Family's SUV slams into 18-wheeler parked on side of freeway. $150 million for wrongful death. Los Angeles County. (JNOV/new trial granted)
SUV pulling a trailer slams into tractor-trailer truck parked off freeway; mother, father and one child die; two surviving children witness deaths. $150 million in non-economic damages, plus costs and interests.
JNOV granting new trial to determine the comparative negligence of plaintiffs' decedent driver and defendant trucking company.
- Case Name: Asam v. Rudolph Ortiz, Bhandal Bros.Trucking
- Court and Case Number: Los Angeles County Superior Court – Central / PC051705
- Date of Verdict or Judgment: Friday, October 25, 2013
- Date Action was Filed: Tuesday, October 11, 2011
- Type of Action: Wrongful Death
- Judge or Arbitrator(s): Hon. Marc Marmaro
Plaintiffs: Kylie Asam, age 13 (age 9 at DOI); Kylie Asam as successor in interest to Blaine Asam.
Defendants: Rudolph OrtizBhandal Bros Trucking Inc.
- Type of Result: Jury Verdict
- Gross Verdict or Award: $150,750,000, plus approx. $27 million in interests and costs, for total judgment of $178 million.
Award as to each Defendant:
Judgment against defendant trucking company.
- Non-Economic Damages: $8.75 million for pain and suffering to Blaine Asam; $112 million for pain and suffering to Kylie Asam. $30 million to Kylie for past and future emotional distress (Dillon v. Legg).
- Trial or Arbitration Time: 25 days.
- Jury Deliberation Time: 4 days.
- Post Trial Motions & Post-Verdict Settlements: JNOV on Feb. 3, 2014 granted motion for new trial, citing inconsistent jury findings and a verdict contrary to law.
Attorney for the Plaintiff: Law Offices of Brian Brandt by Brian Brandt, Upland.Purcell Law by Christopher Purcell, Santa Ana.
Attorney for the Defendant: McElfish Law Firm by Raymond McElfish and Tyrone Toczauer, West Hollywood. (trial attorneys)Gibson Dunn & Crutcher, by Richard Doren and Julian Poon, Los Angeles. (Post-trial motions).
Plaintiff’s Medical Experts: Harold Fisk, M.D., neurology, Los Angeles.Colin Koransky, Ph.D., psychology, Newport Beach.
Defendant's Medical Experts: James Lineback, M.D., Newport Beach.
Plaintiff's Technical Experts: Dennis Carlson, tire engineering, Tucson, AZ.Dale Dunlap, highway safety engineering, San Bernardino.Lew Grill, trucking expert, Billings, MT.Ted Kobayashi, accident reconstruction, Livermore.David Krauss, Ph.D., lighting and vision, Los Angeles.Kenneth Solomon Ph.D., biomechanics/risk and safety analyses, Woodland HIlls.
Defendant's Technical Experts: Timothy Long, P.E., biomechanics, Valencia.Anthony Stein, Ph.D., safety research, La Canada.Robert Scheibe, Ph.D., engineering, Redmond, WA.Nicholas J. Carpenter, Ph.D., accident reconstruction, Laguna Niguel.
Facts and Background
Facts and Background:
At 5 a.m. on November 22, 2009 defendant Rudolph Ortiz, age 73, an employee of and driver for defendant Bhandal Bros. Trucking, Inc., pulled his 18-wheeler off the 210 freeway and parked on the side (how far off the travel lanes he parked was in dispute). Mr. Ortiz had only obtained his commercial driver’s license 2 years previously at the age of 71.
Shortly thereafter, Michael Asam, age 41, and his family were on their way to a Thanksgiving holiday in Oregon. Michael Asam was driving a GMC Yukon pulling a utility trailer containing 4,000 pounds of motorcycles and gasoline when he pulled off the freeway and collided into the back of the parked Bhandal Bros. truck. Michael Asam, his wife Shannon, age 40, and his oldest son Brennan, age 14, became pinned underneath the wreckage. The two youngest children, Blaine, age 11, and Kylie, age 9, managed to escape through a broken rear window and attempted to open the door to get their mother out of the car without success. A fire started in the engine compartment of the SUV and began to spread.
