During March, the attorney editors on the LexisNexis Jury Verdict team covered several notable personal injury verdicts from across the country. This informal list of top five cases captured our attention this past month, so we thought you might like to hear about them. If you are interested in submitting one of your own notable verdicts, we’d love to include a report in our database. You can just send us an email at this address: email@example.com . In the meantime, please check out the highlighted cases below.
1) Crystal J. Rezzonico v. Indiana Mills and Manufacturing, Inc., et al., 2013 Jury Verdicts LEXIS 15036
City of Phoenix Fire Captain Crystal Rezzonico filed an action in the Arizona Superior Court for Maricopa County to recover for serious injuries sustained in a motor vehicle collision. The collision happened in August of 2009 while Capt. Rezzonico was responding to a fire call in a truck with lights and sirens running. When the fire truck entered an intersection against a red light, it was T-boned by a Chevrolet Monte Carlo traveling at 56 mph. The Monte Carlo struck the right front captain's door of the fire truck, causing the door to open and Rezzonico to be ejected. As a result, she sustained a significant, traumatic brain injury with permanent cognitive deficits and a partial seizure disorder. Rezzonico required extensive medical care, accumulating over $1,000,000.00 in medical bills during her rehabilitation and recovery.
Rezzonico asserted claims against a number of defendants, including the driver of the Monte Carlo, the manufacturer of the fire truck, the manufacturer of the fire truck door latch, and Indiana Mills and Manufacturing, Inc. (IMMI), which made the seatbelt buckle. The truck and door latch manufacturers settled prior to trial, and Rezzonico proceeded against the Monte Carlo driver, who Rezzonico never served with process, and IMMI. IMMI defended the suit on the issue of liability only, conceding that Rezzonico had suffered a serious injury and fully recognizing her strength and character in achieving a rather remarkable recovery under the circumstances.
Rezzonico had no memory of the crash, but testified that it was her habit to always wear her seatbelt in the fire truck. Plaintiff claimed the design of the 2001 IMMI seatbelt buckle was defective and unreasonably dangerous because it allowed contaminants to build up inside the buckle preventing it from releasing a partially inserted latch plate. IMMI contended that the buckle was a safe and reasonable design that fully complied with FMVSS 209, that the buckle was not unusually prone to contamination or false latching, and that the evidence demonstrated that Rezzonico was not wearing her seatbelt at the time of the crash.
On Feb. 28, 2014, after a three-week trial presided over by Judge John Rae, the jury reached a verdict for IMMI, finding that seatbelt buckle was not defective in its design and that IMMI was not responsible for Rezzonico’s injury.
2) Edward Acuna, an incompetent, by and through his Guardian ad Litem, Luis Acuna, v. Riddell, Inc., et al., 1 Exp. Wit. 6402, 2014 Jury Verdicts LEXIS 2211
In the second of the two highlighted product liability defense verdicts, a California state jury found in favor of Riddell, Inc. in an action brought on behalf of a high school football player. Just as in the Rezzonico case, supra, the jury was faced with a highly sympathetic plaintiff who had suffered a traumatic brain injury and who asserted a product liability claim against the only defendant not to settle or be dismissed prior to trial.
According to information provided by defense counsel, Acuna had demanded $14,000,000.00 prior to trial. Riddell offered $500,000.00 to settle. The offer was rejected and the matter proceeded to a 20-day trial presided over by Judge William MacClaughlin in the Los Angeles Superior Court. Acuna claimed that Edward, a high school college-bound senior at the time of his injury, had suffered a helmet to helmet impact with a teammate during the last play of the football game. Riddell contended that Edward's head was rotated on the tackle play by contact with the opposing team's running back. The parties agreed that Edward had suffered an acute subdural hematoma caused by the tearing of a "bridging vein" connected to his brain. Acuna claimed that the front pad of the helmet was defective in design and failed to protect him from suffering this traumatic brain injury.
Riddell's counsel stated that during trial, they had successfully cross-examined Acuna's biomechanical experts on causation, demonstrating that the experts had changed their opinions about which player Edward struck after originally concluding that he had struck the ball carrier. Riddell contended that Acuna's experts had changed their opinion after they determined that the first impact scenario would not generate the type of impact they needed to make their "defective helmet front pad theory" work.
