Case details

Defense: Shuttle passenger to blame for not wearing seat belt





Result type

Not present

cervical, knee, medial meniscus, neck, sprain, tear
On Dec. 20, 2012, plaintiff Richard Kozel, 57, a commercial airline pilot, was riding in the rear bench seat of a 12-passenger airport shuttle van operated by Kent Szeto. While on the way to San Francisco International Airport, the van stopped suddenly. Kozel claimed to his neck, a shoulder and right knee. Kozel sued Szeto and Szeto’s employer, Airline Coach Service Inc. Kozel alleged that Szeto was negligent in the operation of the van and that Airline Coach Service was vicariously liable for Szeto’s actions. In addition, Kozel alleged that the shuttle service was negligent for failing to provide seat belts in its van. Defense counsel contended that the van’s seat belts were present and accessible to Kozel, but that Kozel did not wear one during the subject trip. During depositions, Szeto claimed that it was his ordinary practice to ask passengers to buckle up and that, on occasion, he would assist passengers in locating or using a vehicle’s safety belts. Defense counsel noted that Kozel never reported the alleged incident to the airport shuttle service and that Kozel waited nearly two years to file a lawsuit. Counsel also noted that during those two years, Kozel told his employer and treating doctors that Szeto had stopped suddenly to avoid an accident, but that Kozel later claimed the van stopped for no apparent reason., Kozel claimed he sustained a cervical sprain to his neck and a medial meniscal tear to his right knee. He treated with medical providers at Aspen Valley Hospital, in Colorado, from Dec. 22, 2012 and through Sept. 5, 2013. He then underwent a meniscus repair to his right knee on May 29, 2014. Within weeks of his surgery, Kozel fell while negotiating the stairs outside of his Aspen home. He injured his left shoulder and ultimately required a rotator cuff repair. However, the shoulder surgery resulted in complications, and by November 2014, Kozel experienced pain and swelling at the site of his shoulder surgery. As a result, he underwent two subsequent shoulder surgeries in late 2014 and early 2015 to clean the potentially infected area and remove hardware from the rotator cuff repair. Kozel claimed that he has suffered from symptoms indicative of a shoulder infection since late 2014 to early 2015. The treating professionals and experts agree the infection occurred during the rotator cuff repair or one of the subsequent procedures. Ultimately, Kozel underwent a shoulder replacement, but he claimed he continues to have problems and now suspects he may be allergic to metallic ions in his prosthetic shoulder joint. Kozel claimed that because he fell after his knee surgery, his shoulder injury and subsequent shoulder problems were caused by the sustained in the subject motor vehicle incident. He also claimed that he would have still been working as a commercial airline pilot when American Airlines acquired U.S. Airlines and, therefore, would have made a larger salary, if it had not been for his . Plaintiff’s counsel asked the jury to award Kozel $22 million in total damages, including $5 million to $7 million for Kozel’s past and future loss of wages, and the rest for Kozel’s past and future pain and suffering. The defense’s biomechanical engineering/accident reconstruction expert commented on plaintiff’s counsel’s video depiction of the alleged accident and opined that Kozel’s alleged could not have occurred based on Kozel’s explanation of the events. The defense’s expert orthopedic surgeon opined that the subject accident did not cause Kozel’s torn meniscus and that the tear was probably degenerative, caused by Kozel’s admitted daily jogging after the accident, or caused by both. Defense counsel noted that Kozel returned to work in mid-March 2013 and worked full time for six months before ever mentioning a knee injury to a medical care provider. Counsel also noted that Kozel first sought treatment for his alleged knee symptoms post-incident in September 2013, nine months after the alleged incident and six months after he returned to work. In addition, defense counsel contended that during that nine-month period, Kozel never once mentioned a knee injury to a medical professional. Defense counsel argued that Kozel’s knee injury and subsequent shoulder were not related to the subject incident and began after he fell on crutches in 2014. Counsel also argued that Kozel worked full time for 14 months after recovering from the allegedly sustained in the defendants’ van before undergoing knee surgery and that Kozel was able to continue with a normal life for nine months to over a year, despite claiming he had a meniscal tear. Defense counsel argued that if the jury was to find any liability on behalf of the airport shuttle service, it should only award Kozel $75,000 in total damages for the initial three months following the alleged incident, during which Kozel treated his , or $2.5 million in total damages, if the jury found that Kozel’s knee and subsequent shoulder were actually related to the subject incident.
Superior Court of San Francisco County, San Francisco, CA

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