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WSHB Trial Update: Ventura Jury Rejects Plaintiff $14.5 Million+ Demand

September 10, 2015

In a case involving the claims of a dangerous roadway condition causing paraplegia of a motorcyclist, a 12-person jury returned a nearly unanimous verdict in favor of County of Ventura after deliberating for less than four hours. WSHB attorneys R. Gregory Amundson and Yvette D. Kohan lead a legal team representing the County of Ventura in a 4-week trial which was completed to verdict on August 31, 2015.

On September 27, 2007, Humberto Martinez lost control of his motorcycle while driving along Box Canyon Road in the County of Ventura, a curvy mountainous road. As he came over the crest, multiple witnesses observed him wobbling and swerving, eventually sliding off the roadway onto the shoulder. Within seconds, he was flipped over the handlebars back onto the roadway. The force of impact caused permanent spinal cord injury, resulting in paraplegia. Plaintiff alleged that a drain inlet and berm within the shoulder constituted a dangerous condition that caused him to suffer catastrophic injuries.

This claim was initially tried in 2012, and the jury determined that, while the roadway contained a dangerous condition which was a substantial factor in causing plaintiff’s damages, the County of Ventura was entitled to Governmental design immunity. Plaintiff appealed, and the California Court of Appeal, Second District, ruled that the County of Ventura had not presented evidence sufficient to support its design immunity. The case was remanded for retrial, with the stipulation that the jury be instructed there was a dangerous roadway condition that was a substantial factor in causing plaintiff’s injuries. Additionally, the County of Ventura could no longer assert a design immunity defense.

WSHB attorneys Amundson and Kohan were brought in as lead counsel for the re-trial. Faced with the Court of Appeal ruling that there was a dangerous condition that caused plaintiffs injuries and damages, they argued that it was plaintiff who bore significant fault for causing his own accident. Evidence confirmed that he was familiar with the roadway, riding it daily for years. While plaintiff claimed he would have regained control and returned safely to the roadway but for the drain inlet and berm, all three eyewitnesses to the accident confirmed plaintiff was out of control long before leaving the roadway, never appearing to regain control before flipping over. Defense counsel elicited testimony from experts, who detailed the fact that plaintiff was first seen out of control at least 350 yards from his alleged impact with the drain. As such, all he had to do was slow down and stop his sports bike to avoid the accident. Instead, his inexperience and appetite for risk caused him to proceed full speed ahead, which was ultimately the cause of the accident.

Prior to trial, Plaintiff demanded in excess of $10 million to settle. In closing arguments, Plaintiff’s counsel requested a jury award in excess of $14 million. Ultimately, the jury found plaintiff 99% responsible for causing his own accident, allocating only 1% liability against County of Ventura, which was the minimum fault allocation per the prior ruling of the Court of Appeal. Thus, the jury’s minimal award of damages in the amount of $1,567,295 results in a net verdict in favor of plaintiff for only $15,672.95.

Plaintiff’s long-time companion, Liliana Ramirez, also sought loss of consortium damages. Defense counsel argued that Mr. Martinez and Ms. Ramirez were not legally married; thus, she was not entitled to any damages. The jury agreed, unanimously finding that plaintiffs were not legally married and Ms. Ramirez was entitled to no award. Prior to trial, Ms. Ramirez had demanded $2.5 million dollars to resolve her claim.

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