After several minutes Blaine and Kylie were able to flag down a passing motorist on the highway who also attempted to free Shannon Asam from the wreckage, including using a fire extinguisher and attempting to put out the fire by shoveling dirt from the shoulder of the road onto the engine. He also made 2 emergency calls attempting to get help. After 10 minutes of his efforts, the fire became too large. All the while, the truck driver remained in his cab.
The parents and one child burned to death in the wreckage.
That Rudolph Ortiz was parked illegally on the shoulder of the highway in defendant Bhandal Bros.'s tractor-trailer truck.
That by being parked on the shoulder of the highway, Mr. Ortiz was in violation of the following codes/regulations: California Vehicle Code § 21718, California Vehicle Code § 22505, Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration § 392.3, Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration § 392.22 (a), Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration § 392.22 (b).
That Mr. Asam struck a piece of roadway debris, causing the left front tire of the trailer he was towing to lose pressure, forcing him into an emergency maneuver to pull off the road.
That as Mrs. Asam pleaded for her life, she, Michael and Brennan burned to death in front of her two surviving children.
That defendant driver needed to pull over due to a disabling headache, was not aware of any other safer locations to stop, and was not physically able to continue driving while looking for safer locations. That Mr. Ortiz stopped 13 feet to the right of the travel lanes, was not on the shoulder and therefore was not in violation of the emergency-parking-only law.
That there was no proof offered during the trial that the Asam vehicle actually struck any roadway debris, and police stated that they searched and found no such debris. That the damage to the rim occurred during the collision, a conclusion supported by police testimony.
That there was no evidence of steering, tire marks or braking of the Asam vehicle which collided with the back of the parked Bhandal Bros. truck at 40-50 mph with the Yukon and it's trailer completely aligned.
That the children never did see their parents or brother burn as they were sitting in the pick-up truck of the passing motorist after initially attempting to get their mother out of the car.
That the accident was caused by Mr. Asam falling asleep and driving off the roadway and that the jury should award no damages to the plaintiffs.
Injuries and Other Damages
Physical Injuries claimed by Plaintiff:
Kylie Asam and her brother Blaine, then age 11, survived the collision. Blaine died of an unrelated cause in June of 2013 shortly before the matter was scheduled to go to trial. Kylie brought an action for the wrongful death of her father, mother and older brother as well as bringing an action on behalf of her brother Blaine’s estate for those wrongful deaths. Kylie Asam also sought recovery for the negligent infliction of emotional distress as a result of watching her family members burn to death (Dillon v. Legg).
Demands and Offers
- Plaintiff §998 Demand: $24,000,000
- Defendant §998 Offer: $1,000,000
Insurance Carrier for Bhandal Bros Trucking Inc.: Carolina Casualty. Defendant Bhandal Bros Trucking stipulated that Ortiz and Bhandal Bros. were to be treated as one defendant.
According to plaintiff's counsel: The defendant truck driver had told at least 3 different stories as to why he was parked on the shoulder of the freeway, including his original story that he was there to sleep, and telling an officer that he had stopped to urinate. He later claimed he had a headache and needed to urinate.
The jury found defendant Ortiz not to be credible. In closing arguments, plaintiff asked for total damages in the sum of $130 million.
According to defense counsel: Mr. Ortiz's statement at the scene was interrupted due to his chest pains, for which he was taken to the hospital. The police officer who took Mr. Ortiz's statement testified that the truck driver did not stop there to sleep, and when re-interviewed by CHP officers the next morning, Mr. Ortiz stated that he pulled over to take aspirin for his headache. He reported the same facts to his employer and wife.