Passenger dies when Lyft driver tries to merge onto highway. $6M. Sacramento County.

Summary

Driver had just started driving for Lyft when the accident occured. Plaintiff claimed that as a Lyft driver, defendant was a common carrier.

 

The Case

  • Case Name: William Zmrzel and Diane Love v. Lyft, Inc., Rafiullah Amiri and Jennifer Alford
  • Court and Case Number: Sacramento County Superior Court / 34-2018-002255197
  • Date of Verdict or Judgment: Monday, December 06, 2021
  • Type of Action: Wrongful Death
  • Judge or Arbitrator(s): Hon. Kevin R Culhane
  • Plaintiffs:
    William Zmrzel (father) and Diane Love (mother) of Wyatt Zmrzel (decedent)
  • Defendants:
    Lyft, Inc.
    Rafiullah Amiri
    Jennifer Alford
  • Type of Result: Jury Verdict

The Result

  • Gross Verdict or Award: $6,000,000
  • Contributory/Comparative Negligence: 100% to Lyft driver, Rafiullah Amiri
  • Non-Economic Damages:

    $6,000,000

     

  • Trial or Arbitration Time: 17 days
  • Jury Deliberation Time: 6 hours
  • Jury Polls: 12-0 Lyft’s agent, Amiri, negligence; 9-3 Alford negligence was not a substantial factor in the death of Wyatt Zmrzel.

The Attorneys

  • Attorney for the Plaintiff:

    Penney & Associates by Kevin L. Elder, Kent M Luckey and Garrett M. Penney, Roseville.

  • Attorney for the Defendant:

    Lewis Brisbois by Dana A. Fox, Christopher J. Nevis, Beverley E. Narayan and Steffanie Malla, San Francisco (For Lyft, Inc.)

    McNamara Ney Beatty Slatery Borges Amba by Wilma J. Gray, Pleasant Hill. (For Amiri.)

    Clapp Moroney by Christopher J. Beeman and Ashley Meyers, Pleasanton. (For Allford.)

The Experts

  • Plaintiff’s Medical Expert(s):

    Michael Freeman, PhD., epidemiology (life expectancy) .

  • Defendant's Medical Expert(s):

    Allen Bott, M.D., neurology (life expectancy).

  • Plaintiff's Technical Expert(s):

    Thomas Shelton, collision reconstruction.

    Joseph Cohen, human factors.

  • Defendant's Technical Expert(s):

    Raymond Merala, collision reconstruction.

    Rene Castaneda, collision reconstruction.

    David Krauss, human factors (deposition video clips only).

Facts and Background

  • Facts and Background:

    On Wednesday, December 27, 2017 at 10:05 p.m., 22-year-old Wyatt Zmrzel used the Lyft app on his smartphone to arrange a ride home for himself and his uncle from a Sacramento tattoo shop. Wyatt had just received a ram tattoo in celebration of a recent hunting trip and to honor his sister, a Los Angeles Rams cheerleader. The destination was Loomis, due east of the pick-up point. Family members, including Wyatt’s father were with him as he received his tattoo.

    Lyft’s driver, Rafiullah Amiri, responded to the ride request within a matter of seconds and picked up Wyatt at 10:09 p.m. Amiri had received his California driver’s license seven months earlier. When he picked up Wyatt, Amiri had been approved to drive for Lyft the preceding day. This was Amiri’s first trip as a Lyft driver. 

    The most direct route to Wyatt’s home was Interstate 80, east of the tattoo parlor and less than 30 minutes away. Instead, for reasons unknown, Amiri took northbound Interstate 5, then further north on State Route 99 toward Yuba City. Amiri, then more than 20 miles off course, made a left-hand turn from northbound highway 99 into the median separating the north- and southbound lanes. Then, Amiri, who disclaimed any memory of the incident, moved from the safety of the center median, accelerating into the southbound lanes of highway 99 where his vehicle was struck by Jennifer Alford’s Toyota 4 Runner traveling in the number 2 southbound lane at 80.8 mph. The Lyft driver had accelerated only to a speed of about 16 mph at the time of the accident. The posted speed limit at the collision scene was 65 mph. The collision occurred at 10:30 p.m. Wyatt succumbed to his injuries approximately half an hour later.

  • Plaintiff's Contentions:
    That the negligence of the defendants made them responsible for the death of plaintiffs' son.  That as a Lyft driver, defendant Amiri was a common carrier and should be held to higher standards.
     
  • Defendant's Contentions:

    Lyft argued that fault should be apportioned to Alford, as the driver of the vehicle traveling in excess of 80 mph and over the 65 mph speed limit. Amiri argued that fault should be apportioned to Alford, and Alford argued fault should be apportioned to Amiri. All defendants disputed future general damages based on the life expectancy of decedent Zmrzel (see Injuries below).

    Alford relied on accident reconstruction expert, Rene Castaneda, PE. He provided testimony that the crucial moment was two seconds before impact when Amiri accelerated into Alford’s lane. Given that Amiri accelerated into Alford’s path only two seconds before impact, her speed was not a factor in whether the collision occurred. It would have still happened if she was going 65 mph two seconds before impact. 

Injuries and Other Damages

  • Physical Injuries claimed by Plaintiff:

    Wyatt Zmrzel was killed in the traffic collision.  He had adrenoleukodystrophy, a neurodegenerative condition that more likely than not would have resulted in a shortened life expectancy had he not been killed in the traffic collision.

Additional Notes

Confidential settlement offers made by the defense were below the final verdict.

Insurer for Lyft, Inc.: Steadfast Insurance Co.

Amiri, in driving people for a fee, was held to be a "common carrier," (such as a taxi service), and therefore obligated to use the highest standard of a very cautious driver. The jury was instructed that Amiri, as the ostensible agent of Lyft subjected Lyft to vicarious liability for Amiri’s negligence. 

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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