Case details

Scooter rider: Driver’s failure to stop for stop sign caused crash





Result type

Not present

arm, brain, brain injury, dental, face, fracture, fractures face, hand, knee, laceration, left leg, leg, mouth, nose, tooth loss, traumatic brain injury, unconscious at the scene, wrist
On Oct. 1, 2011, plaintiff Danielle Sinclair-Laws, 28, an amateur fitness model and bodybuilder from the United Kingdom, who was in the United States on a work visa, was operating her blue motor scooter in the number one, westbound lane of Sunset Boulevard, in West Hollywood. She was traveling in an area where the road consisted of four lanes, with two eastbound lanes and two westbound lanes separated by a landscaped island median. As Sinclair-Laws entered the intersection with Roxbury Road, she broadsided a supercharged, white, 2006 Range Rover operated by Beverly Hills Dental Anesthesiologist Andrew Hsiao Chen, who was traveling on northbound Roxbury Road. Sinclair-Laws, who was wearing an open face helmet, suffered fractures to her face, mouth, hand, knee and left leg, and was rendered unconscious at the scene. Sinclair-Laws sued Chen, alleging that Chen was negligent in the operation of his vehicle. Gerald Bass, Harold Calleros and Mirko Nedovic were also initially named as defendants, but the matter ultimately continued against Chen only. Sinclair-Law claimed that Chen failed to stop for a stop sign at the intersection and failed to yield the right of way at the median. She alleged that as a result, Chen cut directly into her path of travel, causing the collision. Chen disputed liability. He claimed that prior to the crash, he stopped for the stop sign at the intersection of Roxbury Road and Sunset Boulevard before proceeding into the intersection. He further claimed that after pausing in the middle of the intersection, he continued northbound on Roxbury Road when he was struck by Sinclair-Laws’ motor scooter. Chen ultimately accepted responsibility for the collision. However, he claimed the intersection was in a dangerous condition at the time of the accident. Chen’s counsel contended that the subject intersection had a history of similar broadside collisions and that, at the time of the crash, the city of Beverly Hills was studying the intersection following citizen safety complaints. The intersection was subsequently modified to prevent northbound and southbound traffic on Roxbury Road from crossing Sunset Boulevard. Thus, Chen’s counsel sought apportionment against the city of Beverly Hills and argued that Sinclair-Laws was contributorily negligent by failing to pay attention and not having any formal driving training., Sinclair-Laws was transported from the scene of the collision to Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, in Los Angeles. Examinations revealed a fracture of the left femur, a laceration of the left knee, nasal fractures, open fractures of the left distal radius and ulna, and a fracture of the right radius. She subsequently underwent open reduction and internal fixation surgery of the right radius; irrigation and debridement of the left distal fracture; intramedullary nailing of the left femur; closed reduction of bilateral nasal bone fractures; and repairs of the lacerations to the chin, left elbow, left eyebrow, and left knee on Oct. 1, 2011. Sinclair-Laws was then transferred to the acute rehabilitation unit on Oct. 11, 2011, and received physical therapy, occupational therapy, equipment, functional transfer evaluation, and training and neuropsychology. The next day, she underwent an ultrasound, which showed thrombosis of the left peroneal vein. Sinclair-Laws was ultimately discharged in stable condition on Oct. 16, 2011. She also presented evidence that she received further orthopedic care, dental work, psychological counseling, psychiatric treatment, neuropsychological testing, neurological examination, pain management consultation, and physical and occupational therapy. Sinclair-Laws’ past medical bills totaled $1,064,000. However, the plaintiff’s medical billing expert testified that the reasonable value of Sinclair-Laws’ past medical treatment was $946,888.80. The plaintiff’s life care planner opined that Sinclair-Laws will require future medical treatment, including joint injections; radiofrequency ablation; occipital nerve blocks; ongoing pain management; orthopedic, psychological, psychiatric, neuropsychological, and dental care; hardware removal; bilateral hip and knee joint replacements; right wrist surgery; implantation of a dorsal column spinal cord stimulator; an outpatient pain program; physical, occupational, and cognitive behavioral therapy; home health services; and licensed vocational nursing care. The plaintiff’s life care planner testified that the reasonable value of the life care plan was between $13,723,669.50 and $13,758,869.50. The plaintiff’s expert economist opined that the present value of Sinclair-Laws’ future medical care totaled $17,721,230. Sinclair-Laws worked as a personal trainer, did some modeling, and participated in fitness competitions. However, she did not