Punitive damages against employer when truck driver uses illegal drugs; $2.1 million. San Luis Obispo County.


Father hires his son as a truck driver for his company. The son crashes a heavy delivery truck into a small car at 55-60 mph. Defense makes very low CCP 998 offer.  

The Case

  • Case Name: Kayleigh McCall v. Coast Line Distributing, Inc. and Paul Anthony Ceja
  • Court and Case Number: San Luis Obispo Superior Court / 14CV0535
  • Date of Verdict or Judgment: Thursday, March 10, 2016
  • Date Action was Filed: Thursday, October 16, 2014
  • Type of Case: Vehicles - Auto vs. Auto
  • Judge or Arbitrator(s): Hon. Barry T. LaBarbera
  • Plaintiffs:
    Kayleigh McCall, 27
  • Defendants:
    Paul Anthony Ceja; Coast Line Distributing, Inc.
  • Type of Result: Jury Verdict

The Result

  • Gross Verdict or Award: $2,119,875.48
  • Economic Damages:

    Past medical: $41,937.74

    Future medical: $393,000

  • Non-Economic Damages:

    Past noneconomic loss: $375,000

    Future noneconomic loss: $250,000

  • Punitive Damages:


  • Trial or Arbitration Time: 9 days.
  • Jury Deliberation Time: 2 days.

The Attorneys

  • Attorney for the Plaintiff:

    Harris Personal Injury Lawyers, Inc. by Tanya Ortega and Ranger Wiens, San Luis Obispo.

  • Attorney for the Defendant:

    Maranga*Morgenstern by Ninos Saroukhanioff and Dennis Newitt, Woodland Hills.

The Experts

  • Plaintiff’s Medical Expert(s):

    Sheldon Jordan, M.D,, neurology, Santa Monica.

  • Defendant's Medical Expert(s):

    Martin Levine, M.D., neurology, Encino.

  • Plaintiff's Technical Expert(s):

    Okorie Okorocha, toxicology, Los Angeles.

Facts and Background

  • Facts and Background:

    Defendant Paul Anthony Ceja was a truck driver working for Coast Line Distributing, Inc., a dairy distribution corporation in Santa Maria.

    Paul Anthony Ceja had an extensive history of drug abuse, incarcerations, drug rehabilitations, felonies and license suspensions before he was hired as a truck driver by his father, Paul Ceja, the co-owner of Coast Line Distributing, Inc.

    Within ten months of his hire, on February 4, 2013, Paul Anthony Ceja rear-ended Kayleigh McCall at a red traffic light at the intersection of Highway 1 and Yerba Buena in Morro Bay. He was driving a Freightliner bobtail truck and traveling 55-60 mph at the time of impact. Drug paraphernalia, including hypodermic needles, burned foil with drug residue and a packet of Suboxone, was found in the bobtail truck.

    Paul Anthony Ceja was arrested for driving under the influence of controlled substances, and blood tests confirmed methamphetamines and opioids in his system at the time of the collision. Defendants admitted liability for the first time at trial.

  • Plaintiff's Contentions:

    Negligence in course and scope of employment.  Negligent entrustment. Punitive damages asked because of DUI.

  • Defendant's Contentions:

    Coast Line Distributing admitted negligent entrustment and vicarious liability and Paul Anthony Ceja admitted liability for causing the accident.

    Defendants argued that plaintiff’s injuries were resolved by April 2013 (two months after the collision) after several physical therapy treatments. Because of an eleven-month gap in treatment from April 2013 to March 2014, defendants disputed the facet injury as being related to this accident.

    Defendants asked the jury to award less than $3,000 in past medical bills and $25,000 of pain and suffering damages. Defendants further disputed that Paul Ceja (owner and father of Defendant Paul Anthony Ceja) had advance knowledge of the unfitness of Paul Anthony Ceja as a truck driver for Coast Line Distributing, Inc. at the time he was hired as a route driver for the corporation.

Injuries and Other Damages

  • Physical Injuries claimed by Plaintiff:

    Kayleigh McCall suffered a mild brain injury (TBI) and facet injury as a result of severe whiplash she sustained. Dr. Jordan diagnosed plaintiff with crushed and compressed facet joints and performed a facet block injection and radiofrequency ablation to several levels of her cervical spine. Both procedures provided plaintiff with significant pain relief.

    Dr. Jordan opined that plaintiff will require one radiofrequency ablation every 12 months for the rest of her life.

Demands and Offers

  • Plaintiff §998 Demand: $200,000 in June 2015 and a most recent 998 offer in January 2016 for $175,000.
  • Defendant §998 Offer: $29,034.44 on January 25, 2016.