In what will be a continuing series highlighting personal injury jury verdicts in Los Angeles, I wanted to discuss two cases were jury verdicts rendered in L.A. Superior Court were reported in November as follows:
Verdict of Almost $70,000 After State Farm Insurance Offers Only $30,000 for Settlement
Villalobos v. Aranda, Los Angeles Superior Court Case No. MC023611
Facts of the Case: Plaintiff was stopped at an intersection in Palmdale, CA and was rear-ended by defendant. There was significant property damage evidencing a major impact. Liability was conceded at the time of trial but, the defense attempted to claim that the plaintiff (an appliance repairman by trade), was suffering from injuries that were either “degenerative” (i.e. naturally caused by his age and physical condition) or were caused by a subsequent motor vehicle accident.
Settlement Discussions: The “best and final” settlement offer from the insurance defense carrier, State Farm, was $30,000. This was, again, based upon the arguments regarding lack of causation on damages. The plaintiff demanded the full policy limit of $250,000.
Result: After a 1 week trial by jury, a verdict was rendered in the amount of $57,327.93. The plaintiff filed a motion for award of court costs and other expenses related to putting on the trial and the total approximated $70,000.
Things I Find Interesting About This Verdict in my Perspective as a Plaintiff’s Personal Injury Lawyer in Los Angeles: In full disclosure, my law firm was personally involved in the representation of the plaintiff in this case. Therefore, I have some “personal” perspective on this one. The argument that the back injuries suffered by the person filing an injury claim are “degenerative” is a very common argument made by insurance companies defending these claims. In fact, I think it is used in just about every case I have prosecuted where the plaintiff is over the age of 40 (and, sometimes, even when the claimant is younger). I don’t think this held much weight with the jury in this case as I don’t think it holds much weight with many juries unless there is some indication in the prior medical records that would indicate complaints of previous injuries to a same or similar body part. A bigger issue, was the subsequent motor vehicle accident. Unfortunately, it happens sometimes that a plaintiff is in the middle of a lawsuit over a personal injury claim and is then involved in a subsequent accident. This is because, on average, it takes about 1-2 years at present to get a case processed by the courts and get a trial date in Los Angeles County. When this does happen, the insurance company (in my experience) will naturally “latch on” to the second accident as the “sole” cause of injury. As is generally the case, they use this as an excuse not to pay. In this case, I believe that the jury bought their argument (somewhat) but, I think the adjuster still made a miscalculation as to the weight a jury would place on a second motor vehicle collision. I think this is reflected in the final verdict amount.
Additional Resources: State Farm Auto Accident Claims in California (Los Angeles Injury Lawyer Blog)
Jury Award of $113,000 After Farmers Insurance Group Settlement Offer of $4,000
Mego v. Stefanescu, Los Angeles Superior Court Case No. BC505051
Facts of the Case: The plaintiff (apparently a singer and dancer by profession) was attempting to back out of a driveway when he was “T-boned” by a driver coming down the street. Liability was in dispute as were the claimed damages. The defendant claimed that he was at a complete stop and that the plaintiff backed into his vehicle. The defense also argued that the claimed injuries were suspect due to a delay of several months between the initial medical treatment and subsequent treatment including epidural injections. They also argued that the claim of a need for future treatment was unnecessary. (One interesting note about “pre-trial” procedures was that the plaintiff was able to have the defense medical expert’s testimony excluded by way of a “motion in limine” – a request to exclude evidence made to the judge).
Settlement Discussions: Farmers Auto Insurance offered a mere $4,000 to the plaintiff in this case. The plaintiff made what appears to be a policy limits demand of $15,000 (Note: the amount is stated in the reported verdict but, I am guessing that this was the limit based upon the fact that $15,000 is the statutory minimum auto insurance limit in California).
Result: After a 4 day jury trial, the plaintiff was awarded $113,375 which broke down as $49,295 in “economic damages” (cost of medical treatment and other out of pocket expenses) and $64,080 in “non-economic” damages (i.e. for physical pain and mental distress caused by the incident).
Things I Find Interesting About This Verdict in my Perspective as a Plaintiff’s Personal Injury Lawyer in Los Angeles: I find several things interesting about this verdict. (1) Delay in treatment is ALWAYS used as an excuse not to pay by auto insurance carriers like Farmers. In my experience, this is one of the most common arguments made to avoid paying an auto insurance claim; (2) Completely excluding a expert’s testimony is rare. There must have been either serious issues with the scope of his expertise vs. the opinions he intended to offer or there may have been a procedural violation such as a failure to timely designate the expert by the defense.
Additional Resources: Farmers Insurance Auto Accident Claims in California (Los Angeles Lawyer Blog)