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Woman Settles Rape Case Against Apartment for $1.6 Million

May 2, 2000

Women Settles Rape Case Against Apartment For $1.6 Million

By Tessa Jarrett
Daily Journal Staff Writer

RIVERSIDE – A woman who was attacked and raped by two men in the laundry room of the Riverside apartment complex where she lived settled her premises liability case against the corporate owner of the complex for $1.6 million.

The settlement, which is less than an earlier jury award of $2.25 million, was agreed to just prior to Judge Gloria Connor Trask’s ruling on the punitive phase of the lawsuit. Darla L. v. Southland (RIC 318490)

The plaintiff’s attorney, Mark B. Wilson, said he was willing to settle to avoid an appeal.

“This way she gets the money right away instead of it being tied up for three years or taking the risk of losing the appeal,” Wilson, partner in Klein & Wilson in Newport Beach, said.

Wilson said he and his client, known only as “Darla L.,” are thrilled with the settlement. He said that, because insurance covered only $1.4 million of the judgment, collecting may have been difficult anyway.

Earlier this month, a Riverside Superior Court jury found the corporate owner of the Village of La Sierra Apartments liable for the attack because crimes that had previously occurred at the complex were concealed from prospective renters and because management did not take proper security precautions to protect tenants.

The jury found Ventura-based Southland LLC liable of negligence, concealment and breach of contract in the awarding of the plaintiff compensatory damages. Both parties had agreed to dismiss the jury and allow Trask to rule on punitive damages.

Darla L. and her husband moved into the Village of La Sierra in early 1998 after receiving assurances from the assistant property manager and the person in charge of security that the neighborhood was safe, according to her complaint.

However, crimes including stolen vehicles, drug deals and theft often occurred at the complex, and Southland and its employee knew it, according to the complaint.

After learning of the criminal activity, Darla L. became fearful for her family’s safety and asked if she could terminate her six-month lease. She was told Southland would consider it a breach of contract and place a negative mark on her credit report.

On July 28, 1998, Darla L. was kidnapped and raped inside the laundry room at the complex.

Southland’s attorney, Lisa McMains of Watten, Discoe and Bassett in Santa Ana, was out of the office Friday and could not be reached for comment.

Recent premises liability awards have averaged fewer than $1 million, according to Daily Journal reports. In September, a woman received a $1.6 million settlement for injuries received in a Van Nuys deli parking lot when she caught her heel in a damaged metal grate.