Diabetic blackout said to cause head-on collision. $3.2 million. Amador County.


Two cars collide on 2-lane bridge. Defendant driver was an insulin-dependent diabetic suffering from low blood sugar.

The Case

  • Case Name: Tara Frisk v. Catherine Cowan
  • Court and Case Number: Superior Court of Amador County / 10-CV-6852
  • Date of Verdict or Judgment: Friday, September 19, 2014
  • Date Action was Filed: Tuesday, August 31, 2010
  • Type of Case: Vehicles - Auto vs. Auto
  • Judge or Arbitrator(s): Hon. Arnold Rosenfield
  • Plaintiffs:
    Tara Frisk, 30, homemaker
  • Defendants:
    Catherine Cowan
  • Type of Result: Jury Verdict

The Result

  • Gross Verdict or Award: $3,695,977.59. Policy limit was tendered in March 2014. Pre-judgment interest exceeds $1,000,000.
  • Economic Damages:

    Past wage loss: $2,358

    Past medical expenses: $109,162.59

    Future medical expenses: $1,084,457

  • Non-Economic Damages:

    Past pain and suffering: $500,000

    Future pain and suffering: $2,000,000

  • Punitive Damages:

    $1 (one dollar) as requested by plaintiff's counsel at trial.

  • Trial or Arbitration Time: 2 weeks
  • Jury Deliberation Time: 2 days
  • Jury Polls: 12-0 liability, 9-3 punitive damages.

The Attorneys

  • Attorney for the Plaintiff:

    Dreyer, Babich, Buccola, Wood & Campora, LLP by Jason J. Sigel and Hank G. Greenblatt, Sacramento.

  • Attorney for the Defendant:

    Law Offices of Robert J. Drabant by Robert J. Drabant, Sacramento.

The Experts

  • Plaintiff’s Medical Expert(s):

    Ardavan Aslie, M.D., spine surgery, (treating physician), Sacramento.

    Karen Pantazis, M.D., pain management, (treating physician), Jackson.

    Peter Singer, M.D., endocrinology, Los Angeles.

  • Defendant's Medical Expert(s):

    Edward Younger, III, M.D., orthopedic surgery, Sacramento.

    Robert C. Hartmann, internal medicine, Jackson.

  • Plaintiff's Technical Expert(s):

    Lawrence “Lan” Lievense, cost of medical care, Camarillo.

    Richard Barnes, economics, Sacramento.

  • Defendant's Technical Expert(s):

    Tim Sells, cost of medical care, Sacramento.

Facts and Background

  • Facts and Background:

    On December 3, 2009 defendant and plaintiff's vehicles collided in a  nearly head-on collision. The vehicles were going in opposite directions on a two-lane bridge when they collided.  Defendant’s vehicle hit the driver’s side of the plaintiff’s car and the damage to plaintiff’s car was along the entire driver’s side.

    Defendant has been a Type 1 insulin-dependent diabetic since the age of 14.

    The collision occurred on Highway 49 after the defendant left the Kmart in Jackson headed for a Chinese restaurant less than one mile away.  When she arrived at Kmart the defendant locked her keys in her car. She then phoned her husband who brought her a spare key.  Defendant felt that her blood sugar was starting to get low and she decided to drive the relatively short distance to the restaurant to eat.

    The defendant’s DMV record was clean prior to this collision and showed no history of other collisions or medical restrictions.  Test results in the defendant’s medical records admittedly demonstrated that her diabetes was well controlled and her personal physician testified at trial that her average historical blood sugar readings were in a range that indicated an ideal level of control.  

  • Plaintiff's Contentions:

    That defendant crossed the center line after she blacked out from low blood sugar, and struck the plaintiff's vehicle.

    That defendant should have attended to her low blood sugar condition before driving.

    That a reasonable diabetic, knowing that their blood sugar level is low, should do something to bring up their blood sugar before driving.  Also that the risk of a blackout due to falling blood sugar levels was known to the defendant and that she never should have attempted to operate her vehicle while feeling the onset of low blood sugar-related symptoms.

    Before trial, the plaintiff amended her complaint to include a claim for punitive damages.  In closing argument, Mr. Sigel argued that the defendant’s conduct was egregious to the extent that it justified an award of punitive damages to punish the defendant and deter similar conduct in the future.  Mr. Sigel argued that the jury should award Ms. Frisk the full measure of her past and future damages and only punish the defendant in the amount of $1.00 to send her the message that her conduct was not acceptable in the community. 

  • Defendant's Contentions:

    Defendant denied liability both for causing the collision and for plaintiff’s damages.

    Defendant’s husband testified at trial that in the moments before the defendant got behind the wheel that she seemed totally normal.  He saw no outward signs that his wife was suffering any symptoms of low blood sugar and she failed to report any subjective concerns to him before driving away.

    Defendant disputed the reasonable value of the past and future care as well as the need for the past disc replacement surgery.  The defendant’s orthopedic surgeon also testified that he could not relate plaintiff’s cervical disc injuries, and need for surgery, to the subject collision.

Injuries and Other Damages

  • Physical Injuries claimed by Plaintiff:

    Plaintiff ultimately required a single level disc replacement in her cervical spine.  While the surgery alleviated much of the pain caused by the damaged disc, plaintiff is still symptomatic and limited in her recreational activities.  Plaintiff’s surgeon testified that she will likely need a double-level fusion surgery sometime in the future.

    Plaintiff’s pain management doctor testified that she will likely require pain management care for the rest of her life. 


Demands and Offers

  • Plaintiff §998 Demand: $250,000 (policy limits) in October 2011.
  • Defendant §998 Offer: Defendant served a $180,000 statutory offer in January 2014. Another statutory offer in the amount $250,000 was served in February 2014. (The case was up for trial in February 2014 but there was no courtroom available; continued to September 2014.)

Additional Notes

Insurer was Grange Insurance Association.  Policy limit was $250,000.