Motorcyclist hit by left-turning company truck. $23,720,996 at in-person bench trial. Los Angeles County.

Summary

This was the first in-person personal injury Bench trial in Los Angeles County since the COVID-19 shutdown in March 2020. In his decision, the judge said, "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 Case

  • Case Name: Steeve Rojas, et al. v. Hajoca Corporation, et al.
  • Court and Case Number: Los Angeles Superior Court / BC689703
  • Date of Verdict or Judgment: Wednesday, February 10, 2021
  • Date Action was Filed: Wednesday, January 10, 2018
  • Type of Action: Vehicles - Left Turn, Vehicles - Motorcycle
  • Judge or Arbitrator(s): Hon. Stephen J. Czuleger
  • Plaintiffs:
    Steeve Rojas, 40 years old at time of collision, Houseman at the Peninsula Hotel
    Sandra Acevedo, 38 years old at time of collision, Former housekeeper, now housewife
  • Defendants:
    Hajoca Corporation
    Kevin A. Henderson, employee of Hajoca Corporation
  • Type of Result: Bench Verdict

The Result

  • Gross Verdict or Award: $23,720,996
  • Contributory/Comparative Negligence: None.
  • Economic Damages:

    $4,520,996

  • Non-Economic Damages:

    Steeve Rojas: $18,000,000

    Sandra Acevedo: $1,200,000 (Loss of Consortium)

  • Trial or Arbitration Time: 9 days.

The Attorneys

  • Attorney for the Plaintiff:

    Panish Shea & Boyle LLP, by Brian Panish, Tom Schultz, John Shaller, Matthew Stumpf and James Trotter, Los Angeles.

    Banafshe Law Firm, PC, by P. Ryan Banafshe, Los Angeles.

  • Attorney for the Defendant:

    Segal McCambridge Singer & Mahoney, LTD, by Paul Motz, Chicago, IL.

    Tyson & Mendes, by Kara Pape and Mark Johnson,, Los Angeles.

The Experts

  • Plaintiff’s Medical Expert(s):

    P. Richard Emmanuel, M.D., orthopedic surgery, Los Angeles.

    Lawrence Miller, M.D., physiatrist, Santa Monica.

    Lester Zackler, M.D., psychiatry.

    Kevin Calvo, CPO, prosthetics, San Diego.

  • Defendant's Medical Expert(s):

    Kenneth Jung, M.D., orthopedic surgery, Los Angeles.

    Thomas A. Hedge, M.D., physiatry, Northridge.

    Rick Riley, CP, FAAOP, prosthetics, Washoe Valley, NV.

  • Plaintiff's Technical Expert(s):

    Edward Fatzinger, accident reconstruction, Torrance.

    John Brault, biomechanics, Mission Viejo. 

    Nathan Rose, motorcycle/human factors, Englewood, CO.

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

    Peter Formuzis, economics, Santa Ana.

    Jan Roughan, life care planning.

  • Defendant's Technical Expert(s):

    Beau LeBlanc, accident reconstruction, Torrance.

    Stephen Garets, motorcycle safety, Corvallis, OR.

    Steven Molina, vocational rehabilitation, Santa Ana.

    Jennie McNulty, economics, Los Angeles.

    Amy Sutton, life care planning.

Facts and Background

  • Facts and Background:

    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 on Valleyheart Drive, waiting for southbound traffic to clear so that he could make a left turn onto 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 crash and after transfer to Huntington Hospital, Mr. Rojas underwent a below-the-knee amputation of his right leg. 

  • Plaintiff's Contentions:

    That defendant Hajoca Corporation's employee, Kevin Anthony Henderson, was the sole cause of the collision by negligently turning left in front of Mr. Rojas in violation of Mr. Rojas' right of way and broadsiding Mr. Rojas with his company vehicle.

     That Mr. Rojas was not negligent. Further, the collision was unavoidable by any action Mr. Rojas could have reasonably undertaken. That  due to his injuries, Mr. Rojas was unemployable and required a lifetime of medical and psychiatric treatment. 

  • Defendant's Contentions:

    Defendant Hajoca Corporation agreed that its employee was negligent, but claimed that Mr. Rojas bore 50% fault due to his speed and claimed inattention and that the collision could have been avoided had Mr. Rojas taken appropriate measures.

    Defendants also disputed Mr. Rojas' loss of earnings claim, alleging that Mr. Rojas was able to work and disputed the severity of Mr. Rojas’ injuries and the cost of future medical care.  

Injuries and Other Damages

  • Physical Injuries claimed by Plaintiff:

    In December of 2017, Mr. Rojas underwent a below-the-knee amputation of his right leg, due to the injuries outlined above.

    In October of 2018, Mr. Rojas returned to work at the Peninsula Hotel in the job he had pre-incident and except for a complication in December of 2018, for two years from between February of 2019 and the trial, Mr. Rojas again returned to work doing the job pre-incident, albeit with more difficulty, pain and disability, which plaintiff maintained he had to do, to support his family.

Special Damages

  • Special Damages Claimed - Past Medical: $325,000 (Stipulated)
  • Special Damages Claimed - Future Medical: $3,273,922
  • Special Damages Claimed - Past Lost Earnings: $59,277 (Stipulated)
  • Special Damages Claimed - Future Lost Earnings: $1,127,219

Demands and Offers

  • Plaintiff §998 Demand: By plaintiff Steeve Rojas: $14,500,000. By plaintiff Sandra Acevedo: $500,000.
  • Defendant §998 Offer: To plaintiff Steeve Rojas: $4,750,000. To plaintiff Sandra Acevedo: $250,000.

Additional Notes

This was the first in-person personal injury trial in Los Angeles County since the COVID-19 shutdown in March 2020.

In reading his decision on the $18 million dollar pain and suffering award, Judge Czuleger stated the following: "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.”

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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