Freeway rear-ender caused by federal employee causes MTBI and neck strain. $4M bench verdict.

Summary

Multi-million-dollar bench trial award for non-economic damages including loss of consortium when plaintiff suffers MTBI in freeway rear-ender. Defense disputes impact of collision and claimed damages, both economic and non-economic. 

The Case

  • Case Name: Rufo v. United States
  • Court and Case Number: United States District Court, Central District of California / CV 18-2138 (ASx)PSG
  • Date of Verdict or Judgment: Friday, February 28, 2020
  • Date Action was Filed: Wednesday, March 14, 2018
  • Type of Action: Vehicles - Freeway, Vehicles – rear-ender, Highlighted Verdicts
  • Judge or Arbitrator(s): Hon. Philip Gutierrez
  • Plaintiffs:
    Romulo Rufo
    Trina Rufo
  • Defendants:
    United States of America
  • Type of Result: Bench Verdict

The Result

  • Gross Verdict or Award: $4,099,581.80
  • Award as to each Defendant:

    Romulo Ray Rufo:  $3,599,581.80

    Trina Rufo:  $500,000  (Loss of consortium)

  • Economic Damages:

    Future medical expenses: $593,520

    Past lost earnings:  $288,248

    Future lost earnings:  $717,813.80

  • Non-Economic Damages:

    Romulo: $2,000,000

    Trina: $500,000

  • Trial or Arbitration Time: 2 1/2 days. (The court limited plaintiff to 6 hours for direct and cross of 16 witnesses and 5 hours for defendant.)
  • Post Trial Motions & Post-Verdict Settlements: None. The U.S. has agreed to pay the verdict.

The Attorneys

  • Attorney for the Plaintiff:

    The Traut Firm by Eric Traut, Santa Ana.

  • Attorney for the Defendant:

    Richard Park, Assistant U.S. Attorney, Los Angeles.

    Fatima Lacayo, Assistant U.S. Attorney, Los Angeles.

The Experts

  • Plaintiff’s Medical Expert(s):

    David Lechuga, Ph.D., neuropsychology, Lake Forest.

    Diemha Hoang, M.D., physical medicine, Long Beach.

     David Edelman, M.D., neurology, Long Beach.

     Eric Ikeda, O.D.neuro-optometryBellflower.

     Carol Jackson, M.D., neuro-otology, Newport Beach.

  • Defendant's Medical Expert(s):

    Barry Ludwig, M.D., neurology, Los Angeles.   

    Ted Evans, M.D., neuropsychology, Los Angeles.

    Isaac Yang, M.D., neurosurgery, Los Angele

    Azadeh Farin, M.D.., neurosurgery, Los Angeles. (Treating neurosurgeon.)

  • Plaintiff's Technical Expert(s):

    John Brault, biomechanics, Mission Viejo.

    Barbara Greenfield, R.N., life care planning, Pasadena.

    Michael Bonneau, M.A., vocational rehabilitaton, St. George, Utah.

    Timothy Lanning, economics, Santa Ana.

  • Defendant's Technical Expert(s):

    David Raymond, Ph.D., biomechanics, Los Angeles.

    Jerald Udinski, economics, Berkeley.

    Amy Koellner, vocational rehabilitation, Long Beach.

    Stacey Helvin, life care planning, Brea.

Facts and Background

  • Facts and Background:

    Plaintiff, 51-year-old Romulo Ray Rufo, married to Trina Rufo and the father of five children, was employed as a land services agent for Southern California Edison where he had worked for the prior eight years. At the time of the collision, Trina and Ray Rufo had been married for 18 years. The Rufos had two biological children and Trina had three of her own. By all accounts, prior to the March 2016 collision, the Rufos had a happy and health marriage.

    On March 16, 2016 at 7:45 a.m., Romulo Ray Rufo was the driver of a Volkswagen Passat traveling in the number one lane of the northbound 710 Freeway south of Firestone Blvd. in the city of South Gate. James Albert Smith, who was in the course and scope of his employment with the Drug Enforcement Administration,  was the driver of a United States-owned Chevrolet Impala traveling approximately 35 mph in the number one lane of the northbound 710 Freeway behind plaintiff's vehicle. According to the testimony of those involved in the collision, there were pockets of stop-and-go traffic and then it would open up for stretches until traffic stopped again.

    The incident occurred when Mr. Rufo stopped quickly in traffic. Mr. Smith was unable to slow in time before impacting the rear of the Rufo vehicle, which was then propelled into the rear of a third vehicle. Mr. Rufo only struck the back of his head on the headrest during the collision sequence.  He recalls staring up at the ceiling at some point while his body was moving.

    Ray Rufo was dazed, but did not lose consciousness. Just after the impact, he initially felt he was fine. He exited his vehicle, spoke with both other drivers, and shot video of the damaged vehicle.  He also telephone his wife and supervisor at work. However, by the time CHP officers arrived, he had pain in his neck and felt nauseous. He was transported to the hospital. CT imaging did not reveal a brain bleed or any other abnormalities. The emergency room physician did not diagnose him with anything other than a neck strain with headache. Over the ensuing hours and days, Mr. Rufo developed multiple concussive symptoms which have persisted since the collision, including balance issues and dizziness.

  • Plaintiff's Contentions:

    That  defendant driver was traveling too fast for the conditions. 

    That as a direct result of the incident, plaintiff suffered life-altering  injuries. He has continued to been seen and treated by numerous specialists, including his primary care doctor, a neurosurgeon, vestibular therapist, neuropsychologist, and a neuro-optometrist.

    That plaintiff sustained a mild traumatic brain injury that resulted in vestibular problems, dizziness, headaches, balance issues, and vertigo.  In addition, he had chronic neck pain.

    Plaintiff’s biomechanical expert concluded that there was a greater than 50% injury potential for a mild traumatic brain injury based on the forces of the collision.

  • Defendant's Contentions:

    That plaintiff bore some responsibility for stopping too fast.  Also, that plaintiff had prior medical conditions, medication, and depression from the loss of his mother and his job (following the incident) that caused the symptoms he had been experiencing the last four years.

    Defendant’s biomechanical expert argued that there was a 5% chance of injury potential for sustaining a mild traumatic brain injury based on the forces of the collision.

    Defendant also argued there was no mild traumatic brain injury, so no future medical or psychological care was needed from the subject collision. Defendant also argued plaintiff lost his job due to a company-wide lay-off at SCE and that he was able to continue working following the accident. The defendant asked the court to not award lost income, past or future.

Injuries and Other Damages

  • Physical Injuries claimed by Plaintiff:

    Mild traumatic brain injury (MTBI); neck sprain.

Demands and Offers

  • Plaintiff Final Demand before Trial: $5,000,000
  • Defendant Final Offer before Trial: $900,000

Additional Notes

The case was first mediated in September 2019 before Jay Horton at Judicate West. The defendant offered $700,000 and the plaintiffs indicated the offer needed to be in excess of $3 million to be considered.

Per defense counsel:

Plaintiff’s final communicated offer at the mediation was $9.3 million

 

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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