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FEATURED CASE

TEENAGER HIT BY DRUNK DRIVER AWARDED $31 MILLION
IN BAKERSFIELD


Robert W. Johnson & Associates were retained to quantify the present cash value of lost earning capacity and future medical expenses.

Location: Bakersfield, California

Case: Landeros v. Torres, Gustavo D., et al.

Court: Superior Court of Kern County, Bakersfield, CA, No. S-1500-CV-261305--SPC

Plaintiff’s Attorneys: Daniel Rodriguez of Rodriguez & Associates; Nicholas Rowley of Carpenter, Zuckerman & Rowley; and Alejandro Blanco of Blanco Law Firm

Judge: The Honorable Sidney P. Chapin

Case Synopsis: On June 14, 2007, plaintiff Rocio Landeros, 15, a student; her sister, plaintiff Marta Perez, 25, a rehabilitation aide; and a friend Jeanette Beltran, were in a vehicle at an intersection in rural Kern County south of Bakersfield, California, when they were struck by a vehicle operated by Gustavo Davalos Torres, a worker for Palla Rosa Farms.

Torres was found to have a blood alcohol level as high as 0.16. He was driving his work pickup back to the company yard when he ran a stop sign, striking the plaintiffs.

Rocio and Perez sued Torres and Palla Rosa Farms, alleging that Torres was negligent in the operation of a motor vehicle and that Palla Rosa was vicariously liable for his actions. They also had a cause of action for punitive damages against Torres based on his driving while intoxicated.

During mediation, Beltran settled for $1 million.  Before trial, Palla Rosa Farms settled for $5 million with Landeros and Perez.

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Landeros sustained a severe brain injury and a badly fractured left arm that required open reduction, internal fixation with hardware implantation. She was comatose for a month with bleeding to the frontal and parietal lobes, and was also diagnosed with a diffuse axonal injury. She was hospitalized for a total of 15 months, including nine months at a brain injury rehabilitation center.

Landeros was able to return to high school, though several of her classes were special education classes.  The brain injuries affected her ability to have normal function of the left side of her body, which resulted in limited use of her left hand and a dropped left foot. The brain injuries also affected her vision and her cognitive abilities, leaving her with impaired memory and judgment. She also suffered a personality change.

Landeros would need at least attendant care for the rest of her life.  Perez suffered lacerations to her head, as well as slight bleeding in her brain. She was off work for six weeks.

Expert Testimony: First, Mr. Johnson had to calculate Ms. Landeros’ lost earning capacity. Mr. Johnson assumed that she would have had the earnings capacity of a high school graduate, including national average fringe benefits, for a total loss of $1,863,393. Next,  Mr. Johnson had to educate the jury as to (1) the impact that future medical inflation would have on present value, (2) the low current rate of return on U.S. Government bonds, (3) the importance of setting aside the full value of damages so that taxpayers would not be stuck holding the shortfall bag.  The total present value of the Life Care Plan created by Dr. Sharon Kawai was $44,166,988.

Results: The jury found for the plaintiffs and awarded $31,669,208 to Landeros and $79,386.55 to Perez, for a total verdict of $31,748,594.55.  The breakdown of the award includes:

Landeros:

  • $1,106,208 past medical expenses
  • $7 million future medical expenses
  • $1.1 million future lost earnings
  • $1 million past pain and suffering
  • $21 million future pain and suffering
  • $13,000 punitive damages
  • $450,000 homemaker expenses

Perez:

  • $40,000 past pain and suffering
  • $1,400 punitive damages
  • $37,987 past economic damages

The jury award is believed to be the highest ever returned by a Kern County jury.  With the addition of the $5 million settlement from Palla Rosa Farms, Landeros and Perez recovered a total of $36,748,594.55.

Attorney’s Comments: “Mr. Johnson’s presentation to the jury was credible, understandable and empowering. They got each of his points and totally disregarded the defense economist’s evaluation.The jury’s decision will go a long way in getting out the message to people who choose to endanger our community by drinking and driving.  If you choose to drink and drive, you better be ready to be held accountable for your bad choices by a jury of your peers!”