Boy suffers massive brain injuries in jump from moving pickup truck

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Case in Point

August 24, 2010

Boy suffers massive brain injuries in jump from moving pickup truck 

The plaintiff alleged that the pickup truck driver was negligent in allowing the boy and a friend to ride in the back of the vehicle and in ordering them to jump out while the truck was moving. After a $25.7 million jury verdict, the parties reached a confidential settlement. Setter v. Murchison.

Dillon Elkins, 10, and a friend asked Robert Murchison, 18, to drive them into town in his pickup truck. Murchison allegedly agreed, and the two boys climbed into the bed of the truck. When the truck was on the highway, Murchison spotted a California Highway Patrol officer and allegedly told the boys to jump out. Elkins jumped from the moving truck, striking his head on the road.

He suffered massive brain injuries that left him with spastic quadriplegia. He is unable to walk or talk and must be fed through a gastric tube. His cognitive function has also been affected, although he has some level of cognitive ability and is able to show emotion. His past medical bills totaled $2.9 million—$377,000 of which was paid by Medi-Cal.

Elkins’s mother, as guardian on his behalf, sued Murchison, alleging he was negligent in permitting the boys to ride in the back of his truck and in ordering them to jump out.

The defendant argued that the boys had climbed onto the back of the truck without his knowledge and denied having given them permission to ride or ordering them to jump out.

The plaintiff offered evidence that the present value of Elkins’s future life-care costs was $11.9 million, while the defense contended that the present value of such costs was $4 million.

The jury awarded $32.2 million, finding Murchison 80 percent liable and Elkins 20 percent responsible. After apportionment of fault, the verdict totaled about $25.7 million.

The parties subsequently settled for a confidential amount.

Citation: Setter v. Murchison, No. CIVBS 800171 (Cal., San Bernardino Co. Super. June 4, 2010).

Plaintiff counsel: AAJ member Ricardo Echeverria, Claremont, California.

Plaintiff experts: David R. Patterson, physical medicine, Pomona, California; Ann Barnes, life-care planning, Glendale, California; and Peter Formuzis, economics, Santa Ana, California.

Defense experts: Thomas Hedge, physical medicine, Northridge, California; and Gene Bruno, life-care planning, Encino, California.

Comment: Under California law, recovery of past medical expenses was capped at $377,000, the amount paid by Medi-Cal.

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