A Small Win For The Good Guys? $400,000+

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We are happy to report a small victory in the case entitled Victor Solorzano v. Rayana Janae Pitts-Godfrey, Joyce Roberson, et al. Our client, the owner of a small grocery market in San Francisco while riding a Fat Boy Harley Davidson motorcycle exited Highway 80 at Richmond Parkway intending to make a left turn at the top of the exit. As he approached the intersection, he observed that he had a green light. As he entered the intersection, he was immediately struck from the left by the defendant’s car. At the scene and throughout the litigation, the plaintiff contended that he had a green light. When asked by the police officer what color her light was, the 19 year old defendant stated “Is there a light there?”. Thereafter, throughout the litigation, the defendant maintained that she didn’t remember what color her light was.

The police officer then interviewed a good Samaritan in a left turn lane opposite the direction from which the defendant was traveling who did not see the accident but had been waiting for a left turn signal. He told the officer that he did not see the accident but that shortly before he heard the accident, he had seen vehicles passing by him on his left and right. Based upon the statement of the good Samaritan, the officer concluded that the plaintiff ran the red light. The plaintiff sustained a compound fracture of his left ankle and required an open reduction with internal fixation. All of his treatment was through Kaiser and the billing at trial totaled $59,825.07. The defendant had State Farm Insurance with $100,000 policy limit. Based upon the police report, State Farm denied liability and we filed suit. The good Samaritan was deposed in the action and testified he never saw the accident and indeed he was 100 percent sure that the defendant was coming off the freeway when the accident occurred which was the complete opposite of what happened. He also testified that he had turned his attention away from the scene of the accident for several seconds to speak to his wife who was handing out Taco Bell to the occupants of the vehicle before he heard the accident and then saw the plaintiff laying in the roadway in front of his vehicle. He testified that he could not say what color the light was for any direction of travel at the moment of impact including his own. Despite this evidence, State Farm maintained a no liability position.

Plaintiff was prepared to go to trial without an accident reconstruction expert and just rely on the statements of the two parties. State Farm disclosed Gary Trudell as their accident reconstruction expert which forced plaintiff to retain the services of his own accident reconstruction expert, Chris Kauderer. Trudell testified at deposition that he could scientifically prove that the plaintiff had run the red light based upon the signal light timing diagrams, the testimony of the good Samaritan and the plaintiff’s testimony of his average speed as he traveled up the exit ramp. Chris Kauderer, after visiting the scenes several times, reviewing the traffic signal timing diagrams and speaking with the Cal Trans engineers, determined that the lights were all traffic volume activated and that there was no way that anyone could scientifically prove who ran the red light. At trial he was critical of Trudell’s methodology and on cross-examination, Trudell admitted that he was unable to read the timing diagram.

Early on, plaintiff did a policy limits demand and then several months before trial, plaintiff did a 998 offer for the $100,000 police limit. Shortly before trial, State Farm served a 998 for $25,000.

The jury return a special verdict finding the defendant negligent and the following damages:

a. Past loss consisting of medical expenses: $ 59,825.07
b. Past loss consisting of physical pain and mental suffering $170,000.00
c. Future loss consisting of medical expenses: $ 30,000.00
d. Future loss consisting of physical pain and mental suffering: $202,500.00
TOTAL: $462,325.07

With statutory costs, expert witness costs and prejudgment interest, the verdict exceeds $500,000.00, more than five times State Farm’s policy limit and more than 20 times State Farms’s best pretrial offer. The trial judge was Honorable Judith Craddick. Lead counsel was Nicholas Mastrangelo with an assist from yours truly, Edward Mastrangelo.

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