Case details

Plaintiff’s counsel disputed driver’s claim of sleep-driving





Result type

Not present

back, derangement, herniated disc, right shoulder, shoulder
On June 1, 2013, plaintiff Angelica Rodriguez, 42, a cook, was at the intersection of Stonehill Drive and Golden Lantern Street, in Dana Point, when her vehicle was rear-ended by a vehicle operated by Don Somerville. Rodriguez claimed to have to her right shoulder. Rodriguez sued Don Somerville and the owner of Mr. Somerville’s vehicle, Cindy Somerville. Rodriguez alleged that Mr. Somerville was negligent in the operation of his vehicle and Ms. Somerville was vicariously liable for Mr. Somerville’s actions. Plaintiff’s counsel contended that Mr. Somerville was driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs when he rear-ended Rodriguez’s vehicle. Plaintiff’s counsel called the responding Orange County deputies, who testified that while detained, Mr. Somerville smelled like alcohol and that Mr. Somerville’s actions were consistent with an individual driving with a blood alcohol level of 0.11. Defense counsel denied that Mr. Somerville was under the influence of alcohol. Counsel argued that, instead, Mr. Somerville had a bad reaction to Ambien, a prescribed medication to treat insomnia, and was unaware of his actions, as he was essentially sleep-driving. The defense’s expert toxicologist testified that Mr. Somerville’s erratic behavior, both at home prior to driving and while he was being detained by the Orange County deputies, was not consistent with someone with a 0.11 blood alcohol level, but was consistent with the a reaction to Ambien. In response, plaintiff’s counsel questioned Mr. Somerville’s wife, the only family member at Mr. Somerville’s home on the night of the incident, and she testified that she did not interact with her husband and had no knowledge of his actions after she went to sleep at 6 p.m. that evening. In addition, the plaintiff’s expert toxicologist opined that sleep-driving is rare, especially for an individual like Mr. Somerville, who had been using the medication for six months prior to the accident., Rodriguez was diagnosed with an intrasubstance, near-full-thickness tear of the right shoulder’s rotator cuff and a derangement of the right shoulder, resulting in a shoulder impingement. She was also diagnosed with a herniated L5-S1 disc, consisting of a 4-millimeter neutral disc extrusion, 3.8-millimeter flexion disc extrusion, and 4-millimeter extension disc extrusion. Rodriguez subsequently underwent conservative care, including physical therapy and cortisone injections. However, when conservative treatment failed to relieve her pain, she underwent arthroscopic surgery that consisted of a decompression, bursectomy, coracoacromial ligament release, and acromioclavicular joint resection. The surgical report stated that a complete bursectomy was performed and that the acromioclavicular joint was degenerative and had subluxated into the joint, causing impingement. Rodriguez then began a course of post-surgical physical therapy. Rodriguez claimed that, although the surgery helped, her shoulder and lower back pain continued. Thus, Rodriguez sought recovery of $1.1 million in total damages for her past and future medical expenses, past lost earnings, and past and future pain and suffering. In addition, Rodriguez sought recovery of punitive damages. The defense’s expert orthopedic surgeon testified that a shoulder injury is highly unlikely to occur from a rear-end collision and opined that Rodriguez’s were pre-existing. Thus, defense counsel asked the jury to award $73,000 to Rodriguez, if it believed the shoulder surgery was related to the collision, or $21,000, if the jury did not believe the shoulder surgery was related to the incident.
Superior Court of Orange County, Santa Ana, CA

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