CVN screenshot of plaintiff attorney R. Rex Parris delivering his closing argument
Los Angeles, CA - A California state court jury has awarded $8.9 million to a man struck by a drunk driver, after his attorneys secured a rare directed verdict win on the question of liability and comparative fault against the driver’s insurer, and the full trial was recorded gavel-to-gavel by Courtroom View Network.
The Los Angeles County jury returned the verdict for Plaintiff Victor Montez on July 5 in a trial that kicked off on June 22. Montez sued defendant Dennis Perez following a head-on collision in 2017, accusing Perez of driving while intoxicated and seeking compensation for a lengthy list of injuries ranging from serious fractures to back and neck trauma to a traumatic brain injury.
Perez pleaded guilty to felony-level driving while intoxicated, but his insurer MetLife vigorously disputed both their liability and the extent of Montez’s claimed injuries. MetLife argued Perez driving over a puddle caused the collision, and that Montez having a beer earlier in the evening with dinner supposedly delaying his reaction time and contributed to the accident.
However following eight days of trial testimony, Judge J. Stephen Czuleger granted a motion for a directed verdict in favor of the plaintiffs on liability and comparative fault, a rare win that Montez’s attorney, veteran trial lawyer Khail Parris of Parris Law Firm, described as the first in his career but also not a surprise.
“We weren’t surprised by it because they were taking such absurd positions on liability,” he told CVN after the trial.
Judge Czuleger ruled the plaintiffs had established Montez was driving slightly below the speed limit on the evening of the accident, while also finding that the extent of a puddle’s influence on the collision was limited while the effect of Perez’s intoxication was clear.
That left the jury tasked solely with determining the amount of compensatory damages Montez deserved, and Parris told CVN the jury’s nearly $8 million award far exceeds MetLife’s policy limit offer of $25,000.
Parris said he initially made a settlement demand of just under $5.5 million in 2019, and that MetLife’s rejection of that offer allows him to collect attorney fees in the case.
Attorneys for MetLife did not respond to a request for comment.
The jury also determined Montez was eligible for punitive damages, to be determined at a subsequent trial phase.
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Parris theorized that MetLife’s aggressive defense of the case related to the fact Perez seemingly disappeared after serving a prison term following the crash. Parris suggested the company thought it could beat any eventual verdict related to the collision due to a supposed lack of assistance from Perez.
“I hope this case can be a testament to insurance companies that maybe they should be a little more reasonable earlier on,” he said.
Parris revealed that one of the most challenging aspects of the case to defend was the allegation that many of the physicians testifying about Montez’s injuries were referred by his firm.
Parris told jurors that his case would largely be built on testimony from Montez’s actual treating physicians instead of paid experts, and that MetLife’s own experts had testified he was not faking or exaggerating his injuries.
However MetLife argued that some injuries making up key components of Montez’s damages claims, like a traumatic brain injury, did not appear in his medical records until months after the accident when he came under the care of doctors referred by his lawyers.
Parris said Montez required a higher level of medical care when he met him, and that referring him to specialists he knew through his legal practice was a compassionate act.
“We’re human beings,” he said. “We were just open and honest with the jury about it.”
Montez was also represented by R. Rex Parris and Bruce Schecter of Parris Law, and his wife Lisa Montez was represented by Ibiere Sick of Seck Law.
MetLife was represented by Wesierski & Zurek LLP.
The case is captioned Victor Montez v. Dennis Perez, case number MC027758, in Los Angeles County Superior Court.
E-mail David Siegel at firstname.lastname@example.org
Correction: An earlier version of the story misstated the verdict amount as $7.9 million.