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Good Samaritan's actions caused catastrophic crash: suit
Contra Costa County
Superior Court of Contra Costa County, Martinez
neck-fracture (fracture, C5), neck (fracture, C5); neck-fracture (fracture, C5), vertebra (fracture, C5); neck-cervical disc injury; other-decreased range of motion; paralysis/quadriplegia-paralysis; paralysis/quadriplegia-quadriplegia
Motor Vehicle - Rollover, Lane Change, Multiple Vehicle, Alcohol Involvement
Rebecca Forkey v. Hendrick Automotive Group dba Concord West Automotive Company; Auto Legend LLC dba Acura of Fremont; Larry Day; Kathleen Harding; and Chrysler Group, LLC, No. MSC14-00682
August 18, 2016
Rebecca Forkey (Female, 23 Years)
Timothy G. Tietjen; Rouda, Feder, Tietjen & McGuinn; San Francisco, CA, for Rebecca Forkey
Auto Legend LLC,
Chrysler Group, LLC,
Hendrick Automotive Group
Thomas M. Crowell; Toschi, Sidran, Collins & Doyle APC; Pleasanton, CA, for Auto Legend LLC ■ Paul D. Caleo; Burnham Brown; Oakland, CA, for Kathleen Harding ■ Martin J. Ambacher; McNamara, Ney, Beatty, Slattery, Borges & Ambacher LLP; Walnut Creek, CA, for Larry Day ■ Dana A. Fox; Lewis Brisbois Bisgaard & Smith; Los Angeles, CA, for Hendrick Automotive Group ■ Joseph C. Owens; Lewis Brisbois Bisgaard & Smith; Los Angeles, CA, for Hendrick Automotive Group ■ None reported; for Chrysler Group, LLC
XL Group plc for Hendrick Automotive Group (commercial umbrella policy); Hartford Insurance Group for Hendrick Automotive Group (general commercial liability); Markel Insurance Co. Inc. for Hendrick Automotive Group (commercial excess liability policy); Travelers Property Casualty Corp. for Hendrick Automotive Group (excess liability policy); Liberty Mutual Insurance Co. for Hendrick Automotive Group (excess liability policy); Mercury Insurance Group for Kathleen Harding; Federated Mutual Insurance Co. for Auto Legend
At around 6:18 p.m. on May 5, 2013, plaintiff Rebecca Forkey, 23, a dermatology aesthetician, was driving on northbound Donald D. Doyle Highway, also known as Interstate 680, in Walnut Creek, when a vehicle operated by Larry Day suddenly swerved into her lane. Prior to the incident, Day spotted an impaired driver, Kathleen Harding, on the highway. Day subsequently called 9-1-1 to report the driver, and reported the license number of Harding's vehicle. During the three-minute call, the 9-1-1 operator warned Day to stay away from the impaired driver. However, Day continued to shadow and monitor Harding. When they were 0.3 miles south of the exit for Rudgear Road, Harding came alongside Day's vehicle and swerved into his lane. As a result, Day suddenly swerved to his right, into Forkey's lane of travel. Day's sudden turning movement subsequently forced Forkey to steer to the right in order to avoid a collision. However, Forkey lost control, and went off the highway and up an embankment, rolling her vehicle several times before it landed back on the highway upside down. Day was in the midst of performing a "dealer trade" when the incident occurred. He was driving back to Acura of Concord, after previously dropping a vehicle off at Acura of Fremont, when the incident occurred. Forkey sustained catastrophic injuries to her cervical spine. Forkey sued Day; Harding; the operator of Acura of Condord, Hendrick Automotive Group, which was also doing business as Concord West Automotive Co.; the operator of Acura of Fremont, Auto Legend LLC; and the designer and manufacturer of Forkey's vehicle, Chrysler Group LLC. Forkey alleged that Day and Harding were negligent in the operation of their respective vehicles and that Hendrick Automotive and Auto Legend were liable for Day's actions. Forkey also alleged that Chrysler defectively designed her Jeep's roof, as it was allegedly not crashworthy. Chrysler claimed that its Jeep was properly designed and that no vehicle could have avoided the significant roof-crush damage given the high-speed impact and forces involved. However, it ultimately settled out of the case confidentially. Plaintiff's counsel contended that Day was the direct cause of the collision, as Day negligently swerved into Forkey's lane of travel, forcing Forkey to take evasive action. Counsel also contended that Day was an employee acting in the course and scope of his employment with Hendrick Automotive/Concord West when the incident occurred and that Auto Legend was liable for acting as a joint enterprise with Hendrick Automotive/Concord West in conducting the dealer trades of vehicles. Day claimed that Harding, as an impaired driver, was the sole cause of the accident, as supported by the accident investigation performed by the California Highway Patrol. He also claimed that he was acting as a Good Samaritan in reporting the impaired driver when the accident occurred. Hendrick Automotive/Concord West also claimed that the impaired driver was the sole cause of the accident. Defense counsel argued that Day attempted to slow down and distance himself from the impaired driver, but that Harding matched his speed before swerving into Day's lane. Counsel also argued that Day was an independent contractor and not an employee at the time of the incident. Counsel for Auto Legend denied that the dealer trade created a joint enterprise. Counsel also argued that Forkey was negligent, as Forkey was inattentive and overreacted to the situation.
Forkey sustained catastrophic injuries to her cervical spine. She was subsequently extracted from the vehicle and taken by ambulance to John Muir Medical Center, in Walnut Creek. Forkey ultimately underwent a multilevel cervical fusion, but is now considered a C5 incomplete quadriplegic. Forkey claimed that her range of motion is severely limited and that she can only move her upper arms around, as she has no fine motor skills with her hands. She alleged that as a result, she will require a lifetime of medical care, including 24/7 attendant care at her residence. Thus, Forkey sought recovery $1.75 million in past paid medical costs, $21 million to $41 million in future medical costs, approximately $130,000 in past lost wages, and $3 million to $4 million in future loss of wages and earning capacity. She also sought recovery of damages for her past and future pain and suffering. Defense counsel disputed the nature and extent of Forkey's alleged past and future economic damages, arguing that Forkey's economic damages were less than what was alleged.
Prior to trial, the parties agreed to a $22,275,000 settlement, which was finalized via the guidance of mediatorJerry Spolter, of JAMS. Of the total settlement, Hendrick Automotive/Concord West paid $22 million, Auto Legend paid $175,000, and Harding paid $100,000. (Chrysler previously settled confidentially.)
This report is based on information that was provided by plaintiff's counsel and defense counsel for Hendrick Automotive Group/Concord West Automotive Co. Defense counsel for Chrysler Group, LLC was not asked to contribute. Counsel for the remaining defendants did not respond to the reporter's phone calls.