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California Verdicts

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Injured passenger: Driver's employer knew about prior DUI

Amount:

$15,030,718.83

Type:

Verdict-Plaintiff

State:

California

Venue:

Los Angeles County

Court:

Superior Court of Los Angeles County, Los Angeles

Injury Type(s):

arm; arm-fracture, arm; back; head; brain-traumatic brain injury; mental/psychological-emotional distress; mental/psychological-cognition, impairment

Case Type:

Motor Vehicle - Passenger, Alcohol Involvement; Worker/Workplace Negligence - Negligent Hiring, Negligent Retention, Negligent Supervision

Case Name:

Alejandro Leyva and Marina Mendoza v. Lance Sandman, and Does 1 through 50 / Tomislav George v. FirstService Residential California LLC, Lance Sandman, and Does 1 through 50, No. BC534796; BC548489

Date:

March 22, 2017

Parties

Plaintiff(s):

Marina Mendoza (Female), 

Alejandro Leyva (Male), 

Tomislav George (Male, 47 Years)

Plaintiff Attorney(s):

Bruce Broillet; Greene Broillet & Wheeler, LLP; Santa Monica, CA, for Tomislav George ■ Alan L. Van Gelder; Greene Broillet & Wheeler, LLP; Santa Monica, CA, for Tomislav George ■ None reported; ; for Marina Mendoza, Alejandro Leyva

Plaintiff Expert(s):

Amy Magnusson; M.D.; Physical Medicine; San Diego, CA called by: Bruce Broillet, Alan L. Van Gelder ■ Jean Seawright; ; Human Resources Policies; Winter Park, FL called by: Bruce Broillet, Alan L. Van Gelder ■ Carol Hyland; M.A.; Life Care Planning; Lafayette, CA called by: Bruce Broillet, Alan L. Van Gelder ■ Peter Formuzis; Ph.D.; Economics; Santa Ana, CA called by: Bruce Broillet, Alan L. Van Gelder ■ Daniel Zehler; Psy.D.; Neuropsychology; Long Beach, CA called by: Bruce Broillet, Alan L. Van Gelder ■ Donald Barceloux; M.D.; Alcohol Toxicology; Topanga, CA called by: Bruce Broillet, Alan L. Van Gelder ■ George Tang; M.D.; Orthopedic Surgery; Pasadena, CA called by: Bruce Broillet, Alan L. Van Gelder ■ Lester Zackler; M.D.; Psychiatry; Sherman Oaks, CA called by: Bruce Broillet, Alan L. Van Gelder ■ Leonard Matheson; Ph.D.; Vocational Rehabilitation; St. Charles, MO called by: Bruce Broillet, Alan L. Van Gelder

Defendant(s):

Lance Sandman, 

FirstService Residential California LLC

Defense Attorney(s):

Maria K. Plese; Koeller, Nebeker, Carlson & Haluck; Irvine, CA, for FirstService Residential California LLC ■ Gary L. Hoffman; Koeller, Nebeker, Carlson & Haluck; Irvine, CA, for FirstService Residential California LLC ■ None reported; ; for Lance Sandman

Defendant Expert(s):

Amy Sutton; Life Care Planning; Anaheim, CA called by: Maria K. Plese, Gary L. Hoffman ■ Ross Nathan; Orthopedics; Long Beach, CA called by: Maria K. Plese, Gary L. Hoffman ■ David Lechuga; Neuropsychology; Lake Forest, CA called by: Maria K. Plese, Gary L. Hoffman ■ James High; Psychiatry; Santa Monica, CA called by: Maria K. Plese, Gary L. Hoffman ■ Steve Molina; Vocational Rehabilitation; Santa Ana, CA called by: Maria K. Plese, Gary L. Hoffman ■ Dennis Buster; Human Resources Policies; San Clemente, CA called by: Maria K. Plese, Gary L. Hoffman ■ Martin Breen; Toxicology; Tustin, CA called by: Maria K. Plese, Gary L. Hoffman ■ Constantine Boukidis; Economics; Los Angeles, CA called by: Maria K. Plese, Gary L. Hoffman

Insurer(s):