The jury apparently agreed, and following a 30-minute deliberation, they returned a verdict for the defense on March 20, 2014. The jury found that the helmet was not defective in its design and not the cause of the injury.
3) Cassandra Jones and Ernie Navarro v. Ronn Charles Williams; Bhandal Brothers Trucking, Inc.; and the State of California, California Department of Transportation (CALTRANS), 2014 Jury Verdicts LEXIS 1536
A California jury awarded $9,300,000.00 to the parents of a child who was killed in an automobile collision that occurred in November of 2010 on California State Route 156. Cassandra Jones, who was seven months pregnant, was driving eastbound. Her four-year-old son, Alex Navarro, was restrained in a car seat in Jones' car. At that same time, Ronn Charles Williams was driving a tractor trailer (owned by Bhandal Brothers Trucking, Inc.) westbound on the same road. Maria Almanza-Romero had stopped her car in the lane ahead of Williams, attempting to make a left-hand turn into her own driveway. Williams failed to stop his truck in time, and it struck the rear of the stopped car. Both the tractor trailer and the stopped car crossed over the center line and struck Jones' vehicle. Jones, who was seven months pregnant, was seriously injured. Alex died that day of injuries he sustained in the collision. Almanza-Romero was also killed.
Jones and Alex's father, Ernie Navarro, filed an action in the California Superior Court for Monterey County. The complaint included claims against Williams, Bhandal Brothers Trucking, Inc., and the State of California, California Department of Transportation (CALTRANS). They included CALTRANS under the theory that the roadway was a "dangerous condition of public property."
The action was consolidated with a suit filed by the family of Almanza-Romero and the matter proceeded to trial. According to a news story published in the Monterey Herald on Feb. 26, 2014, the jury deliberated for seven days and then reached a verdict for the plaintiffs, awarding a total of $ 18.68 million. The jury assessed CALTRANS with 60 percent of the verdict and Bhandal Trucking with 40 percent. Of the total verdict, the jury awarded Alex's parents about half of the amount, or about $ 9,300,000.00.
4) Natalie Moore Individually, and as Mother, Natural Guardian and Next Friend of J.B., a Minor v. Hamilton Southeastern School District, Dr. Brian Smith, Tige Butts, and Billy Stacy, Jr., 2014 Jury Verdicts LEXIS 1474
In this Indiana federal action, the mother of a bullied student who committed suicide recovered nothing from school district and administrators. Natalie Moore filed suit after her son J.B. committed suicide during his freshman year in high school. J.B. had a troubled history, including a number of school disciplinary actions based on disruptive or inappropriate conduct. Prior to J.B.’s first suicide attempt during his seventh grade year, Moore and his stepfather purportedly informed the Fishers Junior High School administration that J.B. had been bullied. During J.B.’s freshman year in high school, he was allegedly constantly harassed and bullied based upon his race (African-American), perceived homosexuality and emotional disability. Administrators at the school allegedly failed to appropriately respond and take steps to prevent the bullying and harassment. On Oct. 20, 2010, J.B. committed suicide in his mother's home during fall break.
Moore’s complaint was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Indiana. A jury trial presided over by Judge Sarah Evans Barker began on Feb. 19, 2014. On Feb. 25, 2014, the jury rendered a verdict for the defense, awarding Moore $ 0 in damages. On Feb. 27, 2014, judgment was entered in favor of defendants and against Moore.
5) Manuel Diaz, et al. v. New England Linen Supply Co., Inc., et al. 2014 Jury Verdicts LEXIS 1714
On March, 13, 2014, a New Jersey state jury awarded $3,501,345 to the families of two workers found dead in a waste treatment tank. The wrongful death and survivorship action had been brought in the New Jersey Superior Court, Union County by the families of Victor Diaz and Carlos Diaz, who died while cleaning a waste treatment tank without proper training. The tank contained a number of hazardous substances, including sulfuric acid and hydrogen sulfide.
Through the complaint filed by the family of Manuel Diaz, they alleged that he had entered the tank at the express instruction of his employer, New England Linen Supply Co., Inc. The complaint included claims for wrongful death and survivorship, strict liability for abnormally dangerous activity, and violation of the New Jersey Products Liability Act. Although the family of Carlos Diaz filed a separate action, the suits were consolidated for trial. At the conclusion of the trial, the jury awarded damages of $1,901,345 to the family of Victor Diaz and $1,600,000 to the family of Carlos Diaz.
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