CVN screenshot of plaintiff attorney Brian Panish delivering his opening statement - click here to see video from the trial
Los Angeles County, CA - A motorcycle rider who had part of his lower leg amputated following a collision with a truck sought over $35 million in damages from heating and air conditioning company Hajoca Corporation on Thursday in a California state courtroom.
The trial is taking place without a jury, while in-person civil jury trials remain largely halted in the LA area due to the Covid-19 pandemic. The proceedings are being webcast and recorded gavel-to-gavel by Courtroom View Network.
In many ways the proceedings resembled a normal civil jury trial. The arguments largely resembled the expected presentations if live jurors filled the jury box instead of CVN’s small camera. The only noticeable differences were the attorneys wearing masks throughout their opening statements and the large bottle of hand sanitizer conspicuously present on the podium.
During opening statements presented to Judge J. Stephen Czuleger, attorneys for plaintiff Steve Rojas and Hajoca argued that while they agree Rojas deserves compensation for his injuries, they have a difference of more than $30 million in terms of what that compensation should be.
Attorneys for both sides recounted their versions of the accident in 2017, when Hajoca employee Kevin Henderson’s truck collided with Rojas’ Yamaha motorcycle at an intersection. Rojas argues Henderson drove into the intersection without stopping, but Hajoca insists the truck was stationary at the time of the impact.
Hojoca stipulated Henderson caused the accident in his capacity as an employee, but the company also maintains that Rojas’ own alleged negligence played a contributing role, and that his adjustment to life as an amputee has been less difficult than he claims.
Rojas’ attorney, Brian Panish of Panish Shea & Boyle LLP, argued the evidence would show Rojas obeyed all necessary traffic laws at the time of the accident and therefore as a matter of law can’t be assigned any responsibility. He said accident reconstruction experts would show Rojas was traveling at a safe speed, was positioned correctly on the roadway and had the right of way.
Panish graphically described the severe injuries to Rojas’ leg that eventually required amputation.
“The whole foot there was just blown up and wiped out,” he said.
Panish presented Rojas as a proud family man, 40 years old at the time of the accident, who worked as manual laborer at a local hotel. He said besides the physical toll on Rojas of multiple surgeries and ongoing issues like phantom limb pain and skin breakdown around a prosthesis, that the psychological impact of the accident has been devastating.
“It was traumatic, and Mr. Rojas has never been the same,” he said.
Panish argued that although the defense would present evidence Rojas can return to work and went on vacations since the accident, that their claims would rely on life care experts who never actually examined Rojas in person.
“They ignore what’s really going on,” Panish said, stating that he would present expert testimony that Rojas has “no transferable skills for sedentary employment.”
He told Judge Czuleger the evidence presented at trial would support an award more than $31 million for past and future pain and suffering, loss of earnings and other expenses, and $4 million in damages to Rojas’ wife for loss of consortium.
Paul Motz, a Chicago-based attorney with Segal McCambridge Singer & Mahoney, argued on behalf of Hajoca that the company's dispute with Rojas rested on fault and reasonable compensation for his injuries.
“A reasonable total damage figure is less than $5 million,” Motz stated.
Motz suggested that Rojas could have been “lane splitting” prior to the accident, referring to the practice of riding between lanes or rows of stopped or slowly moving traffic. He also refuted allegations that Henderson drove his truck into oncoming traffic.
“We forensically know that we were stopped at the moment of impact,” he said, previewing a coming duel of accident reconstruction experts as the trial progresses.
Motz conceded that Rojas’ amputation was a “life-altering event” but he insisted it was not a “life-ending event.”
“Mr. Rojas has adapted and is continuing to adapt to his new life,” Motto told Czuleger, citing his return to work at the hotel and potential future earnings capacity.
The trial before Judge Czuleger is anticipated to take eight to nine days to complete. The full proceedings will be webcast both live and on-demand gavel-to-gavel by CVN.
The case is captioned Steeve O. Rojas and Sandra v. Acevedo v. Hajoca Corporation, case number BC689703, in the Superior Court for the State of California in Los Angeles County.
E-mail David Siegel at firstname.lastname@example.org