Disputed extent of injury in freeway rear-ender, over $800K non-economic award. Los Angeles County.


Car is rearended on freeway by truck.  Neck injury disputed, with claim of constant pain and the need for surgery.

The Case

  • Case Name: Gutierrez v. ECCO Equipment Corporation, et al.
  • Court and Case Number: Los Angeles Superior Court / BC 510071
  • Date of Verdict or Judgment: Tuesday, April 28, 2015
  • Date Action was Filed: Tuesday, May 28, 2013
  • Type of Case: Vehicles - Auto vs. Auto
  • Judge or Arbitrator(s): Hon. Ralph Dau
  • Plaintiffs:
    Julie Gutierrez, 43, unemployed
  • Defendants:
    ECCO Equipment Corportation; Timothy Stubbs
  • Type of Result: Jury Verdict

The Result

  • Gross Verdict or Award: $1,004,000
  • Economic Damages:

    Past Economic Damages: $0 (Waived)

    Future Economic Damages: $180,000

  • Non-Economic Damages:

    Past Non-Economic: $240,000.00

    Future Non-Economic: $584,000.00

  • Trial or Arbitration Time: 6 days
  • Jury Deliberation Time: 1 day
  • Jury Polls: 12-0, 12-0, 12-0

The Attorneys

  • Attorney for the Plaintiff:

    Purcell Law by Chris Purcell, Santa Ana.

    Law Offices of Brent W. Caldwell by Brent W. Caldwell, Huntington Beach.

  • Attorney for the Defendant:

    Law Offices of Melissa M. Ballard by John Hauser and Ken Wright, Brea.

The Experts

  • Plaintiff’s Medical Expert(s):

    Brian Perri, DO, orthopedic surgery, Los Angeles.

    David Hallegua, M.D., rheumatology, Beverly Hills.

  • Plaintiff's Technical Expert(s):

    John Smith, PE, accident reconstruction and biomechanics.

  • Defendant's Technical Expert(s):

    Michael Ackerman, PE, accident reconstruction and biomechanics.

Facts and Background

  • Facts and Background:

    Plaintiff was a passenger in a Toyota 4-Runner that was stopped or almost stopped on the 405 when it was rear-ended by defendants' Freightliner work truck. Plaintiff was turned to talk to the driver at the time of impact. Plaintiff complained of neck pain the next morning. Plaintiff had an underlying genetic condition that was diagnosed originally as rheumatoid arthritis. Treating doctors suspected the condition in plaintiff's neck was related, but an MRI showed otherwise. Dr. Perri indicated she was a surgical candidate for either disk replacement or fusion.

  • Plaintiff's Contentions:

    That plaintiff's neck injury and need for surgery was directly related to the impact from defendant's truck. MRI showed no underlying inflammation that would be seen if her underlying condition was in fact the problem in her neck. Degenerative disk disease was "normal" for her age. That plaintiff has ongoing, daily pain due to her neck injury from the accident.

  • Defendant's Contentions:

    That plaintiff's neck  injury was merely a sprain, and that three months of physical therapy was appropriate treatment and care. That plaintiff's ongoing pain was either related to her degenerative disk disease or a "non-physical cause." Defendants claimed that the rear-end accident impact was between 2 and 8 mph. (Per defense counsel: Plaintiff’s expert claimed the rear-end accident impact was between 15 and 20 mph.)

Injuries and Other Damages

  • Physical Injuries claimed by Plaintiff:

    Neck injury with need for future surgery; claim of daily pain.

Special Damages

  • Special Damages Claimed - Past Medical: $0 (waived)
  • Special Damages Claimed - Future Medical: $180,000 surgical costs

Demands and Offers

  • Plaintiff §998 Demand: $150,000
  • Plaintiff Final Demand before Trial: Plaintiff demanded $475,000 just before trial.
  • Defendant Final Offer before Trial: $125,000

Additional Notes

Per plaintiff's counsel: Defendants (carrier Hartford Insurance) offered $20,000, then $75,000, then $125,000 just before trial. Defendants offered $225,000 after voir dire, then moved to $300,000.

Per defense counsel: Defendants offered $300,000  just before trial.