Actress Wins $17.3 Million Jury Award From L.A. Clippers Owner Donald Sterling

"Life Aquatic" co-star Robyn Cohen said that the emotional turmoil she suffered after being caught up in a fire at a residence owned by Sterling has hurt her career.
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Donald Sterling and Robyn Cohen

A Los Angeles jury has ordered Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling to pay $17.3 million to actress Robyn Cohen to compensate her for a fire in a West Hollywood apartment. The verdict, which includes $15 million in punitive damages, was handed down Tuesday.

Sterling owned the building, and Cohen was one of his tenants. On Sept. 28, 2009, the actress, who has had roles in The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou and Burned, heard a noise. She claims she then stopped reading scripts for the Starz TV series Gravity and went into the hallway, where she discovered smoke. She called 911.

After the fire, which reportedly was caused by an electrical problem, Cohen blamed Sterling, accusing him of not having a fully functioning fire detection system. She sued for breach of contract, breach of the warranty of habitability and intentional infliction of emotional distress, and she based part of her alleged damages on the claim that she had suffered a trauma that had hurt her acting career.

At the trial, Sterling's attorney Guy Gruppie reportedly expressed his doubts, according to a reporter for CNS who attended the trial.

"She is able to work, and she is doing well," Gruppie said. "The truth is Ms. Cohen's career is thriving."

Cohen has recently starred in episodes of The Closer and NCIS: Los Angeles, but she had a psychiatrist testify that her post-traumatic stress disorder had developed into a permanent bipolar condition.

Cohen's attorney Melissa Yoon faulted Sterling, who owns several residential properties throughout Los Angeles as well as the NBA franchise, for not taking responsibility for faulty smoke detectors in the building. The residence was one of 130 buildings owned by Sterling, whose attorney said he had delegated operations to staff.

After the verdict was announced, Cohen's attorney gave this statement to The Hollywood Reporter: "Today's verdict sends a clear message 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.”

Sterling's attorney did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

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