California State Jury Awards $125 Million To Young Driver Paralyzed In Collision With Intoxicated Driver Who Ran Red Light


Shortly before 5 a.m. on March 23, 2013, plaintiff Francisco Briones, 21, was on his way to an early morning work shift at a local warehouse. Briones was waiting to turn left on a green light from Channel Islands Boulevard onto Rice Avenue; another car in front of him proceeded into the intersection and turned left safely. As Briones proceeded into the intersection, he was hit by a vehicle driven by defendant Christopher Lee Zink. Zink was drunk. His blood alcohol level was found to be 0.14 and he also admitted that he had not slept in 24 hours and had fallen asleep at the wheel. Zink entered the intersection on a red light, driving approximately 50 mph.

Briones ruptured his C4-C5 vertebrae in the collision. His spine was severed, and he was immediately paralyzed from the neck down. Briones was transported to Ventura County Medical Center, where stayed for over 90 days, undergoing several spine stabilization surgeries. He was then transferred to Rancho Los Amigos Medical Center for several months of rehabilitation. Briones then returned home to Oxnard. Since his return, his mother and four younger siblings have cared for him 24 hours a day.

According to information provided by plaintiffs' counsel, Briones is unable to move his body except for his head and neck; he also has limited movement of his left forearm, but not his hand or fingers. He suffers from autonomic dysreflexia (uncontrollable spasms that cause dangerous changes in blood pressure) and frequent bladder and kidney infections. Before the incident, Briones was an award-winning athlete who played baseball, football, and soccer. After he graduated from high school, he started classes at Oxnard College, but had to leave in order to go to work and support his family. He volunteered as a coach for his younger siblings' sports teams and had been coaching his younger brother's Little League team for several years. On the day of the crash, he was supposed to leave work early so that he could take the family to Little League opening ceremonies.

On April 25, 2013, Briones filed a complaint against Zink in the California Superior Court for Ventura County. He asserted claims of negligence, negligence per se, negligent entrustment against unknown Doe defendants, and punitive damages. The action was assigned to Judge John Nho Trong Nguyen. Trial began on Jan. 6, 2016, and lasted for a total of nine days, with the jury deliberating for one day. Past medical damages were stipulated.

On Jan. 22, 2016, the jury returned a verdict in favor of Briones, awarding him a total of $ 125,168,202.00 in damages. The award included $ 62,584,101.00 in punitive damages, based on a finding that Zink had acted with malice.

Lexis Advance subscribers can access the full summary, including expert and counsel information, at this link: Francisco A. Briones v. Christopher Lee Zink; 2016 Jury Verdicts LEXIS 403 

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