Van driver rear-ends line of stopped vehicles on highway

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Verdicts & Settlements

December 28, 2010

Van driver rear-ends line of stopped vehicles on highway 

Susan Lutz, 48, had stopped her pickup truck behind a line of cars on a highway when a large work van operated by Jason Mudford for Hussmann Corp. rear-ended her vehicle at 55 mph. The impact forced Lutz’s truck into the rear of a van driven by Clarice Brewer. Brewer’s seat back broke, and she suffered a fracture at T11.

The injury left Brewer, 53, with incomplete paraplegia. She uses a wheelchair and requires assistance with most daily living activities. She has limited control over her bladder and bowels and experiences severe pain and spasms in her legs. Her past medical expenses totaled just under $225,000, and her future medical expenses and life-care costs are estimated at about $2.97 million.

At the time of the incident, Brewer was working as a certified caregiver and was active in her community and church. She is now permanently disabled. Her past lost earnings totaled about $25,900, and her future lost earning are estimated at about $105,700.

Lutz lost consciousness for several minutes and was diagnosed with a mild brain injury. Her head was shaken so hard that the bones in her inner ear were dislodged, causing her to suffer hearing loss in her left ear and permanent vertigo. A part-time secretary for a school district at the time of the incident, she can no longer work or drive. Her past medical expenses totaled about $63,000, and her future medical expenses are estimated at $195,000. Her lost earning capacity is estimated at $375,000.

Lutz and Brewer sued Mudford and Hussmann Corp., alleging Mudford was negligent in failing to pay proper attention. Suit against Hussmann alleged vicarious liability for Mudford’s negligence.

The defense admitted liability but contended that Brewer was comparatively negligent for failing to wear her seat belt.

Brewer countered that she was wearing her seat belt at the time of the incident. She also offered expert testimony that because her seat back broke on impact, causing her to ramp up the seat, the belt was rendered useless and would not have prevented her injuries.

The jury awarded approximately $9.28 million, including about $7.37 million to Brewer and $1.92 million to Lutz.

Citation: Lutz v. Mudford, No. 09CECGDD456AMC (Cal., Fresno Co. Super. Oct. 23, 2010).

Lutz’s counsel: AAJ member René L. Sample, Fresno, California.

Brewer’s counsel: AAJ members David R. Lira and Christopher T. Aumais, both of Los Angeles.

Lutz’s experts: René Castaneda, accident reconstruction, Thomas I. O’Laughlin, physical medicine and rehabilitation, Bradley Schuyler, neuropsychology, and Debra Ohanesian, psychology, all of Fresno; and Michael Hollis, economics, Pasadena, California.

Brewer’s experts: René Castaneda and Carley C. Ward, biomechanics/occupant kinematics, Pacific Palisades, California; and Sharon Kawai, life-care planning, Fullerton, California.

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