An appellate court has affirmed a $1.3 million award of damages to a man seriously injured in a rear-end car crash, although the court did remand for recalculation of prejudgment interest.
According to court records, defendant was the employer of the driver/owner of the vehicle that negligently struck the rear end of plaintiff’s vehicle, resulting in plaintiff’s hospitalization and several surgeries.
Plaintiff at the center of the case was once a physically active man. He engaged in vigorous running. He bench-pressed 250 pounds regularly. He played basketball, engaged in water sports and often went “off-roading” in all-terrain vehicles.
After the accident – the first of two that caused him significant injury – all of that changed. He could barely work up to a jog or shoot a few hoops before pain would begin shooting through his body. Climbing stairs became a great difficulty. He gained 50 pounds due to inactivity. He wet the bed. His friendships and emotional state were negatively impacted. He can no longer care for his ailing mother by helping her with yard and construction work around her home. He has endured numerous surgeries and also fears for his future employability with his ongoing physical troubles.
Even nearly a year after the crash, plaintiff’s doctor ascertained his overall function in activity was greatly curtailed. Hitting a baseball, for example, made him feel as if he’d been impaled with an ice pick in his neck. He couldn’t sleep. He frequently cried as a result of the pain.
Evidence in Bean v. Pacific Coast Elevators revealed defendant driver was negligent. He would later say he never saw plaintiff’s vehicle, which was stopped at the red light. He blamed the glare of the sun.
Because driver was acting in the course and scope of employment at the time of the car accident, driver’s employer was deemed responsible for all damages for which driver was found to be liable.
Jurors awarded $126,500 in economic damages, $1.15 million in non-economic damages and $35,000 in costs, plus prejudgment interest.
Defendants argued a number of issues before the California Court of Appeal for the Fourth Appellate District, Division One. Among the arguments made:
- The jury’s non-economic damage award was excessive;
- Trial court erred in jury instructions on basic speed law;
- Plaintiff’s counsel committed misconduct during trial;
- Trial court erred in finding plaintiff’s pre-trial settlement offer was reasonable and in good faith;
- Trial court erred in awarded prejudgment interest on court costs as well as damages.
Appellate court only found merit with the last of those arguments. On all other matters, it affirmed.
Defendant argued plaintiff’s injuries were “relatively minor” and “had resolved” in so far as he had resumed most normal activities. But appellate court disagreed he had not suffered major injury. He required extensive medical treatment, enduring numerous surgeries and spinal injections, more than 100 acupuncture appointments, numerous appointments with other specialists and suffered from extreme and chronic pain. He also suffered major loss of life enjoyment due to his reduced ability to participate in activities he once loved.
Despite the second accident, jurors found – and appellate court affirmed – the company was liable for 90 percent of plaintiff’s damages.
The only issue on which the court reversed was the calculation of interest, which was calculated on the damage award plus costs. The costs should not have been factored into that equation.
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Bean v. Pacific Coast Elevators , March 10, 2015, California Court of Appeal, Fourth Appellate District, Division One
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