Travelers Property Casualty Corp. for FirstService Residential California LLC

Facts:

On St. Patrick's Day, Sunday, March 17, 2013, plaintiff Tomislav George, 47, a volunteer vice president of a homeowner association board and an executive for a plastics company, was a passenger in a Dodge Charger, being driven home by his friend, Lance Sandman, a general manager at FirstService Residential California LLC, a property management company. (George's homeowner association was a client of FirstService Residential.) Earlier that day, Sandman drove George to a restaurant/pub on Los Feliz Boulevard, in Los Angeles, called Tam O'Shanter. After they both consumed alcohol, Sandman left to drive George back home. While Sandman was driving, under the influence, on the Ventura Freeway, also known as State Route 134, he collided with the rear side of a Nissan operated by Alejandro Leyva, who had his wife, Marina Mendoza, in the front passenger seat. Sandman's vehicle subsequently rolled over, and George was unable to get out of the vehicle without the help of Good Samaritans. George sustained injuries to his head, back, and right arm. Sandman was arrested and convicted of driving under the influence while causing great bodily injury in connection with the subject crash. Leyva and Mendoza sued Sandman. They alleged that Sandman was negligent in the operation of his vehicle. George brought a separate suit against Sandman and Sandman's employer, FirstService Residential. George alleged that Sandman was negligent in the operation of his vehicle and that FirstService Residential was vicariously liable for Sandman's actions while in the course and scope of his employment. He also alleged that FirstService Residential was negligent in the hiring, supervision, and retention of Sandman. Leyva and Mendoza added FirstService Residential as a defendant, and the matters were consolidated. However, prior to trial, Leyva and Mendoza confidentially settled with the defendants, and George settled with Sandman after Sandman's insurer agreed to tender its policy limits. Thus, only George's claims against FirstService Residential proceeded to trial. Plaintiff's counsel contended that Sandman had previously been convicted of DUI while employed by FirstService Residential and that Sandman was acting within the scope of his employment with FirstService Residential at the time of the incident. Counsel contended that part of Sandman's job responsibilities included befriending and entertaining clients of FirstService Residential and included helping plan party events for the homeowner associate client of FirstService Residential. Plaintiff's counsel argued that FirstService Residential's policy permitted Sandman to entertain clients and drink alcohol "in moderation," if it had a business purpose. Both George and Sandman testified that the condominium that Sandman/FirstService Residential managed had an annual St. Patrick's Day celebration that Sandman was responsible for helping to organize and that the two of them had gone to Tam O'Shanter on the subject date to scout the location for potential ideas for St. Patrick's Day parties to be held at the condo. Thus, plaintiff's counsel argued that Sandman's actions on the subject date were in part for the benefit of the company and were foreseeable given that FirstService Residential permitted/encouraged Sandman to mix business with pleasure while interacting with FirstService Residential clients. Plaintiff's counsel contended that FirstService Residential's policies, procedures, and supervision of Sandman regarding driving, entertaining clients, and consumption of alcohol were ambiguous and inadequate. Counsel also noted that although Sandman was intoxicated at the time of the incident, there was no evidence of Sandman displaying visible signs of intoxication to George and that there were no visible signs of intoxication noted by the paramedics or the emergency room triage nurse who treated Sandman shortly after the crash. However, plaintiff's counsel argued that FirstService Residential ignored red flags in Sandman's background check and failed to follow up on various other red flags that arose during Sandman's employment regarding his driving record, as Sandman's job required him to drive. In addition, counsel argued that FirstService Residential violated its own procedures and procedures, in that it failed to detect the fact that Sandman had been convicted of a DUI and had his license suspended within six months of his hiring. Defense counsel for FirstService Residential argued that FirstService Residential did not know about Sandman's prior DUI and that there was nothing wrong with its policy regarding alcohol consumption by its employees. Counsel also argued that Sandman was not in the course and scope of his employment at the time of the incident. Instead, counsel contended that Sandman and George were friends who were out at Tam O'Shanter for purely social purposes that had nothing to do with Sandman's job at FirstService Residential. Defense counsel also contended that Sandman and George had developed a social drinking relationship in the years preceding the accident and that numerous emails admitted at trial disclosed that George was typically the one who initiated their drinking outings, with Sandman often declining the invitations from George to get together and consume alcohol. Specifically, defense counsel noted that emails generated by George during the months that preceded the accident included such statements as "Damn, we tied one on," and "We'll just have to party twice as hard next time." Counsel also noted that George emailed Sandman whenever George was out drinking by himself in various bars located on Los Feliz Boulevard. Defense counsel also provided testimony from other members of the homeowner association board, who indicated that Sandman was an exemplary property manager and that, unlike George, they would never even consider asking Sandman to go out with them for drinks. Thus, FirstService Residential's counsel argued that George was contributorily negligent by drinking so much on the date of the accident that he reached a blood-alcohol level of between .11 and .13 before climbing into the car with Sandman, which may have lowered his concerns about whether or not Sandman was fit to drive that day. Counsel also contended that rather than describing the St. Patrick's Day trip as being some type of a business outing, George told California highway patrol officers, in a recorded statement on the day following the accident, that he and Sandman had been out drinking some beers and talking to some girls. Defense counsel also noted that George claimed that he suffered from "pre-accident amnesia," which allegedly prevented him from remembering that he had been with Sandman at another bar in Toluca Lake, where they drank whiskey shots earlier that same day. However, medical experts who testified on behalf of both George and FirstService Residential agreed that George had not used his full effort during the various memory tests administered by each side.

