Left-turn dispute turns ugly inside a coffee shop. Negligence and battery.
- Case Name: Gregory Bagwell v. Mr. Funk and Mrs. Funk
- Court and Case Number: Sacramento Superior Court / 34-2014-00169592-CU-PO-GDS
- Date of Verdict or Judgment: Wednesday, November 30, 2016
- Date Action was Filed: Wednesday, October 01, 2014
- Type of Case: Negligence
- Judge or Arbitrator(s): Hon. Alan G. Perkins
Plaintiffs: Gregory Bagwell
Defendants: Mr. Funk and Mrs. Funk
- Type of Result: Jury Verdict
- Gross Verdict or Award: $268,420.02
- Settlement Amount: Following the verdict, the parties settled the case for $150,000 prior to the commencement of the second phase of the punitive damages trial against defendant Mr. Funk. The defendants contributed $15,000 of personal funds to the settlement.
Award as to each Defendant:
The jury found that defendant Mr. Funk was liable for battery and his wife, defendant Mrs. Funk, was negligent. Further, the jury unanimously found that the defendants’ conduct was a substantial factor in causing Mr. Bagwell’s harm. The jury also found that plaintiff Gregory Bagwell was comparatively negligent but that his negligence was not a substantial factor in causing his own injuries. The jury further found that defendant Mr. Funk acted with malice in causing plaintiff’s injuries. The gross verdict was $268,420.02. Fault was apportioned 70% against defendant Mr. Funk and 30% against defendant Mrs. Funk. The net verdict against defendant Mrs. Funk was approximately $93,000.
- Trial or Arbitration Time: 2 1/2 weeks.
- Jury Deliberation Time: 4 hours.
- Jury Polls: 12-0: alleged battery; 12-0: negligence alleged against Mrs Funk.; 9-3: comparative negligence alleged against plaintiff, 12-0: that his negligence was not a substantial factor in causing his injuries;12-0: Mr. Funk acted with malice in causing injuries.
Attorney for the Plaintiff:
Dreyer, Babich, Buccola Wood & Campora, LLP by Jason J. Sigel and Ryan L. Dostart, Sacramento.
Attorney for the Defendant:
Lauria, Tokunaga, Gates & Linn, LLP by Raymond R. Gates, Paul A. Cardinale and Shannon E. Lacey, Sacramento. (For Mrs. Funk.)
Defendant Mr. Funk, in propria persona.
Plaintiff’s Medical Expert(s):
Amit Shah, M.D., internal medicine, Folsom.
Defendant's Medical Expert(s):
Facts and Background
Facts and Background:
On March 19, 2014, plaintiff Gregory Bagwell was traveling southbound on Hazel Avenue, in Sacramento County, heading to a Peet’s Coffee located in a supermarket shopping center. Plaintiff’s wife, Linda Bagwell, was the front-seat passenger. Mr. Bagwell pulled up behind two cars which were in the center turn lane ("suicide lane") waiting to turn left into the shopping center. Ahead of Mr. Bagwell’s vehicle was a vehicle driven by defendant Mrs. Funk. When oncoming traffic cleared, the first car in line made its left turn. Traffic remained clear but the car directly in front of Mr. Bagwell did not turn. After waiting only a few seconds, Mr. Bagwell initiated his left turn from his position behind the car in front of him, which was driven by defendant Mrs. Funk.
After entering the parking lot Mr. Bagwell proceeded to Peet’s. Upon seeing Mr. Bagwell in the Peet’s parking lot, Mrs. Funk pulled up next to him. Mrs. Funk told Mr. Bagwell that he was driving unsafely and endangering her children. Mrs. Funk testified at deposition and trial that Mr. Bagwell was hostile and aggressive towards her, getting within inches of her face and yelling “What are you going to do about it?” before walking away from her and entering Peet’s. Thereafter, Mr. Bagwell’s wife came from around the car and had a conversation with Mrs. Funk, and attempted to give Mrs. Funk a hug. Mrs. Funk then got in her car, and drove over to Great Clips to get her children haircuts.
Upon entering Great Clips, Mrs. Funk began experiencing an anxiety attack and called her husband, defendant Mr. Funk for comfort and support. Mr. Funk met her at the shopping center. Both Mr. and Mrs. Funk testified that Mrs. Funk did not ask Mr. Funk to come to the shopping center. Mr. Funk testified that once at the shopping center, he wanted to talk to Mr. Bagwell. Thereafter, the Funks went into Peet’s Coffee. Mr. Funk asked who Mr. Bagwell was, and Mrs. Funk identified him. After a brief verbal exchange and shoves between Mr. Funk and Mr. Bagwell, Mr. Funk hit Mr. Bagwell in the left temple area, knocking him to the floor. Mr. Funk then continued to hit Mr. Bagwell in the back several more times before leaving Peet’s. The altercation was captured on Peet’s video surveillance system.
