Negligent entrustment claim in high-speed DUI crash. $1.6M. Santa Barbara County.

Summary

When DUI driver causes accident, his out-of-state father is blamed for loaning him the car.

The Case

  • Case Name: Flick v. Reyes
  • Court and Case Number: Santa Maria Superior Court / 17CV03850
  • Date of Verdict or Judgment: Wednesday, March 18, 2020
  • Date Action was Filed: Friday, August 25, 2017
  • Type of Action: DUI Accident, Vehicles - Freeway, Vehicles – rear-ender, Highlighted Verdicts
  • Judge or Arbitrator(s): Hon. Jed Beebe
  • Plaintiffs:
    Kara Flick, nurse.
  • Defendants:
    Francisco Reyes, Jr.
    Francisco Reyes, Sr.
  • Type of Result: Jury Verdict

The Result

  • Gross Verdict or Award: $1,687,500. Non-suit as to Reyes, Sr. on negligent entrustment.
  • Award as to each Defendant:

    $15,000 as to Francisco Reyes, Sr.  (Non-suit on negligent entrustment).

    $1,672,500 as to Francisco Reyes, Jr.

  • Economic Damages:

    Future meds: $163,500

    Future loss of earnings: $0

    Future household services: $24,000

  • Non-Economic Damages:

    Past: $1,000,000

    Future: $500,000

  • Punitive Damages:

    Court granted defendants' motion to strike punitive damages.

  • Trial or Arbitration Time: 17 days over 7 weeks.
  • Jury Deliberation Time: 4 1/2 hours.
  • Jury Polls: Varied by question, but generally 10-2.
  • Post Trial Motions & Post-Verdict Settlements: Plaintiff filed a memorandum of costs and defendants will be filing a Motion to Tax Costs.

The Attorneys

  • Attorney for the Plaintiff:

    Ernst Law Group by Taylor Ernst and Don Ernst, San Luis Obispo.

  • Attorney for the Defendant:

    Daniels, Fine, Israel, Schonbuch & Lebovits by Erin Hallissy and Jonathan Gerber, Los Angeles.

The Experts

  • Plaintiff’s Medical Expert(s):

    Fernando Miranda, M.D., neurology, Vero Beach, FL.

    Edgar Angelone, Ph.D., neuropsychology, San Rafael.

    Marna Scarry-Larkin, speech therapy, San Luis Obispo.

  • Defendant's Medical Expert(s):

    Gail Ishiyama, M.D., neurology, Los Angeles.

    Ari Kalechstein, Ph.D., neuropsychology, Los Angeles.

    Michael Brant-Zawadzki, M.D., neuroradiology, Newport Beach.

  • Plaintiff's Technical Expert(s):

    Elaine Serina, accident reconstruction/biomechanics.

    Karen Aznavoorian, life care planning, Fresno.

    Stephen Hamilton, economics.

    Rick Sarkissian, Ph.D., vocational rehabilitation, Fresno.

  • Defendant's Technical Expert(s):

    Jeff Bruno, life care planning/vocational rehabilitation.

    Heather Xitco, economics.

Facts and Background

  • Facts and Background:

    Defendant Francisco Reyes, Jr. rear-ended plaintiff Kara Flick while under the influence of alcohol and traveling upwards of 102 mph on the freeway. The rear-end impact caused plaintiff to lose control of her vehicle and careen into a third vehicle (not involved in the litigation). Plaintiff's vehicle was hit a second time by defendant's vehicle on the driver's side door before coming to a rest at the center median.

    Francisco Reyes, Jr. had borrowed Francisco Reyes, Sr.'s vehicle three months before the subject accident while visiting his father in Colorado. Francisco Reyes, Sr. had lent his son the vehicle after a difficult period in his son's life and allowed him to drive home to California with the vehicle. The plan was for Francisco Reyes, Sr. to pick up the vehicle when he came to California to visit his son on vacation. 

  • Plaintiff's Contentions:

    Plaintiff only complained of left side arm pain for the first 48 hours of medical care, with a normal brain MRI and with treating ER doctors stating she had a normal neurological exam and had no sign of head trauma.

    However, plaintiff claimed despite these negative findings, plaintiff had ongoing symptoms including: traumatic brain injury with a basal skull fracture, which caused her to experience a permanent stutter, limp, headaches, cognitive impairment, depression, anxiety, light and noise sensitivity. Plaintiff also contended she could not work for the rest of her life and would need a caregiver due to early onset of dementia.

    Plaintiff contended that Francisco Reyes, Sr. should have known his 32-year-old son was not competent to operate his vehicle and was negligent in lending his vehicle to him. Francisco Reyes, Jr. was a permissive user and plaintiff alleged negligent entrustment.

     

  • Defendant's Contentions:

    Defendants admitted liability as to Francisco Reyes, Jr., but disputed Francisco Reyes, Sr. negligently entrusted his vehicle to his son when he was over 1000 miles away at the time of the accident and had no knowledge that his son consumed five beers before driving his vehicle.

    Defendants challenged the nature and extent of plaintiff's injuries, specifically,disputing that plaintiff suffered any neurologic damage or brain injury. Rather, the defense contended that plaintiff's stuttering was psychogenic in nature as opposed to neurogenic.

    The defense also contended that plaintiff was experiencing a conversion disorder, not a brain injury, which could be treated with psychological counseling and speech therapy. Lastly, defendants challenged plaintiff's contention that she was permanently disabled and would experience early onset of dementia. Defendants further challenged plaintiff's contention that she was unable to work for the rest of her life, as plaintiff had returned to work as an RN eight months after the accident.

Injuries and Other Damages

  • Physical Injuries claimed by Plaintiff:

    Traumatic brain injury with a basal skull fracture, which caused her to experience a permanent stutter, limp, headaches, cognitive impairment, depression, anxiety, light and noise sensitivity

  • Social isolation, change in personality, future loss of earnings and household services

Special Damages

  • Special Damages Claimed - Past Medical: Waived.
  • Special Damages Claimed - Future Medical: $6,133,728 - $7,817,810
  • Special Damages Claimed - Past Lost Earnings: Waived.
  • Special Damages Claimed - Future Lost Earnings: $1,503,468

Demands and Offers

  • Plaintiff §998 Demand: $4,999,999.99

Additional Notes

The Court granted Francisco Reyes, Sr.'s motion for non-suit on the basis there was no evidence produced of negligent entrustment. Plaintiff asked the jury to award $25 million dollars. The defense gave a range to the jury of $650,000 to $1.7 million.

USAA offered policy limits of $100,000 before litigation. There is an outstanding issue as to whether or not the policy is open.

Per plaintiff's counsel:

In closing, the defense gave a range from $23,365 to $1,228,122  in damages, with multiple scenarios below one-million dollars. 
Plaintiff gave a range asking for $500,000  - $1 million per item of general damages. No specific number of generals was requested.

Disclaimer

This is not an official court document. While the publisher believes the information to be accurate, the publisher does not guarantee it and the reader is advised not to rely upon it without consulting the official court documents or the attorneys of record in this matter who are listed above.

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