L.A. Clippers Owner Liable for $17.3 Million in Apartment Fire

Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling was ordered by a jury to pay $17.3 million to Robyn Cohen, an actress who lived in a building owned by him that caught fire. Cohen, who has had roles in “The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou” and “Burned,” claimed the fire in the West Hollywood apartment caused emotional trauma that hurt her acting career.

The September 2012 fire was reportedly caused by an electrical problem. Cohen says she was in her apartment reading scripts for the cable series “Gravity” when she heard a noise. She then went into the hallway where she discovered smoke and called 911. Cohen’s attorney Melissa Yoon blamed Sterling, who owns 130 buildings in Los Angeles.

The lawsuit for breach of contract, breach of warranty of habitability and intentional infliction of emotional distress alleged that Sterling failed to properly maintain smoke detectors in the building. Sterling’s attorney, Guy Gruppie, said Sterling delegated those operations to his staff. He also expressed doubt about Cohen’s claim that the fire damaged her career. “She is able to work, and she is doing well. The truth is Ms. Cohen’s career is thriving,” Gruppie said.

A psychiatrist testified at trial that the actress, who has also recently starred in episodes of “The Closer” and “NCIS: Los Angeles,” suffered post-traumatic stress disorder that developed into a permanent bipolar condition.

After the $17.3 million verdict was announced, attorney Yoon told The Hollywood Reporter that it sends a message to landlords everywhere that “…All landlords need to take responsibility for the safety of their properties and the families who depend on fire alarm systems working properly. We hope that this verdict motivates all landlords to make safety the top priority.”

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