$6,868,000: Legal Whodunit Solved In Quadriplegic’s Favor In Santa Ana Eight Year Battle

CASE DESCRIPTION: Plaintiff, while a passenger in his own car, was rendered a quadriplegic from a collision.  Plaintiff brought cause of action against the driver of his own car.  The jury ruled in favor for the Plaintiff, but also found him to be comparatively negligent.

RESULT:  $6,868,894.00 total verdict.  Note: Since the plaintiff was found to be 50% comparatively negligent his award was reduced to $3,666,447.00.

On December 19, 1997, a Santa Ana jury decided that Defendant Tawnya B. was the driver of Plaintiff David J’s 1984 Chevy Blazer when that vehicle ran a red light and caused a broadside collision in February 1990.  As a result of the injuries sustained in this collision, Mr. David J. was rendered a quadriplegic.  While denying specific memories of the collision itself, Defendant Tawnya B. had consistently claimed that Plaintiff was driving at the time of the accident.  The Plaintiff could not deny this claim due to post-traumatic amnesia.  Defendant Tawnya B. brought suit against Mr. David J. for her minor injuries, and it was not until the expert discovery phase that Mr. David J. became aware of evidence that he was a passenger in his own vehicle.  Mr. David J. filed a cross-complaint against Ms. Tawnya B. shortly before the trial of Ms. Tawnya B’s action, which was rejected as tardy by the trial court.  The cross-complaint was reinstated upon appeal.

At trial Plaintiff argued the he and Tawnya B. were traveling eastbound on Edinger, while a second vehicle, a Toyota Celica driven by Mr. Jolen R., was traveling northbound on Grand Avenue.  The Chevrolet Blazer entered the intersection against a red light and it struck the Celica broadside.  During the collision sequence, David J. was partially ejected from the vehicle, and he sustained a cervical fracture and a partially severed spinal cord.  As a result of these injuries, David J. was rendered a quadriplegic.

Prior to the collision, Ms. Tawnya B. and Mr. David J., both 20 at the time, had been drinking beer that had been lifted from a liquor store.  It was stipulated between the parties that both Plaintiff and Defendant were over the legal limit at the time the collision occurred.

According to the Defendant, Ms. Tawnya B., at the time of the collision, she and Mr. David J. were returning from a failed attempt to obtain cocaine from a street dealer and that they were on the way home with her as a passenger.  Mr. David J. had no memory of this purported drug transaction due to his injuries, nor of the collision itself due to retrograde amnesia.

Plaintiff, through his experts, claimed that the nature of the collision damage, as well as Plaintiff’s final position (partially ejected out of the passenger side window) proved that he was the passenger at the time of the collision.  The damage to the vehicles indicated that the initial impact between the vehicles had been primarily frontal in nature, which would have thrown the occupants forward.  Mr. David J’s hair was imbedded in the windshield slightly to the left of the passenger seat, showing that he had been thrown forward from the passenger side during the collision.

The evidence indicated that Plaintiff had not been wearing his seat belt at the time of the collision, and that he would not have been rendered a quadriplegic had his seat belt been worn.  Consequently Plaintiff conceded that he was comparatively negligent in this incident for failing to wear his seat belt in addition to his underage drinking and the entrusting of his car to a person under the influence of alcohol.  At the end of the trial jury rendered an award in Mr. David J’s favor nearly eight years after the collision in which he was injured.

TYPE OF CASE: Automobile collision; Insurance Bad Faith

INJURIES:  Mr. David J. suffered a cervical fracture at the C4-C5 level, with resulting quadriplegia.  During his stay at Western Medical Center, he developed severe respiratory problems.  He also underwent skin grafts to repair his cheek and elbow.  He spent four months in Casa Colina Rehabilitation Hospital.  Mr. David J. will require home care and be permanently confined to a wheelchair.  Mr. David J. experiences daily severe pain from his right arm and has been plagued with a variety of bladder problems.

DATE & LOCATION OF INCIDENT: February 6, 1990, at approximately 1:30 a.m., at the intersection of Grand and Edinger, in Santa Ana, California.

PLAINTIFF’S AGE: 20 at the time of incident.

OCCUPATION: College student.

Wylie A. Aitken & Darren O. Aitken

Plaintiff – David J.

John P. Daniels & Scott Brooks
Defendant – Tawnya B.