Partners Jennifer Russell & John Paulson Won A Contentious Wrongful Death Case by Obtaining A Defense Verdict

FWHB started off the year with a defense verdict on January 2, 2019 in a heavily litigated and highly contentious wrongful death case, involving multiple parties and multiple accidents.  The trial was weeks long and heard before the Hon. Judge Angel Bermudez of the Riverside Superior Court in Murrietta.

Facts: Liability was highly contested in this unfortunate and tragic accident. The co-defendant in this case was drinking and driving and hit our client who was stopped at an intersection.  The co-defendant then fled the scene of the first accident and our client followed him to obtain his license plate number.  Witnesses testified our client was speeding and reckless when going after the co-defendant. Ultimately, the co-defendant ran a red light and crashed into the vehicle driven by plaintiffs’ son who unfortunately passes away a few days after the accident.  Plaintiff alleged the fatal accident occurred due to Ms. Russell’s client “chasing” the co-defendant.  Witnesses and the co-defendant testified they saw our client chasing the co-defendant which caused him to drive faster and run a red light as he was scared that he was being chased.  The decedents parents filed a wrongful death claim and sought damages for the loss of love, care and support that resulted from the death of their son.

Issues: The trial was complex with multiple competing experts on liability and toxicology issues. Initially there was a cause of action against our client for intentional infliction of emotional distress. Ms. Russell successfully had this claim stricken with our motion for a summary judgment. Plaintiff also claimed punitive damages against Ms. Russell’s client. Ms. Russell appeared on several motions to strike the punitive damages and the judge finally granted the request. We also prevailed in having our client’s wife dismissed from the allegations she encouraged her husband act recklessly and chase the co-defendant.

Damages: Plaintiff’s final pre-trial demand was the $1.5 million policy limits and the defendant’s final CCP 998 offer was $250,000.  At trial, Plaintiffs’ asked the jury to award $100 million and argued that liability should be split 50% -50% between each of the two defendants. 

Result: The jury deliberated for approximately 1.5 hours and returned a verdict of 11-1 defense verdict for Ms. Russell’s client and FWHB was awarded costs following the verdict.