Question of course and scope of employment critical in T-bone crash. $1.85M. Los Angeles County.

Summary

Vehicles collide as one driver is pulling out of a parking lot. Question is whether that driver was in the course and scope of his employment.

The Case

  • Case Name: Smith v. Jennison, Post Alarm Systems, Inc.
  • Court and Case Number: Los Angeles Superior Court / BC623885
  • Date of Verdict or Judgment: Friday, March 13, 2020
  • Date Action was Filed: Wednesday, June 15, 2016
  • Type of Action: Course and scope of employment, Vehicles - Auto vs. Auto
  • Judge or Arbitrator(s): Hon. Charles F. Palmer
  • Plaintiffs:
    Joseph Smtih
  • Defendants:
    Robert Jennison (driver)
    Post Alarm Systems, Inc.(Jennison's employer)
    Golden Auto Body
  • Type of Result: Jury Verdict

The Result

  • Gross Verdict or Award: $1,855,500
  • Net Verdict or Award: $2,047,774 including costs and CCP 998 interest
  • Award as to each Defendant:

    $100,000 as to defendant Jennison by bench trial in phase one of trial, confirming policy was tendered and there was a settlement as to the individual policy.

    $1,755,500 as to Post Alarm Systems, Inc. in phase two by jury verdict.

    Golden Auto Body was dismissed by summary judgment.

  • Economic Damages:

    Past: $145,500

    Future: $160,000

  • Non-Economic Damages:

    Past: $200,000

    Future: $1,250,000

  • Trial or Arbitration Time: 7 days
  • Jury Deliberation Time: 1 day
  • Jury Polls: 12-0 on damages; 11-1 on course and scope.
  • Post Trial Motions & Post-Verdict Settlements: Motion for new trial, JNOV filed before case settled.

The Attorneys

  • Attorney for the Plaintiff:

    Sullivan & Sullivan by Gene Sullivan, Manhattan Beach.

  • Attorney for the Defendant:

    Cullins & Grandy LLP by James Grandy and Allison Grandy, Laguna Hills. (For Post Alarm Systems, Inc.)

    Raffalow, Bretoi & Adams by Jack Liebhaber, Sherman Oaks. (For Jennison.)

The Experts

  • Plaintiff’s Medical Expert(s):

    Michael Sciffman, M.D., orthopedic surgery.

     

  • Defendant's Medical Expert(s):

    Charles Rosen, M.D., orthopedic surgery.

    Jason Waterman, M.D., orthopedic surgery.

     

  • Plaintiff's Technical Expert(s):

    None.

  • Defendant's Technical Expert(s):

    Peter M. Burkhard, Ph.D., biomechanics.

    Marilyn Pacheco, billing.

Facts and Background

  • Facts and Background:

    On October 16, 2014 plaintiff, working the night shift driving for a limo company, drove around a sharp right turn on Centinela Avenue in Los Angeles as defendant driver Jennison was pulling out of Golden Auto Body. Plaintiff T-boned Jennison's vehicle, which crashed into another parked car across the street. Defendant driver was an employee of Post Alarm Systems, Inc at the time of the crash.

  • Plaintiff's Contentions:

    That defendant driver was negligent in his operation of the vehicle as he exited Golden Auto Body, and that he was in the course and scope of his employment at the time of the crash.

    That Golden Auto Body was negligent in that they posted no warning signs about the dangers of making a left turn from their lot onto the street. though the exit was 75 feet from a blind curve.

  • Defendant's Contentions:

    Defendant driver contended that he was not responsible for the crash and that plaintiff had been speeding.

    Defendant employer contended that defendant driver was not in the course and scope of employment at the time of the crash. Defendant employer also disputed necessity and costs of plaintiff's medical treatment.

Injuries and Other Damages

  • Physical Injuries claimed by Plaintiff:

    Torn meniscus in knee and torn labrum in shoulder, which required surgeries; future knee replacement.

Special Damages

  • Special Damages Claimed - Past Medical: $145,500
  • Special Damages Claimed - Future Medical: $169,600

Demands and Offers

  • Plaintiff §998 Demand: $499,999
  • Defendant Final Offer before Trial: Post Alarm Systems (defendant employer): $140,000

Additional Notes

The issue of whether or not Jennison was in the course and scope of employment at the time of the crash was critical. It was the first question on the jury verdict form. 

When first called to testify, the court did not allow leading questions/examination of Jennison as a hostile witness. The court later agreed that examination pursuant to Evidence Code 776 as a hostile witness was proper and called Jennison back for further examination. Jennison was severely impeached about whether he was working on the day of the crash. He originally testified multiple times in deposition that he was working that day and just stopped at Golden Auto Body for a minute during lunch to pick up an emblem for his car, which had been recently repaired. He also testified that he was on his way to a meeting when the crash occurred. At trial, he testified that after checking his phone calendar, he found that he had been mistaken about working. He had already testified in deposition that when he checked his phone calendar for the crash date, the information had been erased.

Phase one was a bench trial to determine whether plaintiff had accepted the policy limit tender from Jennison's Mercury Insurance policy for $100,000. Jennison's attorney successfully argued that plaintiff had accepted and he was awarded $100,000. Plaintiff's attorney was called to the witness stand in phase one and had to examine himself and answer his own questions.

This was Judge Charles Palmer's last civil trial before retirement.

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.

© Copyright 2020 by Neubauer & Associates, Inc. All rights reserved. www.juryverdictalert.com