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03/20/2014

Brought in Two Weeks Before Trial, Gordon & Rees Team Wins Defense Jury Verdict

Longtime Gordon & Rees San Francisco partners Charles S. Custer and Jewel Kolling Basse obtained a defense verdict for their clients on March 12 in a case involving a 2-year-old who allegedly fell through the railing of a stairway and hit his head on a rock 8 feet below, allegedly suffering a brain injury.

More than $7 million was demanded in settlement. Custer and Basse received the trial assignment just two-and-a-half weeks before trial was set to begin, so they marshaled members of Gordon & Rees’s Tort & Product Liability Defense Practice Group – which Custer leads – and got to work. Donnell v. Stockton Phoenix Ltd., et al. was bifurcated at the plaintiff’s request and liability was tried first. The trial began on February 11.

The plaintiff – the child’s mother and guardian ad litem – claimed the stair treads were loose at the apartment complex where the child was visiting in June 2009, causing the toddler to stumble and fall through railings that were 9 inches wide. The plaintiff claimed the railings violated various contracts the owners had signed to receive funds to rehabilitate the property as well as the Uniform Building Code.
Custer and Basse, with nearly 60 years of litigation experience between them, worked tirelessly preparing for and litigating the four-week trial. A Stockton, Calif., jury deliberated for about six hours and returned a complete defense verdict on March 12.

San Francisco partner Don Willenburg, senior counsel Melissa M. Fairbrother and Laura G. Ryan, and associate Ryan T. Birmingham helped with the case.

Custer and Basse’s work has garnered international media attention and they have successfully defended clients in numerous high-profile lawsuits. Custer has extensive trial experience taking over 20 jury trials (state and federal) throughout California to verdict. His practice focuses on litigation and negotiation of high exposure, catastrophic and complex injury cases in the fields of products liability, general liability, premises liability, food contamination, major trucking/transportation, security/law enforcement, construction site accidents, maritime injuries and sports/recreational injuries. Custer’s achievements have led to a Martindale-Hubbell peer rating of AV Preeminent and he has received the Super Lawyers® distinction in General Litigation and Civil Litigation Defense.

Basse, elected to ABOTA last year, has more than 30 years of litigation, arbitration and mediation experience. As a member of Gordon & Rees’s Tort & Product Liability Defense Practice Group, she focuses her practice on high-exposure product liability and personal injury cases. Her work has garnered international media attention and she has successfully defended clients in numerous high-profile lawsuits. Her accomplishments also have led to a Martindale-Hubbell peer rating of AV Preeminent and inclusion in Best Lawyers in America in the Personal Injury Litigation category and in Super Lawyers® in the Personal Injury Defense category.

Charles S. Custer



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