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Mountain road collision results in motorcyclist’s amputation

Amount:

$6,338,491

Type:

Decision-Plaintiff

State:

California

Venue:

Federal

Court:

United States District Court, Southern District, San Diego

Injury Type(s):

leg-fracture (fracture, femur);
leg-fracture (fracture, tibia);
leg-fracture (fracture, fibula);
head-concussion; knee; knee-fracture, patella;
ankle-fracture (pilon fracture);
other-bone graft; other-syndesmosis; other-hardware implanted; other-comminuted intraarticular supracondylar femur fracture; amputation-leg (leg (below the knee)); neurological-reflex sympathetic dystrophy (complex regional pain syndrome); surgeries/treatment-open reduction; surgeries/treatment-external fixation; surgeries/treatment-internal fixation; mental/psychological-post-concussion syndrome

Case Type:

Government; Motor Vehicle – Head-On, Motorcycle

Case Name:

John B. Hendrickson v. United States of America, and Does 1-20,
No. 11-cv-1746-LAB-NLS

Date:

June 20, 2014

Parties

Plaintiff(s):

John B. Hendrickson (Male, 45 Years)

Plaintiff Attorney(s):

Robert J. Francavilla;
Casey Gerry Schenk Francavilla Blatt & Penfield LLP;
San Diego,
CA,
for
John B. Hendrickson ■ Angela Jae Chun;
Casey Gerry Schenk Francavilla Blatt & Penfield LLP;
San Diego,
CA,
for
John B. Hendrickson

Plaintiff Expert(s):

Mark Ezra;
P.E.;
Motorcycles;
St. Louis,
MO called by
Robert J. Francavilla, Angela Jae Chun ■ Gavin Fortune;
C.P.O.;
Prosthetics;
San Diego,
CA called by
Robert J. Francavilla, Angela Jae Chun ■ Eugene Vanderpol;
M.S., P.E.;
Accident Reconstruction;
Carlsbad,
CA called by
Robert J. Francavilla, Angela Jae Chun ■ Robert Hall;
Ph.D.;
Vocational Rehabilitation;
San Diego,
CA called by
Robert J. Francavilla, Angela Jae Chun ■ Sharon Kawai;
M.D.;
Physical Medicine;
Fullerton,
CA called by
Robert J. Francavilla, Angela Jae Chun ■ Roberta Spoon;
C.P.A.;
Economics;
San Diego,
CA called by
Robert J. Francavilla, Angela Jae Chun ■ William Tontz;
M.D.;
Orthopedic Surgery;
San Diego,
CA called by
Robert J. Francavilla, Angela Jae Chun ■ Lawrence Miller;
M.D.;
Pain Management;
Santa Ana,
CA called by
Robert J. Francavilla, Angela Jae Chun

Defendant(s):

United States of America

Defense Attorney(s):

Steve B. Chu;
Assistant U.S. Attorney, United States Attorneys’ Office;
San Diego,
CA,
for
United States of America ■ Katherine L. Parker;
Assistant U.S. Attorney, United States Attorneys’ Office;
San Diego,
CA,
for
United States of America

Defendant Expert(s):

Liz Holakiewicz;
Life Care Planning;
Carlsbad,
CA called by
Steve B. Chu, Katherine L. Parker ■ Paul Girard;
Orthopedic Surgery;
San Diego,
CA called by
Steve B. Chu, Katherine L. Parker ■ Rick Chavez;
Prosthetics;
Northridge,
CA called by
Steve B. Chu, Katherine L. Parker ■ Laura Dolan;
Economics;
San Diego,
CA called by
Steve B. Chu, Katherine L. Parker ■ Roman Beck;
Accident Reconstruction;
San Diego,
CA called by
Steve B. Chu, Katherine L. Parker ■ Rusty Rea;
Motorcycles;
Chula Vista,
CA called by
Steve B. Chu, Katherine L. Parker ■ Edward Workman;
Vocational Rehabilitation;
San Clemente,
CA called by
Steve B. Chu, Katherine L. Parker ■ Christopher Chisholm;
Pain Management;
San Diego,
CA called by
Steve B. Chu, Katherine L. Parker

Facts:

