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California Verdicts

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Mother had no time to react to speeding bus, son alleged

Amount:

$4,029,968.36

Type:

Verdict-Plaintiff

State:

California

Venue:

San Francisco County

Court:

Superior Court of San Francisco County, San Francisco

Injury Type(s):

other-death; other-loss of society; other-multiple trauma; pelvis; pelvis-crush injury, pelvis

Case Type:

Wrongful Death; Motor Vehicle - Bus, Speeding, Crosswalk, Left Turn, Pedestrian, Intersection

Case Name:

John W. Grotenhuis, Individually and as the Successor-in-Interest to the Estate of Lori M. Helmer v. Golden Gate Bridge, Highway and Transportation District, a Public Entity, and Does One through Fifty, Inclusive, No. CGC-15-545562

Date:

February 22, 2017

Parties

Plaintiff(s):

John W. Grotenhuis (Male, 21 Years), 

Estate of Lori Helmer (Female, 51 Years)

Plaintiff Attorney(s):

Michael A. Kelly; Walkup Melodia Kelly & Schoenberger; San Francisco, CA, for John W. Grotenhuis, Estate of Lori Helmer ■ Matthew D. Davis; Walkup Melodia Kelly & Schoenberger; San Francisco, CA, for John W. Grotenhuis, Estate of Lori Helmer ■ Jeffrey A. Clause; Walkup Melodia Kelly & Schoenberger; San Francisco, CA, for John W. Grotenhuis, Estate of Lori Helmer

Plaintiff Expert(s):

Mark Shattuck; Ph.D.; Accident Reconstruction; Woodside, CA called by: Michael A. Kelly, Matthew D. Davis, Jeffrey A. Clause ■ Jason Droll; Ph.D.; Ergonomics/Human Factors; Laguna Hills, CA called by: Michael A. Kelly, Matthew D. Davis, Jeffrey A. Clause

Defendant(s):

Golden Gate Bridge, Highway and Transportation District

Defense Attorney(s):

Dale L. Allen, Jr.; Allen, Glaessner, Hazelwood & Werth LLP; San Francisco, CA, for Golden Gate Bridge, Highway and Transportation District ■ Kevin P. Allen; Allen, Glaessner, Hazelwood & Werth LLP; San Francisco, CA, for Golden Gate Bridge, Highway and Transportation District

Defendant Expert(s):

Tate Kubose; Ergonomics/Human Factors; Mountain View, CA called by: Dale L. Allen, Jr., Kevin P. Allen ■ Rajeev Kelkar; Accident Reconstruction; Menlo Park, CA called by: Dale L. Allen, Jr., Kevin P. Allen

Insurer(s):

self-insured Golden Gate Bridge, Highway and Transportation District ($2,000,000 primary policy limit); American International Group Inc. for Golden Gate Bridge, Highway and Transportation District (excess)

Facts:

At around 6 a.m. on Nov. 6, 2014, plaintiff's decedent Lori Helmer, 51, a vice president and senior trust relationship manager for Northern Trust Co., entered a marked pedestrian crosswalk in an attempt to cross Van Ness Avenue at the intersection with Lombard Street, in the city and county of San Francisco. Lombard Street had had a green light, and Helmer had a white, "walking man" pedestrian signal showing as she entered the crosswalk. At about the same time, a Golden Gate Bridge, Highway and Transportation District bus was traveling in a generally eastbound direction on Lombard Street, approaching the intersection with Van Ness Avenue, when it entered the intersection and began to make a left turn onto Van Ness Avenue. When Helmer was more than halfway across the six-lane road, the side of the bus collided with her while still in the northern crosswalk. The impact knocked Helmer down, where she was run over by the bus's rear, dual wheels. She subsequently sustained pelvic crush injuries, resulting in her death at a hospital hours later. Helmer's only surviving child, John Grotenhuis, sued Golden Gate Bridge, Highway and Transportation District. Grotenhuis alleged that the district's driver was negligent in the operation of the bus and that the district was liable for the driver's actions. Plaintiff's counsel argued that the bus's driver was speeding. Counsel contended that in the years leading up to the fatal collision, the district had issued and reissued numerous bulletins and training materials that stated that the top speed its bus drivers may go when making a left turn is 5 mph, but that in hours after the accident, the bus driver provided an accident narrative to his union president, which stated that he was driving at about 15 mph at the time of the collision. However, the bus driver later recanted his initial admission to the union president. The plaintiff's accident reconstruction expert opined that the bus took the turn at a sharp angle, and offered exhibits demonstrating that the bus cut the corner of the turn at approximately 45 degrees. He also opined that the lateral movement of the left side of the bus struck Helmer from the side at approximately 12 mph. Thus, plaintiff's counsel argued that the bus entered the intersection after Helmer, came from behind at an unsafe speed, and ran Helmer down before she had the opportunity to see it. In addition, counsel argued that Helmer was not inattentive, when compared to a typical pedestrian, and that based on the speed and path of the bus, Helmer did not have sufficient time to react and avoid the collision. Defense counsel argued that Helmer was negligent and primarily at fault for the collision. Specifically, counsel argued that Helmer ran into the side of the bus, as agreed upon by all witnesses, when she knew, or should have known, that the bus was in the intersection and turning into her path. Defense counsel contended that the bus entered the intersection before Helmer and that the driver was obligated to look for other hazards in the roadway, as the driver was taught not to look over his shoulder once he had cleared the first left corner of the intersection because the threat zone was in front of the bus. The defense's accident reconstruction expert placed the speed of the bus in the turn prior to the contact at 6 to 8 mph.

Injury:

Helmer was knocked on her back. The rear, dual wheels of the bus then ran over her pelvis, causing a pelvic crush injury and multiple other traumatic injuries, which ultimately led to her death two hours later at San Francisco General Hospital, in San Francisco. Helmer's only surviving child, Grotenhuis, was a 21-year-old college student at the time of his mother's death. He alleged that as a result of Helmer's death, he has been deprived of a kind and loving mother, and of her care, companionship, comfort, love, affection, society, and financial and moral support. The evidence was undisputed that Grotenhuis and his mother had a very close relationship. Thus, Grotenhuis sought recovery of wrongful death damages for the loss of his mother. The parties stipulated to economic damages.

Result:

The jury found that the bus's driver was negligent and that the driver's negligence was a substantial factor in causing the death of Helmer. It also found that Golden Gate Bridge, Highway and Transportation District was liable for the driver's actions and that Helmer was not negligent. The jury determined that Helmer's estate's damages totaled $4,029,968.36, including $29,968.36 in stipulated economic damages.

Estate of Lori Helmer: $1,000,000 Personal Injury: past non-economic damages; $3,000,000 Personal Injury: future non-economic damages; $29,968 Personal Injury: economic damages (stipulated)

Trial Information:

Judge:

Richard B. Ulmer, Jr.

Trial Length:

6  days

Trial Deliberations:

2  hours

Jury Vote:

10-2 negligence, 11-1 causation, 11-1 comparative negligence

Post Trial:

Defense counsel moved for a new trial, but the motion was denied.

Editor's Comment:

This report is based on information that was provided by plaintiffs' and defense counsel.