One of two actresses who sued Donald Sterling after their West Hollywood apartments were ravaged in a 2009 fire cannot seek punitive damages against the former Clippers owner in a retrial of a lawsuit she filed against him, a judge ruled.
On Thursday, Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Joanne O’Donnell found that lawyers for Robyn Cohen had not shown by clear and convincing evidence during trial that their client was entitled to punitive damages. Had the judge ruled otherwise, the jury still would have had to find that Sterling acted with malice, fraud or oppression.
Five years ago, $15 million in punitive damages represented the lion’s share of the $17.3 million award granted in the first trial to Cohen, who is perhaps best known for her role in Wes Anderson’s “The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou.”
Sterling attorney Robert Platt has argued Cohen was never in any danger and actually “dilly-dallied” in the lobby before getting out of the structure.
Judge William MacLaughlin, who presided over the first trial, ordered a new trial on all issues in 2013.
Sterling has not been present during the retrial, but his wife, Shelly, has frequently appeared. In 2014, Sterling called his spouse a “pig” during a probate court battle concerning Shelly Sterling’s attempt to sell the Clippers to former Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer for $2 billion, a deal that was ultimately completed.
The fire occurred Sept. 28, 2009, in the 54-unit apartment building owned by Sterling at 888 W. Knoll Drive. Cohen alleges Sterling failed to keep the building in a habitable condition and that the alarm system was not operating properly at the time of the fire, caused by an electrical problem in a heater fan in another unit. Cohen now lives in Studio City.
Kim Webster, a cast member of “The West Wing,” also lived in the building. She and several other tenants also sued Sterling in January 2010, but settled with him before the first trial.