Good Samaritan suffers post-concussive syndrome and facial scarring in successive freeway accidents. $3.1M. San Diego County.


Good Samaritan leaves car on freeway to help accident victim, is then injured when another driver loses control on wet surface of I-5.

The Case

  • Case Name: Vanessa Hernandez v. Wesley Wu
  • Court and Case Number: San Diego Superior Court / 37-2018-00025496-CU-PA-NC
  • Date of Verdict or Judgment: Thursday, January 30, 2020
  • Date Action was Filed: Wednesday, May 23, 2018
  • Type of Case: Vehicles - Freeway
  • Judge or Arbitrator(s): Hon. Jaqueline Stern
  • Plaintiffs:
    Vanessa Hernandez, 29, kindergarten teacher/pre-school administrator .
  • Defendants:
    Wesley Wu
  • Type of Result: Jury Verdict

The Result

  • Gross Verdict or Award: $3,185,209
  • Net Verdict or Award: $3,185,209 plus confidential settlement of CCP 998 interest and costs.
  • Contributory/Comparative Negligence: 100% negligence/liability against defendant Wesley Wu
  • Economic Damages:


  • Non-Economic Damages:


  • Trial or Arbitration Time: 11 days inclusive of jury selection
  • Jury Deliberation Time: 1 1/2 days
  • Jury Polls: 12-0 on most questions
  • Post Trial Motions & Post-Verdict Settlements: Defendant filed a Motion for New Trial, which was denied on May 4, 2020. Plaintiff filed a Memorandum of Costs seeking prevailing party costs and expert witness fees and pre-judgment interest pursuant to CCP section 998, in the amount of $640,054.80. (See Additional Notes below.)

The Attorneys

  • Attorney for the Plaintiff:

    Berman & Riedel, LLP by William Berman, San Diego.

    Gomez Trial Attorneys by John H. Gomez, San Diego.

  • Attorney for the Defendant:

    Higgs, Fletcher & Mack, LLP by Peter S. Doody and Nicholas Brauns, San Diego.


The Experts

  • Plaintiff’s Medical Expert(s):

    Michael Lobatz, M.D., neurology, San Diego.

    Vernon B. Williams, M.D., pain management, Los Angeles.

    Munish Batra, M.D., plastic surgery, San Diego.

    Dominik Addario, M.D., psychiatric medicine, San Diego.

    Andrew Blumenfeld, M.D., neurology/headache medicine, San Diego. (Treating physician.)

  • Defendant's Medical Expert(s):

    Jeremy Hogan, M.D., neurology, San Diego.

    Gilbert Lee, M.D., plastic surgery, San Diego.


  • Plaintiff's Technical Expert(s):

    Eugene VanderPol, accident reconstruction, San Diego.

    Robert Hall, Ph.D., vocational rehabilitation, San Diego.

    Brian Bergmark, economics/damages, San Diego.

  • Defendant's Technical Expert(s):

    Michael Callahan, accident reconstruction, El Segundo.

    Mark Gomez, Ph.D., biomechanics, San Diego.

Facts and Background

  • Facts and Background:

    On  the rainy Sunday morning of May 7, 2017, plaintiff Vanessa Hernandez and her boyfriend were traveling in the fast lane of northbound Interstate 5 travel when, just past the Oceanside Blvd. overpass bend in Oceanside, they witnessed the vehicle that was proceeding directly ahead of them lose control, careen over the west-side guardrail of the freeway, and roll over into the ditch below. Plaintiff’s boyfriend, who was driving at the time, immediately brought their vehicle to a stop on the west-side emergency shoulder of the freeway and he jumped out and ran down into the ditch to check on the occupants of the wrecked vehicle. Plaintiff immediately called 911. 

    Once on the phone with the 911 operator, plaintiff exited the driver’s side of her vehicle and walked behind her vehicle towards the area where the crashed vehicle had careened into the ditch, specifically to communicate with her boyfriend in order to respond to the 911 operator who was asking: (1) whether anyone inside the crashed vehicle was injured and, (2) whether anyone needed emergency assistance.

