CVN screenshot of plaintiff attorney Steve Vartazarian delivering his closing argument. Click here to see video from the trial.
Pomona, CA - A California state court jury awarded over $11 million on Thursday to the widow of a man who died after slamming into the back of a big rig truck whose driver illegally parked on the side of a freeway to urinate.
The Los Angeles County jury deliberated for most of a day in a trial that began on January 15 before finding Tri-Modal Distribution Services Inc. responsible for the 2013 death of Jose Garcia. The award of $11,050,000 to Karen Garcia far exceeds Tri-Modal’s highest settlement offer of $700,000, according to her attorney Steve Vartazarian of The Vartazarian Law Firm.
An attorney for Tri-Modal did not respond to a request for comment.
The full trial was webcast and recorded-gavel-to-gavel by Courtroom View Network.
Vartazarian told CVN the award surpassed both his highest settlement demand of $5 million and the $8 million in maximum insurance coverage available to Tri-Modal under policies from Travelers and Zurich. He said Tri-Modal’s rejection of his settlement demand could also make them liable for more than $4.5 million in fees and interest.
The accident occurred when Tri-Modal driver Jorge Garcia parked his big rig on the paved shoulder of the transition lane between the SR-60 and SR-71 freeways in Pomona. Shortly afterward, a box truck carrying Jose Garcia as a passenger crashed into the back of the big rig, after the box truck’s driver suddenly swerved to avoid another vehicle that cut it off. The impact killed both Jose Garcia and Jorge Garcia.
The driver of the box truck, Sergio De La Torre, survived the accident. He was not a party to the case, and the jury declined to assign him any responsibility for the crash.
Attorneys for Tri-Modal argued Jorge Garcia parked his big rig on the side of the freeway due to a mechanical failure, which is permitted under California law. They also maintained the crash occurred because of De La Torre’s supposed reckless driving and not from him being cut off by another vehicle - claims that Vartazarian said sent his team on a “wild good chase.”
“We found the goose,” he said.
Vartazarian said he showed definitive evidence the Tri-Modal truck didn’t suffer any mechanical failure, and that Jorge Garcia chose to pull over on the side of the freeway to urinate, so he wouldn’t be late for his next stop.
Vartazarian presented analysis from the coroner who performed autopsies on Michael Jackson and Whitney Houston showing Jorge Garcia’s bladder contained no urine at the time of his death, which would only be possible if he urinated in the moments immediately prior.
Vartazarian said big rig drivers parking their vehicles illegally to save time is unfortunately common practice, and that he expects this verdict to resonate with the trucking industry.
“If the jury voted no, what they would do would be to allow truck drivers to illegally park their rigs for convenience,” he said, noting jurors told him in conversations after the trial concluded the case was “black and white” and “crystal clear.”
Vartazarian expects the defense may seek a motion for a new trial based on excessive damages, but anticipated Judge Peter Hernandez would deny the request. He also said he would reject any additional settlement offers from the defense.
“I don’t care what it is. I’m going to collect every single dime because of the conduct they engaged in.”
Vartazarian said he and jury consultant Harry Plotkin received consistent results from pre-trial focus groups showing a jury would likely award between $7 and $11 million based on the facts of the case.
He encouraged other plaintiff attorneys to utilize focus groups, suggesting they give a clear sense of the worth of their client’s case and can help in making the choice to reject inadequate settlement offers.
“Try your cases,” Vartazarian said emphatically. “Try your cases.”
Karen Garcia was also represented at trial by Matthew Whibley of The Vartazarian Law Firm.
Tri-Modal was represented by Edward Leonard of Harrington Foxx Dubrow & Canter LLP, and by Barry Rodolff of The Rodolff Law Firm APC.
The case is captioned Karen Garcia v. Tri-Modal Distribution Services Inc, case number BC536714 in Los Angeles County Superior Court.
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