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FEATURED ARTICLE

ECONOMIST’S TESTIMONY ASSISTS JURY IN $58 MILLION AWARD TO SEVERELY BURNED HEAVY MACHINE OPERATOR


Robert W. Johnson & Associates was retained to provide economic testimony quantifying: (a) the present cash values of lost wages and fringe benefits and (b) the present cash value of medical expenses to the plaintiff.

Location: Los Angeles, California

Case: Joseph Bryant Griggs v. Caterpillar, Inc., et al.

Court: Superior Court of the State of California for the County of Los Angeles, No. BC 216425.

Plaintiff’s Attorneys: Brian J. Panish and Christine D. Spagnoli of the Law Offices of Greene, Broillet, Panish & Wheeler, Santa Monica, California

Judge: The Honorable Victor Person

Case Synopsis: On September 10, 1998, Mr. Griggs was operating a Caterpillar J-621, grading land for a self-storage facility in Valley Springs, California. During the time he was in the cab, an O-ring on the hydraulic line failed. The hydraulic fluid caught fire and sprayed Mr. Griggs. He was severely burned while trapped in the enclosed cab.

Doctors at the U.C. Davis Regional Burn Center determined that Mr. Griggs had suffered third degree burns to more than 75% of his body. Since the accident, Mr. Griggs has undergone more than 25 surgical procedures. To date, Mr. Griggs has incurred more than $3.5 million in medical expenses and will require several more years of burn reconstruction surgery.

Expert Consultation: In this case, Mr. Johnson first testified to Mr. Griggs’ lost earnings capacity. Mr. Johnson reviewed Mr. Griggs’ earnings history with Moyle Excavation, Inc. He also examined the earnings of a construction equipment operator in the Sonora, California area using data from the Economic Research Institute. The total present value of lost wages and fringe benefits yielded slightly over $1.0 million.

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Additionally, Mr. Johnson testified to the present value of Mr. Griggs’ medical expenses. The total present value of the medical expenses over his life expectancy was $4.2 million (future) and $3.5 million (past) for a total of $7.7 million. The total present value of earnings and medical expenses that Mr. Johnson testified to was $8.7 million.

Result: The trial began on February 2, 2004 and was presided over by Judge Victor Person. On March 23, 2004, after three and one-half days of deliberation, the Los Angeles Superior Court jury awarded the largest personal injury verdict in California history, in the amount of $58,137,361, against defendants West-Pac Industries and Tools Exchange.

Attorney’s Comments: Mr. Johnson’s expert testimony was clear, credible and convincing. Although the numbers were high, the jury believed the amounts to be reasonable and even conservative. Mr. Johnson turned his cross-examination testimony into a re-direct.