Buddies go drinking and crash ensues, causing injury to drunk passenger. $20M. Los Angeles County.

Summary

After heavy drinking, two co-workers head to a club. A single-vehicle accident occurs and the passenger is severely injured. Comparative fault of driver and passenger is argued.

The Case

  • Case Name: Michael R. Isom v. Brandon T. MacCarthy
  • Court and Case Number: Los Angeles Superior Court / MC025723
  • Date of Verdict or Judgment: Thursday, May 27, 2021
  • Date Action was Filed: Tuesday, September 01, 2015
  • Type of Action: DUI Accident, Highlighted Verdicts
  • Judge or Arbitrator(s): Hon. Susan Bryant-Deason
  • Plaintiffs:
    Michael R. Isom
  • Defendants:
    Brandon T. MacCarthy
  • Type of Result: Jury Verdict

The Result

  • Gross Verdict or Award: $20,636,313.44
  • Net Verdict or Award: $15,477,235.08
  • Award as to each Defendant:

    $15,477,235.08

  • Contributory/Comparative Negligence: 75% defendant and 25% plaintiff
  • Economic Damages:

    Past medicals - $423,757.67

    Future medicals $1,800,000

    Past lost earnings $114,948.10

    Future lost earnings: $0

    Prejudgment interest $47,607.67

     

  • Non-Economic Damages:

    Past: $2,555,000

    Future: $15,695,000

  • Trial or Arbitration Time: 17 days
  • Jury Deliberation Time: 5 hours
  • Jury Polls: 12-0 (liability), 11-1 (damages), 9-3 (comparative percentages of 75% defendant and 25% plaintiff)
  • Post Trial Motions & Post-Verdict Settlements: Plaintiff will move to have attorneys' fees added to the verdict in the sum of $6,190,894.03 pursuant to Code of Civil Procedure § 1021.4 based on the DUI felony conviction.

The Attorneys

  • Attorney for the Plaintiff:

    Kuzyk Law, LLP by Mark J. Leonardo, Lancaster.

  • Attorney for the Defendant:

    Resnick & Louis, P.C. by Martin D. Holly, Los Angeles.

The Experts

  • Plaintiff’s Medical Expert(s):

    Thomas Nasser, D.O., physiatry

    Alon Antebi, D.O. orthopedics

    Patty Hedrick, RN, life care planner

    Allen Huang, M.D., physiatry.

    David Parks, M.D., ophthalmology

    Jawad Bermani, M.D., emergency room

    Justin Heller, M.D., plastic surgery/reconstruction

                     

  • Defendant's Medical Expert(s):

    None. The nature and extent of Isom’s injuries were not in dispute, only subject to his comparative fault.

  • Plaintiff's Technical Expert(s):

    Paul Broadus, vocational rehabilitation.

  • Defendant's Technical Expert(s):

    Steve Molina, Ph.D., vocational rehabilitation.

Facts and Background

  • Facts and Background:

    On June 3, 2014, plaintiff Michael R. Isom and defendant Brandon MacCarthy were co-workers working in Acton through the IBEW. Isom was staying at MacCarthy's home in Palmdale for a few days and being driven to and from work by MacCarthy. After work they went to a liquor store and purchased whiskey and drank some in the parking lot of a restaurant/bar known as the Buffalo Cafe in Palmdale. They then had dinner and more drinks at the cafe. Receipts from the evening show that Isom, MacCarthy and another individual purchased 13 alcoholic beverages over approximately 90 minutes.

    Afterwards, MacCarthy drove them both home, about a mile away. Isom realized he had left his cell phone at the cafe. MacCarthy drove them back to the cafe to retrieve the phone and they spoke to the bartender and then returned home without incident. MacCarthy's roommate and supervisor, Shane Ciaccio was home with his girlfriend, Dannye Milam (whom he later married). Dannye claims all four of them played beer pong and drank while Shane claims he does not recall anyone drinking when the parties returned from the cafe. Dannye claims they were both slightly intoxicated when they came home, whereas Shane claimed MacCarthy was severely intoxicated.

    At some point, Isom and MacCarthy stated [they] wanted to go to a strip club in Victorville, approximately 30-40 minutes away, where MacCarthy had been on several occasions in the past. Shane and Dannye discouraged them from going and claimed they were too drunk to drive. Discussions took place regarding who would drive and who was in possession of the keys to MacCarthy's truck. Dannye claims she threw them on the fireplace mantle but Shane claims that Isom had them last and promised that he would not let MacCarthy drive and if anyone was to drive it would be Isom. Dannye and Shane then left to go get dinner and when they returned 20-30 minutes later, Isom and MacCarthy were gone as was his truck.

