Partner Jennifer Russell Obtained Her Third Defense Verdict Of 2019 on An Admitted Liability Dui Case Involving Punitive Damages and Alleged Traumatic Brain Injury

Jennifer Russell obtained another defense verdict, on May 29, 2019 in a highly contentious, admitted negligence, automobile vs. automobile, 8 day trial before Judge Richard Lee of the Orange County Superior Court.

Facts: This case involved a two-vehicle collision on November 1, 2014 at approximately 2:55 a.m. on eastbound SR-91.  Our client was driving a borrowed vehicle and had a 0.21 % BAC at the time of the collision.  He was arrested and pled guilty to a DUI, hit and run, and driving on a suspended license.  Plaintiff alleged both orthopedic and neurological injuries, including anxiety, major depression and PTSD and sought both economic and non-economic damages along with  punitive damages.

Issues: Prior to trial, Ms. Russell got the registered owner who was sued for negligent entrustment dismissed and also convinced plaintiff to stipulate to waive economic damages. Judge Lee found that that the insured’s BAC and language in his criminal plea were relevant to the issue of malice and punitive damages.  Ms. Russell was able to knock out plaintiff’s TBI claim during in limine motions.

Damages: While admitting the defendant’s negligence, Ms. Russell argued that there was no evidence that the alcohol caused the collision and that plaintiff’s injuries were not the result of the subject accident.  There was competing testimony from doctors including Neuropsychologists and Neurologists and plaintiff even brought in a toxicologist to testify to try to vilify the defendant. Plaintiff and her parents provided emotional testimony as to how plaintiff’s life had been ruined. Plaintiff’s case was focused on punishing the defendant and trying to compel sympathy for the 24-year-old plaintiff by arguing her life was forever changed by this accident and that she would indefinitely suffer from symptoms of physical injury, PTSD, generalized anxiety and major depressive disorder.

Result: At trial, Plaintiff sought $2,000,000 for past non-economic damages and $5,201,250 for future non-economic damages ($250/day for 57 years) for a total of $7,201,250.   The jury deliberated for just under an hour and returned a 10-2 defense verdict finding the insured’s negligence was not a substantial factor in causing harm to plaintiff.  Plaintiff’s final pre-trial demand was $5,000,000 and the defendant’s final 998 offer was the $100,000 policy limits. Defendant was entitled to costs.