    While plaintiff was on the phone with the 911 operator, another vehicle being driven by defendant in the fast lane of northbound Interstate 5 came around the bend and lost control. Defendant 's vehicle spun into a 360-degree rotation, and struck the metal guardrail near where the prior accident had occurred. When defendant’s vehicle struck the metal guardrail, it snapped off a one-foot section of the metal guardrail, which flew off in the direction of plaintiff and struck her in the middle of the face. She was thrown to the ground, suffered serious injuries, and was transported from the scene of the accident to an Orange County Trauma Hospital for emergency care.

  • Plaintiff's Contentions:

    That defendant was negligent for failing to safely operate his vehicle under the existing rainy conditions, thereby losing control of his vehicle and causing the collision that caused plaintiff to be struck by the flying piece of guardrail; that defendant was 100% responsible for all of the damages that plaintiff suffered as a result.

  • Defendant's Contentions:

    Defendant admitted that he lost control of his vehicle and struck the guardrail that struck plaintiff in the face, but he claimed that he was not responsible for causing plaintiff to suffer any injury or damages because: (1) water accumulation on the freeway from a backed-up storm drain caused defendant to lose control of his vehicle and therefore he was not responsible for losing control of his vehicle and that alternatively, (2) the driver of the initial vehicle that careened off the freeway was responsible for creating the circumstances that resulted in plaintiff’s attempt to render aid and therefore, the driver of the initial vehicle was the person at fault and thus fully responsible for creating the conditions that resulted in plaintiff being injured.

Injuries and Other Damages

  • Physical Injuries claimed by Plaintiff:

    As a result of the accident, plaintiff was diagnosed with having suffered a concussion that resulted in a post-concussive syndrome that presented in the form of chronic daily headaches and a chronic pain syndrome. She also suffered from permanent facial scarring injuries.

    Plaintiff claimed that as a result of the accident, she lost nine months of full-time employment and upon her return to work, was limited in the time and duties she could perform as a kindergarten teacher/pre-school administrator at a private Catholic School. 

Special Damages

  • Special Damages Claimed - Past Medical: Waived.
  • Special Damages Claimed - Future Medical: $382,024
  • Special Damages Claimed - Past Lost Earnings: $20,703
  • Special Damages Claimed - Future Lost Earnings: $1.1 million to $2.4 million

Demands and Offers

  • Plaintiff §998 Demand: $500,000
  • Plaintiff Final Demand before Trial: $500,000
  • Defendant §998 Offer: $301,000

Additional Notes

Pre-litigation, plaintiff made a $500,000 “policy limits demand” upon CSAA/AAA, the insurer for defendant, to resolve all of her claims against defendant. CSAA/AAA rejected the pre-litigation policy limits demand. During the litigation, plaintiff then served a formal Statutory Offer to Compromise upon defendant pursuant to the provisions of CCP section 998 in the amount of $500,000. Defendant failed to accept plaintiff’s Statutory Offer to Compromise. 

On three additional occasions thereafter, plaintiff offered to settle all of her claims against defendant and his carrier for defendant’s $500,000 limits of insurance and in fact, plaintiff again offered to settle her claims against defendant for the $500,000 limits of insurance just three months prior to trial. On all five occasions, defendant and his carrier rejected plaintiff’s policy limits demands. Two months before trial, defendant served an offer upon plaintiff pursuant to CCP section 998 in the amount of $301,000, an increase from the initial $250,000 statutory offer that defendant had served upon plaintiff early during the litigation.  Plaintiff rejected defendant’s $301,000 statutory offer. The case proceeded to trial.

Following Entry of Judgment, defendant filed a Motion for New Trial. Plaintiff filed a Memorandum of Costs seeking an additional amount of $640,054.80 in prevailing party costs and expert witness fees and pre-judgment interests against defendant pursuant to the provisions of CCP section 998.

On May 4, 2020, defendant’s Motion for New Trial was heard and denied in its entirety.  Shortly thereafter, and while plaintiff’s request for an additional award of damages in the amount of $640,054.80 pursuant to CCP section 998 was pending, the parties attended a post-trial mediation with neutral Robert Kaplan of Judicate West and, following 14 hours of mediation, the case settled for a confidential amount.  On July 1, 2020, plaintiff filed a Satisfaction of Judgment, thereby concluding the litigation.