Interesting personal injury verdict (Veronica Garabedian v. Stuart Silverman – L.A. Sup. Ct. Case No. SC117822) reported this month out of Los Angeles County, L.A. Superior Court (Santa Monica). The facts and verdict were as follows:
Facts of the Case: Auto vs. Auto accident on Wilshire Boulevard in Beverly Hills. Plaintiff was traveling straight in the lane closest to the curb. Defendant made a left hand turn in front of the plaintiff and collided with her vehicle.
Contentions of the Plaintiff: Plaintiff claimed that defendant should be completely responsible for the accident for violating California Vehicle Code 21801, which requires all drivers to yield the right of way to oncoming traffic when negotiating a left hand turn. Plaintiff further claimed severe back injuries requiring both past, present and future medical expenses.
Arguments from the Defense: The defendant argued that two out of three lanes of oncoming traffic had come to a complete stop and that he was reasonable to assume that plaintiff would also stop in lane number 3 to let him turn left. He further claimed that plaintiff was traveling too fast for traffic conditions. In addition, he (through his insurance company GEICO – through the Law Offices of Beverly Mills) claimed that the back injuries were pre-existing and not caused by the accident. In addition, the defense successfully precluded by motion any claim for non-economic damages pursuant to California Civil Code 3333 (so called “prop 213” exclusion of claim of pain and suffering in cases where the plaintiff claiming injury did not carry liability auto insurance).
Damages Claimed: The plaintiff introduced damages claim amounts as follows: Past Loss of Earnings: $54,058; Past Medical Expenses: $2183,631; Future Loss of Earnings: $75,000; Future Medical Costs: $1,172,297 and $11,690 for property damage and loss of use of her vehicle.
Settlement Negotiations: GEICO insurance offered the plaintiff $117,000. The plaintiff demanded the full policy limits of $1,000,000 by way of a California Code of Civil Procedure 998 Offer.
Verdict Result: After 14 days of trial, the jury deliberated 1.5 days and rendered a gross verdict in the amount of $1,539,118. They found plaintiff to be 35 % responsible, thereby reducing the award to $1,000,424.
Things I find interesting about this verdict as a California personal injury lawyer:
First of all, the fact pattern is one that I have seen numerous times prosecuting car accident claims in Los Angeles. L.A. has many busy surface streets and Wilshire Boulevard is one of the busiest. Many of these thoroughfares have up to three lanes in any given direction during rush hour due to the parking lane being shut down during morning and afternoon commutes. Oftentimes, traffic will be congested in one or two of these lanes so much so that cars stop so as not to block the intersection. Sometimes the second or third lane will be free enough, though, for through traffic. In my opinion, it is incumbent upon the driver attempting to make a left hand turn in this scenario to be very cautious prior to negotiating the turn. Just because some lanes have stopped, does not obviate the duty under the CVC to yield the right of way to oncoming traffic in lanes still moving. Second: This is a “prop 213” case. This means that the plaintiff was not allowed to claim damages for “pain and suffering” due to failure to carry proper insurance. This is basically a “penalty” placed upon drivers in California for not having liability insurance. Finally, it would appear that the plaintiff (through their medical experts) was able to overcome the difficulty of not being able to claim emotional distress and other non-economic damages by placing a high value on future medical expenses (an “economic” damage). This allowed for them to “beat” the CCP 998 offer (i.e. obtain a higher verdict than what they offered to settle for) and to “open the policy” (i.e. obtain a verdict higher than the policy limits). Ultimately, plaintiff filed a motion for recovery of the costs of litigation (under CCP 998) and obtained a total verdict (including costs) of a little over $1.2 Million. The defense paid this verdict rather than fighting an appeal. In my opinion, this was a very good result for the plaintiff.