return to work following the accident. Thus, she claimed she suffered $257,069 in past lost earnings. Sinclair-Laws claimed that she could not return to work as a personal trainer and presented expert testimony that she would be limited to work as an administrative assistant, resulting in a future loss of earning capacity in the amount of $1,898,706. Thus, Sinclair-Laws sought recovery of $946,888.80 in past medical costs, between $13,723,669.50 and $13,758,869.50 in future medical costs (or $17,721,230 for present value of future medical costs), $257,069 in past lost earnings, and $1,898,706 in future loss of earning capacity. She also sought recovery of non-economic damages for her past and future pain and suffering. Defense counsel disputed the amount of damages Sinclair-Laws alleged. The defense’s medical billing expert opined that the reasonable value of Sinclair-Laws’ past medical costs totaled $334,995.69. Defense counsel presented expert testimony showing that Sinclair-Laws’ future care needs were limited to physical and cognitive therapy, counseling and psychotherapy, right wrist surgery, a pain management program, and follow-up care with pain management, psychiatric, and temporomandibular joint syndrome specialists. The defense’s expert life care planner also offered a range of $80,000 to $100,000 for Sinclair-Laws’ future medical care needs. In addition, the defense’s expert economist opined that the present value of Sinclair-Laws’ future medical care needs was between $88,025 to $115,275, plus $50,000 to $70,000 for a comprehensive rehabilitation program, for a total of $138,025 to $185,275. Defense counsel argued that Sinclair-Laws’ maximum past loss of earnings only totaled $202,070. The defense’s vocational rehabilitation expert further testified that Sinclair-Laws could return to work, including working as a gym general manager, a gym owner, an advertising and promotions manager, an education administrator, a social and community service manager, an agent and business manager of artists/performers/athletes, a social and human services assistant, a radio and television announcer, a public relations specialist, or an employee in media and community relations. Thus, defense counsel asserted that Sinclair-Laws’ future loss of income totaled, at most, $260,000, plus $27,007 in vocational training costs. In addition, defense counsel argued that Sinclair-Laws was barred from recovering non-economic damages because she was uninsured and therefore, unable to establish financial responsibility pursuant to California Proposition 213, codified as Civil Code § 3333.4, because Sinclair-Laws allegedly did not have liability insurance herself. Plaintiff’s counsel disputed defense’s counsel’s claim about Sinclair-Laws being barred from recovering non-economic damages. Counsel contended that Sinclair-Laws’ insurance carrier, Safeco Insurance Co., had illegally terminated Sinclair-Laws’ insurance policy, even though Sinclair-Laws had paid the premium in full, because Sinclair-Laws did not have a California driver’s license. Under California Law, the cancellation of insurance for failure to possess a California license is illegal and void. Plaintiff’s counsel noted that Sinclair-Laws also sued Safeco, her own insurer, seeking declaratory relief that the cancellation of the policy was void because it violated California law. Safeco agreed that the cancellation was illegal and reinstated Sinclair-Laws insurance policy, retroactively to the date of the original cancellation. According to plaintiff’s counsel, the reinstatement of coverage occurred long before the trial against Chen, but it did not change the position of Chen’s insurers, who continued to use the fact that Safeco had had terminated Sinclair-Laws’ insurance before the accident (even though the cancellation was illegal) as a basis to deny the injury claim, and to take the position that Sinclair-Laws was not entitled to any non-economic damages under California Proposition 213. As a result, Chen’s insurers continued to offer nothing for Sinclair-Laws’ non-economic damages. Based on Chen’s insurers’ position, defense counsel filed a motion in limine, seeking to strike the non-economic damages claim pursuant to California Proposition 213. Judge Bobbi Tillmon granted the motion on the basis that Sinclair-Laws failed to take any action to reinstate her policy before the cancellation. However, the next morning, plaintiff’s counsel filed a writ of petition with the California Court of Appeal, seeking an emergency order to reverse Tillmon’s ruling. Less than seven hours after the writ was filed, the Court of Appeal granted the writ petition, and directed Tillmon to reverse her ruling and allow Sinclair- Laws to pursue her non-economic damages claim. According to plaintiff’s counsel, that evening, the defense increased the longstanding settlement offer from $1 million to the policy limits of $5.5 million. However, Sinclair-Law reject the offer, and the case proceeded to trial.
Superior Court of Los Angeles County, Santa Monica, CA

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