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California Appeals Court Affirms $15 Million Verdict Against Semi-Truck Operator in Wrongful Death Action

A California Court of Appeal reviewed a verdict in a wrongful death case in which two pedestrians were killed by a semi-truck driver while crossing at an intersection, ultimately affirming the $15 million jury award to the victims’ family members. In this case, the truck driver was stopped at an intersection, blocking the crosswalk. He then backed up the truck to allow the pedestrians to cross the street in front of him. The pedestrians then waited at the corner to cross the perpendicular street. When the light turned green, the pedestrians began to cross. The truck also pulled up, intending to make a right turn, although his signal was not on. As it was turning, the front of the truck struck the pedestrians from behind, and its back tires rolled over them, killing them.  The two minor children of one of the victims brought wrongful death claims against the truck driver and the driver’s employer.

After a trial, the jury found in favor of the plaintiffs and awarded each child $3.75 million for past non-economic damages and $3.75 million for future non-economic damages, a total of $7.5 million for each child. The defendants moved for a new trial, arguing that the trial court erred in excluding evidence that the decedent was under the influence of methamphetamine at the time of the accident, and that the damages awarded were excessive.  The appeals court rejected both of the defendant’s arguments.

The appeals court affirmed the trial court’s decision in excluding evidence that the victim was under the influence of methamphetamine, that it made her inattentive, and that it caused her to fail to notice the truck coming toward her and take action to avoid the accident. The court noted that while the coroner’s report stated both victims had methamphetamine in their blood systems at the time of death, surveillance video of the accident indicated absolutely no demonstration of any negligent type of behavior on the part of either pedestrian, and the pedestrians did not demonstrate a lack of concern for their own safety. Furthermore, the court found that there was no evidence that the truck signaled a right turn, indicating that the decedents had every reason to believe the truck driver was aware of them, having just backed up to allow them to cross in front of him. Therefore, the court held there was no causal connection between the victim’s methamphetamine intoxication and the occurrence of the accident.

In California, a plaintiff in a wrongful death action is entitled to recover damages for his or her own pecuniary loss, which may include the loss of the decedent’s financial support, services, training, and advice, as well as the pecuniary value of the decedent’s society and companionship. However, the plaintiff cannot recover for such things as grief or sorrow, or for sad emotions, or for the sentimental value of the loss stemming from the accident. In assessing damages, the fact-finder may consider the closeness of the family unit, the depth of their love and affection, and the character of the deceased as kind, attentive, and loving. In affirming the jury’s $15 million verdict to the decedent’s children, the appeals court held that, while large, the award is not so disproportionate that it shocks the conscience and suggests passion, prejudice, or corruption on the part of the jury.

The San Mateo attorneys at the Law Offices of Galine, Frye, Fitting & Frangos provide aggressive representation for victims of semi-truck and auto collisions, as well as other accidents. If you or a loved one has been injured in an accident caused by a negligent driver, contact us at 650-345-8484 or online to set up a free consultation and discuss your case with one of our experienced personal injury attorneys.

More Blog Posts:

Police Officer Loses Life in California Truck Accident, Injury Lawyers Blog, published May 31, 2014

California Restaurant Worker Injured After Semi Hits Building, Injury Lawyers Blog, published May 15, 2014

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