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Verdicts & Settlements

September 29, 2003

The Daily Journal

Result: August 12, 2003
Topic: Personal Injury
Sub topic: Multiple Automobile Accident
Sub-sub topic: Wrongful Death

Jury verdict: Defense

Plaintiff - Saul Reiss, Law Offices of Saul Reiss, P.C., Los Angeles
Defendant - Roger P. Bingham, Butz, Dunn, DeSantis & Bingham, San Diego. Represents San Diego Transit
Defendant - Robert M. Scherk, Murchison & Cumming, San Diego. Represents Leong Kuba Sea Products

Technical Experts:
Plaintiff - Steven Anderson accident reconstruction, Lake Forest
Plaintiff - Ronald Carr accident reconstruction, San Diego
Plaintiff - Raymond Schultz economist, Lake Forest
Defendant - James J. Schultz engineer, Carson

Facts: The subject suit is a wrongful death case that arose out of a multi-vehicle accident on the northbound I-5 freeway near the Balboa exit in San Diego on March 1, 2001. The decedent, Maria Aviles, was the front seat passenger in a Ford Escort being driven by the defendant Maria Chavez. The defendant Chavez was in the No. 3 lane and attempted to exit the freeway at the Balboa offramp. The San Diego Transit bus being driven by the defendant Ardell Finley Jr., was in the No. 4 lane but rather than slowing down and going behind the bus to exit at Balboa, the defendant Chavez sped up and cut in front of the bus with only two to three feet to spare. Despite his best efforts to slow down, the bus driver could not avoid the collision. As a result, the bus pushed the Chavez vehicle into the rear of a Leong Kuba Sea Products fish truck which had just, moments before, been parked by the defendant Javier Martinez, adjacent to the Balboa exit. Maria Aviles, 38, died at the scene. Leong Kuba Sea Products' driver had the flashers on and was preparing to exit the truck to check on his load of fish that he had felt shift in the back of his truck shortly before he pulled over. The detailed California Highway Patrol report concluded that the sole cause of the accident was the manner in which the defendant Maria Chavez was driving. The investigating CHP officers found no fault with either the San Diego Transit bus driver or the Leong Kuba Sea Products' truck driver.

Contentions: The plaintiffs contended that all three of the defendants were to some extent liable for the death of Maria Aviles and that Maria Chavez was not the sole cause of the accident, notwithstanding the California Highway Patrol so concluding. The plaintiffs contended that the San Diego Transit Corporation bus driver was negligent for not continually braking from the moment he first saw the Chavez vehicle change from the No. 3 to the No. 4 lane in front of the bus and that had the bus driver continuously braked, he would not have struck the rear of the Ford Escort being driven by the defendant Maria Chavez. It was also contended that Leong Kuba Sea Products' vehicle should not have been stopped in the gore point between the No. 4 lane and the exit lane at Balboa, and that had the truck not been stopped where it had been a few minutes prior to the collision, that the Ford Escort would not have been pushed into the rear of the Leong Kuba truck and the decedent would not have died. The defendant San Diego Transit Corporation and their driver Ardell Finley Jr. contended that from the moment he first saw the defendant driving erratically and attempting to change from the No. 3 to the No. 4 lane, its brakes were applied and that minimal contact between the front of the bus and the rear of the Ford Escort was unavoidable based upon the negligent manner in which the defendant Chavez cut off the bus in an attempt to exit the freeway. The defendant San Diego Transit Corporation's version of the accident was supported by all of the bus passengers and an independent witness who were deposed and testified at trial. The defendants Leong Kuba Sea Products and their driver Javier Martinez contended that Martinez was legally stopped just prior to the subject collision since he believed that his load of expensive fresh fish was in danger of being damaged and that he had a legal right to pull over and check on his employer's property. The defendants Leong Kuba Sea Products and Martinez also contended that the plaintiffs could not establish causation against them since the plaintiffs' own accident reconstruction expert testified on cross-examination that absent the bus striking the rear of the Ford Escort, the Escort still could have exited the freeway notwithstanding the presence of the Leong Kuba fish truck in the gore point; and even if the Leong Kuba fish truck had not been parked in the gore point, the bus striking the rear of the Ford Escort would still have resulted in the Escort being involved in some type of accident.

Specials in Evidence: ; LOE The decedent's alleged past and future loss of earnings were in the amount of $128,000 to $225,000

Jury Trial: Length six days Poll 12-0; Deliberation one hour

Settlement Discussions: The defendant Maria Chavez had $15,000 policy limits and settled with the plaintiffs prior to trial. The plaintiffs submitted a demand of $500,000 to the non-settling defendants. The defendant San Diego Transit offered $5,000; the defendant Leong Kuba Sea Products offered $20,000.