Collision with SUV leaves motorcycle rider with severe TBI, fractures, and unemployable. $23.9M. San Joaquin County.

Summary

Railroad held liable under alter-ego doctrine for actions of an employee of a subsidiary.

 

The Case

  • Case Name: Leon v. Union Pacific Railroad Company, Inc.
  • Court and Case Number: San Joaquin County Superior Court / STK-CV-UAT-2017-5113
  • Date of Verdict or Judgment: Saturday, April 16, 2022
  • Date Action was Filed: Monday, May 22, 2017
  • Type of Action: Highlighted Verdicts, Vehicles - Motorcycle
  • Judge or Arbitrator(s): Hon. George J. Abdallah
  • Plaintiffs:
    Felipe Arturo Leon, Jr., 36, warehouse worker
  • Defendants:
    Vernon John Draper (driver)
    Central California Traction Company (employer and subsidiary)
    Union Pacific Railroad Company (lessee and parent corporation)
  • Type of Result: Jury Verdict

The Result

  • Gross Verdict or Award: $23,965,999
  • Net Verdict or Award: $23,965,999
  • Contributory/Comparative Negligence: None.
  • Economic Damages:

    Past lost earnings $ 225,432 (12-0) 

    Future lost earnings $1,567,322 (12-0)     

    Past attendant care services $594,465 (12-0)                                   

    Future attendant care services $6,456,889 (11-1)                                               

    Future medical expenses:  $1,621,891 (9-3)

  • Non-Economic Damages:

    Past: $5,000,000 (12-0)                                               

    Future: $8,500,000 (9-3)

  • Trial or Arbitration Time: 14 days
  • Jury Deliberation Time: 2 days

The Attorneys

  • Attorney for the Plaintiff:

    Sadiq Law Firm, P.C. by Shafeeq Sadiq, Stockton.

  • Attorney for the Defendant:

    Flesher, Schaff, and Schroeder, Inc., by Jacob D. Flesher, Rocklin; and

    Freeman, Mathis, & Gary, LLP, by Charles H. Horn, San Francisco. (For defendants Vernon John Draper and Central California Traction Company.) 

    Murphy, Campbell, Alliston & Quinn, by Stephanie L. Quinn, Sacramento.  (For Union Pacific Railroad Company.)

The Experts

  • Plaintiff’s Medical Expert(s):

    Alex Barchuk, M.D., CLCP, physical medicine and rehabilitation, Kentfield.

    Carol Hyland, CLCP, life care planning, Lafayette.

    Randall Epperson, PhD., neuropsychology, Modesto.

    Murray Solomon, M.D., radiology, Los Gatos.

  • Defendant's Medical Expert(s):

    Steven McIntire, M.D., neurology, Palo Alto.

    Richard F. Jackson, DDS, oral and maxillofacial surgery, Roseville. 

    David D. O’Grady, PhD., neuropsychology, Walnut Creek.

    Tracy Albee, CLCP, life care planning,Tracy.

  • Plaintiff's Technical Expert(s):

    Louis R. Peck, P.E., accident reconstruction, Westlake Village. 

    Craig M. Enos, CPA, economics, Sacramento.

  • Defendant's Technical Expert(s):

    Peter D. Wrobel, CPA/ABV, CFE, economics, Los Angeles.

Facts and Background

  • Facts and Background:

    On September 7, 2016, plaintiff, then 30 years old, was driving to work on his Suzuki GSX-R750 motorcycle, westbound on Washington Street, approaching its intersection with Ventura Ave, in Stockton. Defendant Draper, driving a 2007 Ford Explorer, was eastbound on Washington, and turned left onto northbound Ventura, directly in front of plaintiff’s path. Plaintiff’s front wheel hit the front left wheel of the Explorer, and plaintiff’s head hit the right A-pillar.  Plaintiff was wearing a helmet.

