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October 25, 2021

Jury Rejects $20 Million Demand

In a closely watched trial, a Los Angeles County jury rejected the plaintiff’s demand for approximately $20 million in damages for a case involving allegations of traumatic brain injury, spinal injuries, and injuries to the cranial nerves of an eye caused as a result of a car accident. After deliberating for approximately 11 hours, the jury awarded $252,049.47. Noted by trial attorney Fred Vasquez, this amount was appreciably less than the policy limits demanded during the pendency of this case.

“Right now, everyone is talking about social inflation and nuclear verdicts, which are cause for concern,” said Vasquez, a trial lawyer, and partner in WSHB’s Rancho Cucamonga office. “What is critical is for the defense lawyer is always to be cognizant of how to avoid these issues starting with discovery in the underlying case and crafting a strategy that lives with the case through trial. You can slay the proverbial reptile, and I am grateful for our clients who supported me in taking this case to verdict.”

Of concern in this particular matter were facts that were unflattering on a cold read. An intoxicated driver allegedly going over 100 mph, convicted of a felony after rear-ending the plaintiff’s vehicle. These facts support plaintiff’s claim seeking punitive damages against Vasquez’s client, which the jury rejected. Plaintiff alleged she incurred a traumatic brain injury, injuries to her spine, including a tethered spinal cord injury, and injuries to the cranial nerves of her eye as the result of the car accident. At the time of the accident, the plaintiff was two years into a three-year Master’s program for psychology at Pepperdine University. As such, she was seeking a significant loss of earnings for earnings she anticipated she would have earned as a clinical psychologist. Vasquez defended the driver of a company car with separate counsel handling the company’s defense.

“We stipulated to liability, which I think the jury appreciated in that we acknowledged on many levels that our client was at fault for the accident,” said Vasquez. “This allowed us to focus on the damages with laser focus, of which plaintiff overreached, underscored by asking the jury to award approximately $20 million in closing arguments. Before trial, plaintiff’s counsel issued a policy limit demand. After that, plaintiff’s counsel was unwilling to make any reasonable settlement demand, which left the parties with no other choice but to try the case.”

WSHB senior associate Cristine Capitulo second chaired the trial with Vasquez. Capitulo, based in the Rancho Cucamonga office of WSHB, added that trying a case in a courtroom where everyone wore masks made trial more challenging from a presentation standpoint. Both Vasquez and Capitulo noted the impact of witnesses that appeared in court via Zoom because they were unable to travel, covid concerns and other issues.

“One of our key witnesses appeared via Zoom at an airport and had to tell security that he was providing trial testimony when asked to move from his spot,” said Vasquez. “The Judge indicated that this was the first time he ever had someone provide testimony from an airport.” Both Vasquez and Capitulo noted that all persons in the Courtroom were required to wear masks throughout the entire trial, which made reading the facial expressions of the witnesses and jurors challenging.”

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