Tesla Hit With $60.8M Motorcycle Crash Verdict In Zero-Offer Trial, Watch Gavel-to-Gavel via CVN

Posted by David Siegel on Mar 14, 2024 2:10:56 PM

Rowley closings

CVN screenshot of plaintiff attorney Nick Rowley delivering his closing argument 

Indianapolis, IN - An Indiana state court jury returned a $60.8 million verdict on Wednesday in favor of a motorcyclist who suffered a severe traumatic brain injury after being broadsided by a truck driven by a Tesla employee, and the full trial was recorded gavel-to-gavel by Courtroom View Network.

The Marion County jury found Tesla technician Kyle Kaszuba 70 percent liable for the 2017 accident that left plaintiff Chris Dugan, then 37, with the mental capacity of a 10-year-old and a partial foot amputation. The jury also assigned Dugan 30 percent liability for the crash, reducing his collectible award to $42.48 million.

Tesla denied any liability on Kaszuba’s part in the first phase of the bifurcated trial, arguing that Dugan’s driving closely behind another vehicle and sudden acceleration just prior to the crash made it impossible for Kaszuba to see him. During the damages phase they maintained Dugan had greater independence than his attorneys presented and suggested awarding a stipulated amount of roughly $4.7 million in economic damages, and then an undefined percentage of that amount in non-economic damages.

While the award is less than the $191 million attorney Nicholas Rowley of Trial Lawyers For Justice asked for during his closing argument, Rowley told CVN it is significant because Tesla allegedly never made any attempt to settle the case, rejecting settlement offers of $10, $15 and eventually $20 million - a decision Rowley attributed to Tesla CEO Elon Musk’s policy of having to personally approve any company settlements in excess of $10 million.

Tesla and its attorneys did not respond to repeated requests for comment from CVN.

The full trial, including all witness testimony and digital images of the exhibits and demonstratives shown in court, is available for unlimited on-demand viewing with a monthly or annual no-contract subscription to CVN's online trial video library. It is just one among hundreds of trials from throughout the United States, including numerous automotive negligence cases. 


The accident occurred when Kaszuba made a left turn across double yellow lines in bright sunshine into a gas station’s adjoining lot to avoid a long line in the station’s designated turn lane while running late for work. Rowley accused him of making a reckless “blind turn” to shave time off his commute and broadsiding Dugan, who was riding on his motorcycle without a helmet in the opposite direction.

During the liability phase Tesla argued motorists frequently made the exact turn into the same adjoining lot on a regular basis and characterized the crash as a tragic accident.

Rowley told CVN his team’s extensive pre-trial focus group worked consistently resulted in liability findings of roughly 30 percent for Dugan, with his lack of a helmet and acceleration prior to the crash being complicating factors along with the potential for jurors to agree that he may have been very briefly invisible to Kaszuba.

“That was a tough fact to deal with,” Rowley said. “I had to show that period of time was a half-a-second of invisibility out of eight other seconds where Chris Dugan was visible.”

He conceded Tesla’s “accidents just happen” argument was a “tough defense to overcome” and could have resulted in liability assigned to Dugan in excess of 50 percent, which under Indiana law would have precluded any award of damages.

Lifrak closings 2

CVN screenshot of defense attorney Michael Lifrak of Quinn Emanuel Urquhart & Sullivan delivering his closing argument 

Rowley suggested Tesla’s successful motion for a bifurcated trial, a move that plaintiff lawyers often oppose, actually played directly into his courtroom strategy.

“I advocate for bifurcation whenever there’s a question on liability,” Rowley said. “You get to focus on who is responsible without having large amounts of money fire people up to dig their heels in the ground.”

“It used to be the reverse,” he continued, maintaining that attempting to illicit sympathy for an injured plaintiff while arguing both liability and damages makes a jury’s job much harder.

“You are increasing your chances of losing on liability because there are jurors who never want to get to money,” Rowley explained. “If you bifurcate, during the second trial they have to discuss money. They have to do it. “

Despite being tasked solely with determining damages, the trial still had a dramatic end as the jury nearly deadlocked, which Rowley attributed to some jurors’ desires to award more than $100 million. At one point they requested a different calculator than the one provided by the court, supposedly because it did not include enough digits.

When the jury seemed to be at an impasse Judge Marianne Vorhees indicated her willingness to the attorneys to grant a mistrial. However when she went to inform the jurors of her decision they asked to continue their deliberations. Judge Vorhees then retracted her willingness to grant the mistrial, drawing furious objections from Tesla’s counsel.

Speaking on the potential broader significance of the verdict, Rowley said he hoped it would make Tesla more willing to resolve cases like these without years of protracted litigation, and that they should, “…accept responsibility in cases where that is the right thing to do, and most importantly look at every-day human beings as being valuable and worth more than nothing.”

“Until then I’ll remain on standby for the next battle.”

The case is captioned Christopher Dugan v. Tesla Inc., case number 49D04-1705-CT-018411 in Marion County Superior Court.

E-mail David Siegel at

Topics: Negligence, automotive