G3 Enterprises, a wine and beverage packaging and transportation company, entered into a long-term subhauling contract with Sun Valley Express Transport, Inc. Sun Valley contracted with Velazquez & Sons Trucking Co. to haul grapes using G3’s trailers. Velazquez & Sons assigned its new driver, Juan Velazquez, to do the job, which was coordinated and dispatched by G3.
As Velazquez was driving a big rig hauling G3’s double trailers on the highway, he collided with a charter bus driven by Jimmy Duncan. The bus slammed into attenuator barrels before becoming trapped between the big rig and the wall of an overpass. Rescuers had to use the Jaws of Life to evacuate the injured passengers.
Duncan, 50, was taken to a hospital’s emergency room suffering from pain, nausea, and dizziness. He was diagnosed with chest and abdominal contusions and neck and low-back strain. Imaging showed narrowing of Duncan’s spinal canal, causing compression of the spinal cord and nerve roots at the C6-7 level; narrowing of the space between the L2-3 and L3-4 vertebrae, with pockets of air between the disks; and diffuse bone spurs. The incident also aggravated preexisting spinal injuries for which he had undergone two surgeries.
Duncan underwent lumbar and cervical fusion surgeries, but he continues to suffer pain and restricted range of motion in his neck and back. He also developed posttraumatic headaches and posttraumatic stress disorder. His past medical expenses totaled about $278,100, and his future medical expenses are estimated at about $1.88 million.
Duncan was unable to return to work and is now permanently disabled. His past lost earnings totaled about $128,200, and his future lost earning capacity is estimated at about $314,500.
He sued Velazquez, alleging that the trucker was negligent in speeding and not staying in his lane when exiting the freeway. The plaintiff also sued Velazquez & Sons and its owner, Jesus Velazquez, alleging respondeat superior liability for their driver’s negligence. Suit against Sun Valley alleged it was vicariously liable as the entity that had contracted with Velazquez’s employer.
Finally, the plaintiff sued G3, alleging that as a highway common carrier, it had a nondelegable duty and was liable for its contractors’ negligence under Restatement (Second) of Torts §428. The plaintiff also alleged that G3 was liable for negligent selection or retention of Sun Valley and for negligent entrustment of its trailers to Sun Valley subcontractors.
The plaintiff made a settlement demand of $1.25 million. The defendants offered $750,000, which the plaintiff rejected.
The jury awarded the plaintiff about $4.59 million, allocating fault at 70 percent to G3 and 30 percent to the remaining defendants.
The court has denied the defendants’ motions for a new trial and judgment n.o.v., and they have filed a notice of appeal.
Citation: Duncan v. Velazquez, No. FCS034635 (Cal., Solano Co. Super. Aug. 20, 2012).
Plaintiff counsel: AAJ members Craig M. Peters and S. Anoush Lancaster, both of San Francisco.
Plaintiff experts: Bahram Ravani, accident reconstruction, Davis, Calif.; Joseph Izzo, neurosurgery, San Mateo, Calif.; Carol Hyland, life-care planning, Lafayette, Colo.; and Alireza Bagherian, functional capacity assessment, and Wayne E. Anderson, pain management, both of San Francisco.
Defense experts: Sean S. Shimada, biomechanical engineering, Davis; Matthew D. King, accident reconstruction, Selma, Calif.; and Peter Slabaugh, orthopedic surgery, Oakland, Calif.