Sedgwick Partner Peggy Holm Scores Decisive Victory for UC Regents in Multi-Million Dollar Disability Access Row

Sedgwick News
September 2017

Sedgwick LLP Orange County partner Margaret “Peggy” Holm secured a favorable, unanimous jury verdict in federal court on September 6 on behalf of a state university system in a contentious disability access matter.

In the dispute, the plaintiff, who is deaf, asserted that difficulty in effectively communicating with members of the clients’ associated medical center and related delays exacerbated emergent eye issues for which he was seeking treatment, leading to debilitating vision loss in one eye. The plaintiff’s attorney brought suit against Holm’s client, claiming violations of the Americans with Disabilities Act, the Rehabilitation Act, the Unruh Act, the Disabled Persons Act and the Emergency Medical Treatment and Labor Act, and seeking general, special, statutory and punitive damages, in addition to civil penalties and attorneys’ fees and costs. Total monetary damages sought stretched into the millions.

As lead for the Sedgwick trial team, Holm presented the jury with video evidence recorded by a private investigator directly contradicting the claim that the plaintiff had suffered grievous personal harm greatly affecting his lifestyle and leaving him more isolated. In the clips presented at trial, post-incident, the plaintiff is seen bicycling through heavy traffic and using pen and paper to communicate with others. The footage also intimated that other aspects of the plaintiff’s life may have been the root cause of the underlying infection rather than treatment, or lack thereof, at the medical center.

In addition to videos demonstrating the plaintiff’s continued mobility and social life, text messages were introduced between the plaintiff and relevant acquaintances. One message from one of the acquaintances to the plaintiff stated that the plaintiff could sue and get one million dollars if his eyesight got worse. By presenting issues impacting the acquaintances’ credibility, Holm convinced the jury of the need to be skeptical of the plaintiff’s assertions, a line of reasoning crystalized in her closing arguments, “…we know from his family in things that he wrote in the past and they wrote in the past, that his credibility and his statements to them are just not always true.”

For the client, the unanimous verdict, reached in only five hours of deliberations, in a high-profile matter questioning their dedication to quality of care, confirmed their commitment to patients and to high medical and ethical standards, as Holm relayed.

Holm commented on the evolution of the dispute, “The client, while maintaining no culpability for the plaintiff’s alleged injury, repeatedly and through closing arguments pursued a settlement that would have avoided a probing trial and given the plaintiff some closure and an opportunity to move forward. However, at no point in time was the plaintiff or his counsel willing to entertain an alternate solution. We are grateful that the jury absorbed and digested the full picture and the many issues at play in reaching a fair and, we believe, correct verdict.”