Injury:

George's right, dominant arm was badly damaged and nearly amputated in the crash. He was subsequently transported to Huntington Memorial Hospital, in Pasadena, where doctors had to take a portion of muscle out of George's back and attach it to his arm so that George could keep the arm. Thereafter, he underwent about other 30 surgeries on his arm. George also claimed he sustained a traumatic brain injury in the crash. Even though the doctors were able to save the arm, George's arm is, at best, an assistive arm. George claimed that as a result, he will eventually require more surgeries. He also claimed that he suffers from back pain, as the surgery to save his arm impacted the stability of his back and his gait. Thus, George claimed that he has constant pain in his arm and back and that he is unable to use his arm for anything beyond slight assistance. He also claimed that he suffers from cognitive and emotional issues, and has problems with walking. George claimed that at the plastics company he worked at, he was an executive, but the job required some physical activities and inspections. He alleged that although he was able to return to work, his injuries caused him to be demoted and will shorten his work life expectancy. Thus, George sought recovery of $35 million for his past and future medical costs, past and future loss of earnings/earning capacity, and past and future pain and suffering. Defense counsel disputed the nature and extent of George's alleged traumatic brain injury. Counsel contended that none of George's imaging studies showed any brain injury and that at the scene, George had a Glasgow Coma Scale score of 15, which rates as "mild." Defense counsel also noted that although George claimed that he suffered from "pre-accident amnesia," medical experts who testified on behalf of both George and FirstService Residential agreed that George had not used his full effort during the various memory tests administered by each side. Defense counsel further contended that George was able to return to his employment and that George's future medical care and loss of future earnings were less than he alleged.

Result:

The jury found that George was 20 percent liable for the accident and that FirstService Residential was 80 percent liable, as FirstService Residential was determined to be vicariously liable for Sandman's actions. The jury also determined that George's damages totaled $15,030,718.83. After apportionment, George should recover $12,024,575.06.

Tomislav George: $926,288 Personal Injury: Past Medical Cost; $1,028,782 Personal Injury: Future Medical Cost; $75,649 Personal Injury: Past Lost Earnings Capability; $1,500,000 Personal Injury: Future Lost Earnings Capability; $4,000,000 Personal Injury: Past Pain And Suffering; $7,500,000 Personal Injury: Future Pain And Suffering

Actual Award:

$12,024,575.06

Trial Information:

Judge:

Victor E. Chavez

Demand:

None reported

Offer:

$1,000,000 (C.C.P. § 998)

Trial Length:

4  weeks

Trial Deliberations:

1.5  days

Editor's Comment:

This report is based on information that was provided by Tomislav George's counsel and defense counsel for FirstService Residential California LLC. Counsel for the remaining plaintiffs and defendant were not asked to contribute.