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TRANSPORTATION: $7.8 MILLION VERDICT IN REAR END COLLISION CASE

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A San Bernardino jury recently handed down a $7,838,053 verdict to plaintiff, Akiko Takemura (“Plaintiff”), who was a passenger in a Toyota Prius that was struck from behind by a big rig gas tanker driven by David Juarez. The Prius was struck while it’s driver, Chun Tsao, was attempting to exit the freeway after it had run out of gas. Juarez was working within the course and scope of his employment at the time of collision as an employee of Pacific Tank Lines.

Plaintiff suffered multiple serious injuries as a result of the incident, including multiple fractures and torn ligaments across her spine and back, fractures to her ribs, and disc herniation. At trial, her counsel, Adam Lugo, William Gilmore, and Justin Grassburg of Strassburg, Gilmore & Wei LLP, presented evidence of $543,053 past medical expenses and $27,000 in loss of earnings. Plaintiffs’ counsel further argued that she would require several surgeries in the future, including fusion surgeries and microdiscectomy. Plaintiff further contended that she lost a career as a singer-songwriter as a result of this incident.

Conversely, counsel for the Defense, Jason C. Gless and R. Gregory R. Amundon of Wood, Smith, Henning & Berman LLP, presented a theory that the driver of the Prius was entirely responsible for the collision by allowing the Prius to run out of gas and failing to safely pull off the road. The Defense further contended that plaintiff herself was partially at fault for making a late-night decision to trek off to Vegas after spending time at a bowling alley and a bar. With respect to Plaintiffs’ injuries, the Defense argued that Plaintiff made a full recovery by the time of trial, as evidenced by Instagram posts depicting Plaintiff taking a Zumba fitness class and deep-sea fishing.

Well before trial, plaintiff made a CCP 998 demand for $2,499,999 which was not accepted. The Defense made its own CCP 998 offer of $1,450,000.00 which was also not accepted.

At the 21-day trial, Plaintiff called multiple expert witnesses including several doctors, an accident reconstructionist, an economist, and a life care planner. Conversely, the Defense called one medical expert and one accident reconstruction expert. After deliberating for two days, the jury sided with Plaintiff, finding the Defendant 99% responsible for the incident. The other 1% was levied against Chun Tsao, the driver of the Prius.

The verdict included recovery of $543,053 in past medical expenses, $27,000 in past loss of earnings; $932,000 in future medical expenses; and $110,000 in future loss of earnings. However, the award for pain and suffering was the driving force behind the massive verdict, with $3,150,000 awarded for past pain and suffering and $3,075,000 awarded for future pain and suffering damages. In total the award for pain and suffering was over 11 times greater than the amount of past medical expenses.

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