Jury Award Ruled Excessive

Judge Reduces Amount in Gottesman Drowning Death

Superior Court Judge Thomas Anderle decided that a Santa Barbara jury’s decision to give the family of Yoni Gottesman, who drowned as a four-year-old in a Cathedral Oaks Athletic Club swimming pool in August 2005, $14 million in compensatory damages was excessive. The amount should be lowered to $10 million, Anderle said, or the case will be retried.

Gottesman attorney Barry Cappello told the court the family had not yet decided whether to take that amount or retry the case, but he said that he got the sense from talking to his clients that “the very last thing they would want to do is retry the case.” The Gottesmans have until January 12 to make a decision.

While Anderle dismissed defense allegations of juror misconduct, he also ruled that the jury “let passion and prejudice overcome their objectivity in weighing the guidelines,” and declared their judgment “much too large.” John Levitt, attorney for the athletic club, said he was pleased with the judge’s decision Tuesday.

In November, the judge had ruled that, because it was never included in instructions to the jury, pre-verdict interest could not be included in a judgment. That decision meant the Gottesmans were denied almost $5 million more in damages. The two sides also had reached an agreement in which Richard Berti, a former owner of the athletic club, agreed to pay $1.5 million to settle claims that, among other things, he made fraudulent moves to hide money.

This story has been amended for accuracy since its first posting. It originally misreported that punitive damages were settled but in fact they were dismissed. Berti has also reiterated that he did not attempt to hide money during the sale of his business operations.

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