longer life, number one, and one that has some dignity."