    MacCarthy drove his truck with Isom as his passenger. He drove eight miles and turned off the main highway to Victorville to a short two-lane road which ended at a T-intersection. CHP determined  that MacCarthy was traveling 65 mph in a 55 mph zone and ran through the stop sign and a dirt patch, into a cyclone fence and a concrete wash. The truck struck the back wall of the wash as it flew through the air.

    Both were rendered unconscious but MacCarthy awoke quickly and saw that the truck was on fire. He and a nearby security guard were able to pull Isom out of the truck before it was completely enveloped by the fire. MacCarthy's blood alcohol content was .26 at the scene and his blood test was .22. Isom's blood alcohol level was .19. MacCarthy pled no contest to DUI in violation of Penal Code Section 23153(b) and served 47 days in jail on a sentence of 180 days, with six years of prison suspended for probation. MacCarthy paid $3,000 in restitution.

    It was reported that MacCarthy told the California Highway Patrol officer he almost killed his buddy and he thought he was okay to drive a few hours after the accident. He later claimed that he could not recall anything from that evening after drinking the whiskey outside the cafe. Isom has no recollection of the entire day and claims that he would not have gotten into the vehicle if he thought that MacCarthy was too intoxicated to drive. However, the evidence showed that he got into MacCarthy’s vehicle at least three times over a four hour period of time after he and MacCarthy began drinking.  The bartender, who was not deposed and did not testify at trial, had met MacCarthy over the few weeks that the restaurant was open before the accident. He allegedly told the CHP officers who testified at trial that he thought MacCarthy was okay and he had seen him way worse in the past and believed he had not been overserved.

  • Plaintiff's Contentions:

    Isom contended that MacCarthy was negligent per se by driving while intoxicated and crashing his truck after failing to stop at the T-intersection in violation of Penal Code section 23153(b).

  • Defendant's Contentions:

    The defense claimed that Isom was 100% responsible for his own injuries because he was drinking heavily with MacCarthy for several hours before the accident, he knew that MacCarthy was too intoxicated to drive anywhere and stated such to multiple witnesses, he promised several witnesses that he would not let MacCarthy drive because he was too intoxicated, he rode with MacCarthy several times after he knew or should have known that MacCarthy was severely intoxicated and unable to drive, and he provided MacCarthy with the keys to his truck after promising several witnesses that he would not let him drive because he knew that he was too intoxicated. Further, plaintiff does not have a loss-of-earning-capacity claim. 

Injuries and Other Damages

  • Physical Injuries claimed by Plaintiff:

    Isom suffered massive injuries including a severe traumatic brain injury (frontal lobe contusion and subdural hematoma) with severe memory impairment. He broke every bone in his face, which had to be reconstructed with metal implants and his mouth was wired shut for months as he suffered a broken jaw.

    He lost all sight in his left eye and damaged the sight in his right eye. He suffers from tinnitus, the complete loss of smell and taste, he broke all of his ribs, he suffered a collapsed lung, the loss of his spleen, removal of a portion of his intestines and bowels, injury to his shoulder, a fractured acetabulum, and a broken right foot where he now has seven screws fusing it together. He was in a coma for three weeks and was hospitalized for two months and was living at a rehabilitation facility for over eight months while undergoing physical, occupational, speech and aquatic therapies, which included learning how to walk and talk again.

    His treating physicians and medical experts believe and testified at trial that his future medical care is extensive and will disable him.  Future surgeries include spine surgery (back and possible neck), bilateral hip surgery, bilateral knee surgery, and an ankle fusion.  Further, to control his pain, he will either need substantial amounts of medications or the implantation of a spinal cord stimulator.   

Special Damages

  • Special Damages Claimed - Past Medical: $423,757.67 (undisputed and stipulated to.)
  • Special Damages Claimed - Future Medical: $1,800,000 (Per defense counsel, Isom alleged $1,508,469.86-$3,006,886.48 at trial.)
  • Special Damages Claimed - Past Lost Earnings: $114,948.10
  • Special Damages Claimed - Future Lost Earnings: $1,329,000 (Per defense counsel, Isom alleged $3,100,000 at trial.)

Demands and Offers

  • Plaintiff §998 Demand: $423,757
  • Defendant Final Offer before Trial: Prior to any demand being made, MacCarthy timely and repeatedly offered his $15,000 policy. It was declined.

Additional Notes

Parties were sent to an MSC just a few days before trial, where plaintiff demanded a stipulated judgment for $4 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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