Mr. Bagwell suffered two hairline fractures of the transverse processes on the left side of L1 and L2 and a concussion. Plaintiff Gregory Bagwell filed suit alleging intentional torts against Mr. Funk and negligence against Mrs. Funk. No claims were made for past or future wage loss or future medical special damages. Plaintiff Linda Bagwell alleged intentional infliction of emotional distress against Mr. Funk and negligent infliction of emotional distress against Mrs. Funk.
Plaintiff argued that he was not the aggressor in the parking lot and that Mrs. Funk was hostile towards him. Plaintiff denied cutting Mrs. Funk off when making the left turn into the parking lot and running a stop sign in the parking lot. He also argued that Mrs. Funk was negligent in telling her husband that Mr. Bagwell “got in her face” because that was the sole reason Mr. Funk came to Peet’s and ended up attacking plaintiff.
In support of his contentions, plaintiff called two witnesses to the attack and parking lot confrontation that preceded it. A Peet’s patron who was seated outside the coffee shop approximately thirty feet from the area where the parking lot confrontation occurred corroborated plaintiff’s testimony that Mrs. Funk was the aggressor. However, on cross-examination, counsel for defendant Mrs. Funk established several inconsistencies in the witness’s testimony and elicited an admission that the witness did not see the entire interaction in the parking lot and that parked vehicles at least partially obscured his view. A Peet’s barista on duty at the time of the incident testified that she did not see plaintiff do anything aggressive towards Mrs. Funk. On cross-examination, she also conceded that her view was partially blocked and that she did not see the entire incident from her vantage point within Peet’s and over sixty feet from the parking lot.
That Mr. Bagwell’s turn cut Mrs. Funk off, after she had initiated her left hand turn, (for which she had the right of way). Her two sons were in the front and rear passenger seats of her car. Mrs. Funk was unable to turn into the shopping center parking because of Mr. Bagwell’s turn, leaving her sitting at the entrance, with oncoming traffic heading towards her car and her children. Mrs. Funk then witnessed Mr. Bagwell cut off a subsequent car in the parking lot when he failed to stop at a stop sign.
When Mrs. Funk rolled down her window in the parking lot to tell Mr. Bagwell that he was driving recklessly, Mr. Bagwell did not indicate that he had heard her, so she got out of her car to tell Mr. Bagwell he needed to drive more safely.
After arriving at the shopping center, Mr. Funk told Mrs. Funk that he wanted to have a conversation with Mr. Bagwell. Mrs. Funk testified that she believed her husband meant a true conversation and not a physical altercation. Mrs. Funk testified that she had no reason to believe that her husband was going to physically assault Mr. Bagwell, as he did not have a history of doing so. Mr. Funk also testified that he had never been in a physical altercation prior to this incident.
As Mr. and Mrs. Funk entered Peet’s Coffee, Mr. Funk asked where Greg Bagwell was. Mrs. Funk identified him, and Mr. Funk went up to Mr. Bagwell and shoved him on the shoulder. Mr. Bagwell then stood up, shoving Mr. Funk into a table, and a fight ensued. Mr. Funk struck Mr. Bagwell once, which knocked him to the floor, and then proceeded to hit him several times.
Defendants denied the extent of plaintiff’s damages as he has a medical history of similar complaints.
Injuries and Other Damages
Physical Injuries claimed by Plaintiff:
Double Vision, low back pain.
After the incident, plaintiff was seen at in a Kaiser Permanente emergency room and diagnosed with a concussion and transverse process fractures at L1 and L2. Approximately one month after the attack plaintiff began to experience transient short-term episodic double vision. Defendants disputed causation and plaintiff’s damages.
The defense argued that plaintiff had a prior history of low back pain, including a ten-foot fall from a ladder to a concrete surface prior to the subject incident that resulted in transverse process fractures at the same levels (L1-L2) that were injured in the Peet’s attack.
The defense highlighted that the first double vision episode did not occur until a month after the incident and could not have been a significant symptom because plaintiff continued participating in drag racing and driving his thirty-eight foot motor home after the alleged onset of these symptoms. Defendants also argued that the alleged on-going low back pain was minimal because plaintiff and his wife had continued to travel extensively, including a three-week trip to Europe in the summer of 2015 that included a Baltic cruise.
Plaintiff’s primary care physician testified that both the back pain and double vision were more likely than not caused by the attack and that plaintiff would continue to experience those symptoms in the future despite the lack of any positive objective findings on the multiple diagnostic tests done after the incident.
Demands and Offers
- Defendant §998 Offer: $60,000 to plaintiff Gregory Bagwell and $15,000 to plaintiff Linda Bagwell. Mrs. Bagwell accepted the offer prior to trial.