Ventura County recently saw its largest personal injury jury verdict ever: $35 million. The defense immediately jumped at the opportunity to motion for a new trial, demanding the verdict was excessive and impossibly incongruent with the injuries suffered by the plaintiff. However, the trial judge upheld the verdict and dismissed the defendant’s motions. It is unclear whether the defendant plans to appeal the decision.
The 2007 incident giving rise to the civil action involved the horrific hit-and-run of a California Highway Patrolman. He was subsequently paralyzed and has been confined to a wheelchair ever since. His extensive injuries included irreversible spinal court trauma requiring physical therapy and multiple surgeries. The CHP officer was left for dead on Highway 101 near Faria Beach, California. The defendant not only faces a $35 million civil liability, but a 15-year prison sentence for his calloused disregard for the serious bodily injury he inflicted upon the officer.
This case took an interesting view at the oft-invoked agency law doctrines of respondeat superior and agency liability. Under these legal theories, employees can wind up holding their employers liable in a civil suit for injuries sustained by plaintiffs at the hands of the defendant. Thus, the defendant’s bosses were also named in the suit as the plaintiff realized that he was driving from his place of employment at the time of the hit-and-run. These legal doctrines require that an employee must be en route from his place of business or acting within the scope of employment at the time of the injuries to hold the boss or company liable. Agency theories are helpful in civil actions when the party having physically committing the tort is insolvent or of limited means. It gives the plaintiff the option of seeking a payout from a corporate employer with likely deeper pockets. The defendant was employed at a motorcycle shop at the time of the accident and was carrying motorcycles in the bed of his truck at the time of the collision.
The driver was convicted of gross vehicular manslaughter in 2008 as another motorist was unfortunately killed in this horrific event. Court documents also reveal he was intoxicated at the time of the accident and was also convicted as such in conjunction with the accident. The case was hotly debated around Ventura communities and jurors took nearly two weeks to deliberate the defendants’ fates. The driver was considered to be 67% negligent and the employer a mere 33%; however, 33% negligence in this case still amounts to $11.5 million in damages.