Case details

Motorist overcorrected and lost control, causing crash: defense





Result type

Not present

arm, fracture, head, impairment, sensory, speech, vision
On Nov. 30, 2011, plaintiff Sarah Hector, a business owner in her 40s, was a passenger in vehicle operated by her husband, plaintiff Brandon Hector, also a business owner in his 40s, traveling on eastbound Interstate 10, also known as the Christopher Columbus Transcontinental Highway or the San Bernardino Freeway, in San Bernardino. When they were near the merge for northbound Interstate 215, also known as the Riverside Freeway, when they were struck by a Chevrolet Tahoe operated by Claudia Higareda, who lost control of her vehicle while traveling on eastbound I-10 and crossed over four lanes of traffic. The impact caused the Hectors’ vehicle to roll over three times. Higareda claimed that prior to losing control of her vehicle, she encountered a vehicle operated by Michael Lewin, who was merging onto eastbound I-10 from the I-215. She claimed that although there never any contact with Lewin’s vehicle, the encounter caused her to lose control of her vehicle, cross over four lanes of traffic, and collide with the Hector vehicle. Mr. Hector claimed soft tissue to his neck and back, and Ms. Hector claimed to her head, face, and right arm and hand. The Hectors sued Lewin; Lewin’s employer, Mirau, Edwards, Cannon, Lewin & Tooke APC; Higareda; and the registered owner of Higareda’s vehicle, Higareda’s uncle, Raul Chavarria. The Hectors alleged that Lewin and Higareda were negligent in the operation of their respective vehicles. They also alleged that Lewin’s employer was vicariously liable for Lewin’s actions while in the course and scope of his employment and that Chavarria was vicariously liable for Higareda’s actions. Higareda ultimately settled out of the case by agreeing to tender her policy limits and Chavarria was dismissed from the case. “Mirau, Edwards, Cannon, Lewin & Tooke” (without the “APC”) was also listed as a defendant, but it was taken out of the case after it was determined to be a duplicative defendant. Thus, the matter continued against Lewin and Mirau, Edwards, Cannon, Lewin & Tooke APC only. Plaintiffs’ counsel argued that Lewin was negligent for attempting to change lanes from the number five (right slowest) lane into Higareda’s lane, the number four lane, causing Higareda to lose control of her vehicle. Counsel also argued that Lewin was in the course and scope of his employment at the time of the incident. Plaintiffs’ counsel moved for a directed verdict on the matter of Lewin being in the course and scope of his job at the time of the incident. However, Judge Brian McCarville denied plaintiffs’ counsel’s motion, ruling that it was a question for the jury to decide. Lewin’s defense counsel contended that Higareda was operating a new vehicle, was not familiar with the area, and merged from the number two lane into the number three lane before merging into the number four lane. Thus, counsel argued that Higareda panicked and overcorrected her vehicle, causing her to lose control of it. Lewin claimed he merged from the number five lane into the number four lane when he saw Higareda’s vehicle approaching and also merge into the number four lane, just after he did. He alleged that as a result, he changed back into the number five lane. Both Lewin and his employer claimed that Higareda did not see Lewin’s vehicle until she started to change lanes and then she spun out of control. They contended that Higareda swerved left into the number three lane, and then swerved right back into the number four lane and somewhat into the number five lane, causing her to lose control. They further contended that Higareda then swerved out of control to the left across the freeway and struck the Hectors’ vehicle in the number one lane. Defense counsel for Lewin and his employer noted that the Hectors’ previously claimed that Higareda was traveling much faster than their speed of 65 to 70 mph. Counsel argued that as a result, Lewin managed to avoid Higareda by changing lanes and that Higareda negligently jerked her vehicle out of control. In addition, defense counsel for Lewin’s employer argued that Lewin was not in the course and scope of his employment at the time of the incident. In response, plaintiffs’ counsel noted that Higareda claimed that she was going 60 mph at the time of the incident and that Higareda denied ever changing or attempting to change lanes. Counsel also asserted that Lewin had several different versions of what happened. Plaintiffs’ counsel contended that the California Highway Patrol officer who responded to the scene testified that Lewin reported to him at the scene that he had attempted to change lanes from the number five lane to number four lane and that as he changed lanes, he saw the vehicle driven by Higareda in the number four lane. However, counsel contended that at trial, Lewin testified that was in the number four lane when he saw Higareda approaching, so he attempted to get back into the number five lane., Emergency responders came to the scene of the accident and removed the Hectors from their vehicle. The Hectors were then transported by ambulance to a hospital. Ms. Hector sustained a degloving injury to her scalp, a fractured cervical vertebra in her neck, and fractures of her right, dominant arm and hand. She also claimed numbness around her left eye and optic nerve damage, resulting in peripheral vision impairment in her left eye. Ms. Hector underwent multiple surgeries, but she was left with scars on her forehead and scalp. The scalp scar is at the hairline and is not covered by her hair unless she wears it with bangs. She also claimed that the fractures to her left hand resulted in a mallet deformity of two fingers, and residual weakness and loss of mobility to her right hand. She further claimed that her peripheral vision problems are permanent. Ms. Hector alleged that she can no longer bowl as a result of her , but that she still attends charity bowling league functions. She also alleged that she used to play on a softball league, but that she does not think she could continue to do so. Mr. Hector sustained soft tissue to his neck and back. He had no treatment beyond his initial visit to the hospital and had no medical claims at trial. Instead, he sought recovery for his loss of consortium. Thus, plaintiffs’ counsel asked the jury to award the plaintiffs $2.2 million, including approximately $64,000 for Ms. Hector’s past medical costs. Defense counsel noted that Ms. Hector’s visual acuity is fine and that she can still drive and has no restrictions for her vision. However, counsel acknowledged that it is hard for Ms. Hector to see peripherally and that she reports blurriness. Defense counsel contended that Ms. Hector has no limitation in her daily activities and that Ms. Hector has returned to an active lifestyle, which includes traveling, family visits to theme parks, and running her business and charity events. Counsel also contended that Ms. Hector, who ran a visiting, non-medical care service for homebound individuals, is active in the San Bernardino business community and recently received an award from the community for being a Woman of Distinction. In addition, defense counsel contended that Ms. Hector’s business, which she founded and where she works with her husband, continues to flourish.
Superior Court of San Bernardino County, San Bernardino, CA

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