On Aug. 27, 2009, plaintiff John Hendrickson, 45, was riding his motorcycle on eastbound Otay Mountain Truck Trail, an unpaved mountain road with multiple blind turns and unprotected drop-offs, in Dulzura. At approximately 3:45 p.m., a collision occurred between Hendrickson and a government-issued pickup truck operated by Ryan Moore, a U.S. Border Patrol Agent, traveling westbound on Otay Mountain Truck Trail. Hendrickson suffered a severe fracture of his left leg, resulting in a surgical amputation of his lower leg. Hendrickson sued Moore’s employer, the United States of America. Hendrickson alleged that Moore was negligent in the operation of his vehicle and that the U.S. Government was liable under the Federal Torts Claims Act. The matter proceeded to a bench trial. Hendrickson claimed that Moore approached a 90-degree blind turn that had a steep, unprotected drop-off on one side of the roadway and a rocky mountain hill side on the other side. He alleged that traveling westward, as Moore was, the roadway before the apex of the blind turn was very wide, with a turnout on each side, which narrowed to just 11 feet after the corner. Hendrickson claimed that as Moore negotiated the 90-degree turn at an excessive speed, traveling approximately 29 to 32 mph, based on tire friction marks left by Moore’s truck. Hendrickson also claimed that Moore failed to use the convex mirror, failed to yield the right of way, and failed to follow his academy and on-the-job driver training that required him to drive his vehicle as slow as possible around blind turns. In addition, Hendrickson claimed that as he approached Moore, he had not yet entered the curve from the opposite direction. The U.S. Government denied any liability for the accident, and blamed Hendrickson for the collision. Defense counsel argued that had Hendrickson been in the correct road position, the accident wouldn’t have happened. Counsel contended that skid marks left at the scene showed that the motorcycle was positioned on the wrong side of the road — on the inside of the mountain — which reduced Hendrickson’s ability to see and be seen going around the curve. Defense counsel further argued that Hendrickson was speeding.

Injury:

Hendrickson sustained a distal tibia/fibula intra-articular pilon fracture, a distal femur supracondylar-fracture and a patella fracture, all of the left leg. He also claimed he suffered a concussion. Border Patrol medical personnel subsequently drove him down the mountain from the scene of the accident and rushed him by ambulance to an emergency room. Hendrickson then underwent multiple surgeries, consisting of a left knee diagnostic arthrocentesis, hardware and external fixator removal of the left thigh, open treatment of the left distal femur’s supracondylar-intercondylar fracture, a uniplanar external fixator application of the left knee, open reduction and internal fixation of the intra-articular pilon fracture of the left distal tibia/fibula, a multiplanar external fixation synthes of the left ankle, a complex open reduction and internal fixation of the left distal femur’s supracondylar intercondylar fracture, open treatment of the left patella fracture, a syndesmosis open reduction and internal fixation of the left ankle, an external fixator removal of the left lower leg, an artificial bone graft of the left distal tibia’s pilon fracture, and manipulation of the left knee/ankle under anesthesia. Despite the surgeries, Hendrickson complained of excruciating pain as a result of his leg not healing properly. He suffered non-unions of his fractures and a chronic painful dysfunctional foot, secondary to stiffness of the ankle and probable underlying complex regional pain syndrome. He ultimately had to have a below-the-knee leg amputated through his left tibia and fibula on April 8, 2010. Hendrickson claimed he suffers from post-concussion syndrome, ongoing migraine headaches, stump pain, phantom pain, and difficulty using his prosthesis due to a lack of concentration. He claimed that as a result, he requires extensive therapy. Hendrickson also claimed that his future care will consist of a lifetime of out-patient care, additional prosthetic devices and component parts, medical aids and equipment, a lifetime of diagnostic care, Botox injections for chronic migraines, surgeries for a dorsal column stimulator, a total knee arthroplasty, physical therapy, and in-home care. The parties stipulated that Hendrickson’s past medical costs totaled $589,480. Hendrickson also sought recovery of $2,737,342 in future medical costs, $122,923 in past lost earnings, and $320,738 to $525,509 in future lost earnings. In addition, he sought recovery of $250,000 per year in damages for his pain and suffering from the date of the accident through the remainder of his life expectancy of another 29.1 years. Defense counsel argued that Hendrickson’s migraines were pre-existing and not caused by the accident. Counsel further argued that despite the amputation, Hendrickson has options for future employment and furthering his enjoyment of life.

Result:

Judge Larry Burns found the U.S. Government 85 percent at fault and Hendrickson 15 percent at fault. It also found that Hendrickson’s damages totaled $6,338,491. After the comparative liability offset, Hendrickson should recover $5,387,717.35.

John B. Hendrickson: $589,480 Personal Injury: Past Medical Cost; $1,846,780 Personal Injury: Future Medical Cost; $107,232 Personal Injury: Past Lost Earnings Capability; $362,499 Personal Injury: Future Lost Earnings Capability; $1,250,000 Personal Injury: Past Pain And Suffering; $2,182,500 Personal Injury: Future Pain And Suffering

Actual Award:

$5,387,717.35

Trial Information:

Judge:

Larry H. Burns

Demand:

$10 million

Offer:

no offer

Trial Length:

4
 days

Editor’s Comment:

This report is based on information that was provided by plaintiff’s and defense counsel.