A Los Angeles County Superior Court judge has awarded $23,720,996 to a Southern California man and his wife after the man suffered a lower leg amputation as a result of being struck by a 28-foot utility truck while riding his motorcycle. Plaintiffs were represented in the case and at trial by Brian Panish, Tom Schultz, John Shaller, Matthew Stumpf and James Trotter of Panish | Shea | Ravipudi LLP. Plaintiffs were also represented in the case by P. Ryan Banafshe of Banafshe Law Firm, PC.
“This result will allow Mr. Rojas and his family to move forward after this tragic collision and provides them the financial resources they need for Mr. Rojas’ medical care and future expenses,” said trial attorney, Brian Panish. “We thank the court and staff for allowing our client to exercise his constitutional right to trial in a safe environment.”
Co-counsel Tom Schultz continued, “We were honored to help Mr. Rojas and his family obtain justice in this case. He has worked hard his entire life and deserves to be fully compensated for the tremendous loss he has suffered.”
On December 5, 2017, Plaintiff Steeve Rojas was driving his motorcycle southbound on Coldwater Canyon toward the intersection of Coldwater Canyon and Ventura Boulevard where he intended to make a left turn. At the same time, Defendant Kevin Henderson, an on duty Hajoca Corporation employee, was at a complete stop in his company’s Dodge Ram utility truck on Valleyheart Drive, waiting for southbound traffic to clear so that he could make a left turn on to northbound Coldwater Canyon. As Mr. Rojas proceeded straight through the uncontrolled T-intersection of Valleyheart Drive and Coldwater Canyon, his motorcycle was struck by the Dodge Ram as Defendant Henderson attempted to make a left turn onto northbound Coldwater Canyon. Despite the impact of the collision, Mr. Rojas initially was able to maintain control of his motorcycle until he became overwhelmed with severe pain and was forced to lay his bike down on the pavement.
Following the collision, Mr. Rojas was rushed by ambulance to Cedars-Sinai Medical Center with extensive, life-changing injuries, including an open talus metatarsal fracture dislocation with a crush injury to his lower right foot, a right foot open Chopart fracture dislocation, and a right foot open Lisfranc fracture dislocation. Although he underwent numerous surgeries in an effort to save his right lower limb, eight days following the motorcycle crash and after transfer to Huntington Hospital, Mr. Rojas underwent a below the knee amputation of his right leg.
In June 2018, Mr. Rojas was outfitted with a prosthesis and several months later attempted to return to work at the Peninsula Hotel where he had a job as a Houseman in the housekeeping department. However, shortly after returning to work, he developed an infection in his leg that required yet another surgery and hospitalization. He returned to work again three months later and had difficulty working with pain and disability. All the doctors testified he should not be in his manual labor job but had been doing so to support his wife and three minor children.
During trial, Defendants attempted to shift some of the blame for the collision to Mr. Rojas, claiming that his speed was a contributing factor. They also disputed his loss of future earnings claim because he had returned to work and disputed the nature and cost of his future medical care needs and his claim for household services.
Following the nine day bench trial, Judge Stephen Czuleger found that Defendants were 100% at fault for the collision and awarded Mr. Rojas $18,000,000 in general damages and $4,520,996 in economic damages. His wife was awarded $1,200,000 for loss of consortium.
In reading his decision, Judge Czuleger stated the following in respect to past non-economic damages: “Not to belabor the evidence, here plaintiff suffered a traumatic injury which was compounded by multiple surgeries, including a revision and an amputation. Soldiering through this was painful, long, and difficult. There was trauma not only to his body but to his mental state as well, a situation that continues to this very day and is compensable. The court will not split the baby as between the two requests but will — but rather will award an amount appropriate based upon the evidence. The court believes $6 million is appropriate for past non-economic damages.”
With respect to future non-economic damages, Judge Czuleger stated: “The plaintiff will experience many more years of pain and suffering and $12 million appears warranted here especially given the life expectancy and the increasing issues he will have to face in the coming year — years.”
In closing, Judge Czuleger addressed the court. “I want to thank both sides for your courtesies and your professionalism through the trial. And thank you for letting me do a trial. The last trial I did was in March of last year, so it was a pleasure to have you folks here.”
Defendants were represented by Paul Motz of Segal McCambridge Singer & Mahoney, LTD and Kara Pape and Mark Johnson of Tyson & Mendes.