Young autistic man struck by a car after caretaker loses him. $6.2M. Orange County.

Summary

Mentally incompetent man is on an outing to the fair when he walks away from caretaker and is later struck by car.

The Case

  • Case Name: Arthur Dotson and Kara Dotson, as conservators of Ian Dotson, conservatee v. Aacres, LLC
  • Court and Case Number: Orange County Superior Court / 03-2017-00932576-CU-PO-CJC.
  • Date of Verdict or Judgment: Friday, November 15, 2019
  • Date Action was Filed: Tuesday, July 18, 2017
  • Type of Action: Negligence
  • Judge or Arbitrator(s): Hon. Linda S. Marks
  • Plaintiffs:
    Ian Dotson
    Arthur Dotson
    Kara Dotson
  • Defendants:
    AAcres, LLC
  • Type of Result: Jury Verdict

The Result

  • Gross Verdict or Award: $6,206,945.30
  • Economic Damages:

    Past medical: $106,945.30

    Future medical: $600,000

  • Non-Economic Damages:

    Past: $2,000,000

    Future: $3,500,000 

  • Trial or Arbitration Time: 15 days.
  • Jury Deliberation Time: 3 hours.

The Attorneys

  • Attorney for the Plaintiff:

    Shernoff Bidart Echeverria LLP by Ricardo Echeverria and Charles Mayr, Claremont.

    Law Offices of Mike F. O'Brien by Mike F. O'Brien, Claremont.

  • Attorney for the Defendant:

    Manning & Kass, Ellrod, Ramirez, Trester by Lou Pappas and Robert Murphy, Los Angeles.

The Experts

  • Plaintiff’s Medical Expert(s):

    P. Richard Emmanuel, M.D., orthopedic surgery, Culver City.

  • Defendant's Medical Expert(s):

    Stuart Gold, M.D., orthopedic surgery, Torrance.

  • Plaintiff's Technical Expert(s):

    Josh McEachin, Ph.D, BCBA, standard of care.

  • Defendant's Technical Expert(s):

    John Allen, RN, standard of care.

Facts and Background

  • Facts and Background:

    Ian Dotson is a 24-year-old autistic adult who has the cognitive functioning level of a child and who suffers from behavioral problems secondary to his diagnosis including aggression, impulsiveness, and elopement. 

    Ian had been placed on a number of 5150 holds over the course of several years for violence against his family and others. In August 2015, Ian was discharged from a supervised adult residential facility in San Diego and was placed on another 5150 hold after setting fire to his mother's home. With the latest 5150 expiring at any time (this was already a 44-day hold) the Harbor Regional Center was desperate to place Ian since they were out of options other than to send Ian home or to a homeless shelter. Ian's family was unable to take him back into the family home due to safety concerns.

    In October 2015, Ian was accepted into a 24-hour supervised adult residential facility owned and managed by Aacres, LLC. Prior to the incident, and while at Aacres, Ian had a well-documented history of elopements from supervision, such that defendant’s behavior consultant created a plan to provide caretakers with advice on how to prevent Ian from engaging in eloping behavior and how to respond when he does.

    On the evening of July 22, 2016, Ian Dotson was taken by one of defendant’s newer caretakers to the Orange County Fair for a supervised outing. When Ian and his caretaker left the fair around 9:00 to 9:30 p.m., the caretaker forgot where he had parked the company van and led Ian through the parking lot while he searched for 30 to 40 minutes. During this time, Ian grew increasingly agitated, began to lag behind, and at some point walked away from his caretaker. The caretaker subsequently reported that he believed he saw Ian walk away, but called out to the person only to discover it was not Ian.

    After discovering that Ian eloped, the caretaker attempted to call various Aacres, LLC administrators to report the emergency. The caretaker did not call Aacres’ on-call administrator, was not familiar with Aacres’ procedures for on-call administrators, or did not have correct information on who should be called.

    The caretaker searched for Ian on his own for about 45 minutes, then notified the Orange County Sheriff Department that Ian was missing. Just after midnight on July 23, 2016, Ian was struck by a car traveling 45 mph, nearly two miles away from the fairgrounds. At the time of the collision, Ian was running westbound on MacArthur Boulevard against a red light while the vehicle that struck him was traveling southbound on Fairview Avenue with the right of way. Ian suffered severe, life-altering injuries as a result.

  • Plaintiff's Contentions:

    That Aacres, LLC and its staff were negligent by sending Ian Dotson to the fair with a caretaker who, by his own admissions, was not trained on and did not understand Ian’s behavioral plan.

    Further, that the caretaker negligently supervised Ian in the fairgrounds parking lot and negligently responded to Ian’s elopement by delaying his report to authorities.

  • Defendant's Contentions:

    That its caretaker had adequate training to supervise Ian Dotson based on his background and certification as a Direct Support Professional.

    That Ian continued to elope even after the new behavioral plan had been created, with one of his elopements going on for miles and onto the 105 freeway. That excursions into the community were mandated and required by the Regional Center. 

    That pursuant to California regulations, there was nothing staff could do to prevent Ian from eloping. State law prohibited the caretakers from restraining or even touching Ian in any way and he was free to leave at any time. Finally, that Ian Dotson was wholly responsible for his harm, or alternatively that liability should be apportioned between Ian and the driver involved in the accident. Ian's parents and the supervisors at the Harbor Regional Center all testified that, with Ian's propensity to elope, this was an accident waiting to happen.

Injuries and Other Damages

  • Physical Injuries claimed by Plaintiff:

    Ian Dotson suffered multiple fractures to his pelvis, including an open-book fracture and dislocation of the right SI joint, a communited and displaced tibia fracture, a femoral neck fracture, and lower leg compartment syndrome.

    Plaintiffs argued that Ian required future care for lower back pain and for an injury to his right knee, which included a partial and total knee replacement.

  • Ian underwent emergency surgeries at OC Global Medical Center that involved the placement of an external pelvic fixator, decompressive fasciotomies to relieve the compartment syndrome, and an external fixation of the right tibia.

    He later underwent further surgeries to convert the pelvic and right leg external fixations into internal fixations. The pelvic fixator was ultimately removed after six months, though screws remain in Ian’s pelvis. A metal rod and multiple screws remain in Ian’s right lower leg. The parties stipulated to Ian’s past medical expenses that were paid pursuant to Howell.

Special Damages

  • Special Damages Claimed - Past Medical: $106,945.30
  • Special Damages Claimed - Future Medical: $600,000

Demands and Offers

  • Plaintiff Final Demand before Trial: $3,000,000 (Per defense counsel, plaintiff demanded $5,000,000 at mediation and $3,500,000 in a 998 before trial.)
  • Defendant Offer during Trial: $500,000 at the conclusion of closing arguments.

Additional Notes

Per defense counsel:

At trial, neither Ian, who was incompetent, nor the caretaker, who lacked capacity due to an unrelated health condition and was never even deposed, testified. Over objection, the court allowed into evidence numerous hearsay statements which afforded plaintiff an opportunity to tell a version of a story of the events while in the parking lot. And there were a number of versions based on this hearsay testimony of what happened in the parking lot as Ian and the caretaker looked for the van to drive home.

The caretaker's supervisor who had conducted the caretaker's training on Ian's behavioral plan, also did not testify at trial.

Ian has no current physical limitations and hasn’t treated with an orthopedic doctor for over two years. The need for future procedures was pure speculation.

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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