In connection with a slip-and-fall personal injury complaint filed by a Carpinteria tenant, Judge Colleen Sterne rejected arguments by landlord Dario Pini’s attorney that Pini could not get a fair trial anywhere in Santa Barbara County because of negative media coverage about the substandard quality of his properties. The bad-publicity argument seemed especially odd given that Pini has long been associated in the public eye with chronic housing complaints.
And never in any of the lawsuits filed against him over the past 40 years has he ever voiced such concerns. It turns out, he didn’t in this case, either. “I don’t know anything about it,” Pini said. Attorneys for Pini’s insurance company made the move without consulting him. Judge Sterne said the seven news articles sited by the defense team were insufficient to show public sentiment had been poisoned against the well-known landlord to the extent he could not get a fair trial.
The case involves a 58-year-old homeless woman with multiple lifelong disabilities, Tina Henness, who claims she sustained serious head and leg injuries falling down the last 18 steps of the stairway leading from her second-story apartment. Henness, who usually walks with the aid of crutches, said she lost her balance while walking down the steps. When she reached out to steady herself by grabbing a non-existent handrail, she claims she fell. The handrail has since been installed.
The case is complicated by the fact that Pini had offered the woman a first-floor apartment in deference to her condition, but she declined to take it because its doorway was not wide enough to accommodate the wheelchair she sometimes used. The complex does not have an elevator.