Post-Shutdown Trial Nets Victim $23.7 Million
In Los Angeles, one of the first post-shutdown trials was recently held this month in a personal injury case. The essence of the claim is that a commercial heating and air truck struck a 40-year-old motorcyclist and caused him significant injuries, including an amputated leg. The parties elected to have only a judge hear the case, not a jury. The judge on the case, Stephen Czuleger, issued his ruling one day after the evidence was presented.
The attorneys who presented the case in the courtroom over eight days, were wearing masks the whole time, even during opening statements and closing arguments. Although the defendant in the case, Hajoca Corp, accepted some of the liability, the company did not accept all of it and a good portion of the trial was devoted to developing the plaintiff’s liability theory that the heating and air company was 100% at fault. The parties also contested the amount that should be allowed in the verdict, with the plaintiff proposing the verdict should be $35 million and the defendant arguing it should be no more than $5 million.
The crash happened when the Hajoca truck collided with plaintiff Steve Rojas’ Yamaha motorcycle. Rojas contended that the HVAC employee drove into the intersection without stopping with the truck driver arguing that he was stationary at the time of the crash. The plaintiff’s team commissioned reconstruction experts which produced videos that supported their version of how the crash happened. The defense team did the same. At the end of the day, however, Judge Czuleger found that Hajoca Corp was 100% liable for the crash and awarded Rojas damages of $22.5 million for past and future medical expenses, lost earnings and general pain and suffering damages. Rojas’ wife was awarded $1.2 million for “loss of consortium” damages, which are available in significant injury cases where the relationship between spouses has become damaged or changed because of the defendant’s negligence.
It’s no secret that civil attorneys have been frustrated because of delays in getting cases in front of juries. In Utah, there have been almost no civil jury trials since Covid hit. I’m happy to see examples from other jurisdictions where trials have gone forward on personal injury cases. I’m hopeful that restrictions will continue to ease up as parties and their attorneys return to the courtroom.
Ron Kramer is a trial lawyer practicing law in West Jordan and throughout Utah.