    Defendant Draper was in the course and scope of his employment with Central California Traction Company (CCTC). The Explorer was leased to CCTC’s parent corporation, Union Pacific Railroad Company.

  • Plaintiff's Contentions:

    That driver Draper was negligent for interfering with plaintiff's right of way; that he was acting as an agent for Union Pacific Railroad Company (UPRR) at the time of the collision.

    That the railroad company was liable under the alter-ego doctrine: The general manager of CCTC was employed by UPRR, and had never been paid a single paycheck by CCTC. UPRR owned a 2/3 interest in CCTC and controlled four of six places on CCTC’s board. UPRR was the sole lessee of the Explorer and, by contract, did not have the ability to assign the lease to CCTC. The insurance policy for the Explorer was paid for by UPRR.

  • Defendant's Contentions:

    UPRR denied that CCTC was its alter ego. Defendant UPRR contended that longstanding law requires it to be treated as a separate entity than its subsidiary CCTC. It moved to sever the issue from the jury trial, which was granted. The issue was heard during a one-day court trial prior to the jury trial.

    As to injury: Defendants contended that plaintiff made a remarkable recovery because he was able to get married after the incident and take a vacation to Hawaii. They contended plaintiff would not require 24/7 attendant care services. Instead, they argued that he would require four hours a day starting at the time of trial (due to agency minimums), to be increased to six hours a day at age 50, eight hours a day for the last 10 years of life, and 24/7 for the last five years of life. Defendants argued that the actual amount of care needed today was 2.5 hours per day, which is the amount granted by governmental agency IHSS.

Injuries and Other Damages

  • Physical Injuries claimed by Plaintiff:

    Severe traumatic brain injury, left hemiplegia secondary to a stroke, facial fractures, right hip fracture, blood clots, double vision, frontal lobe syndrome, and post traumatic depression and anxiety.

    Plaintiff presented evidence via video deposition of defendant’s retained neurologist, who conceded that the amount of attendant care needed, if plaintiff lived alone, would be 10 hours a day now, increasing to 12 hours a day at age 50, 14 hours a day for the last 10 years of life, and 24/7 for the last five years of life. He testified that the lower numbers were based on the assumption that plaintiff was living with his wife. Plaintiff’s economist used this concession, along with the concessions regarding three future facial surgeries obtained through defendant’s maxillofacial surgeon, to create an alternate life care plan for defendant using their numbers. Plaintiff’s economist then presented a life care plan for the defense that was $2.1M-3.6M greater than what was being presented (depending on if the attendant care was being done through private hire or agency hire).

  • Both parties agreed that plaintiff was unemployable. Defendants did not contest plaintiff’s wage loss claim.

    Plaintiff argued that the past care provided by his spouse was compensable under Hanif v. Housing Authority, 200 Cal.App.3d 635, 644-645.

Special Damages

  • Special Damages Claimed - Past Medical: Waived
  • Special Damages Claimed - Future Medical: $2,054,812
  • Special Damages Claimed - Past Lost Earnings: $225,432 (uncontested)
  • Special Damages Claimed - Future Lost Earnings: $1,567,322 (uncontested)

Demands and Offers

  • Plaintiff §998 Demand: $10,000,000 on December 27, 2019
  • Plaintiff Final Demand before Trial: $30,000,000
  • Defendant §998 Offer: $9,000,000 on March 3, 2022
  • Defendant Final Offer before Trial: $11,000,000
  • Defendant Offer during Trial: $15,000,000

Additional Notes

UPRR denied that CCTC was its alter ego. After a failed summary judgment motion, UPRR moved, in limine, to bifurcate on the alter-ego issue. Their motion was granted and the judge held a one-day court trial on the issue prior to the jury trial. He found that the corporate veil had been pierced, and that CCTC was the alter ego of UPRR. The jury trial proceeded against UPRR, CCTC, and the defendant driver.

After the verdict, the parties settled the matter for $29,000,000.

 

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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