Case details

Seat belt would not have prevented head injuries, plaintiff alleged





Result type

Not present

blunt force trauma to the head, brain, brain damage, diffuse axonal brain injury, epidural, extradural hematoma, femoral, fracture, head, hip, neck
On Oct. 17, 2017, plaintiff Luis Viruegas, 29, a granite installer, was unbelted, seated in the front, right passenger seat of a box truck that was operated by his co-worker, Steven Rodriguez. The driver’s brother, Jaime Rodriguez, who worked with his brother and Viruegas, was seated in the middle passenger seat in the front cab of the truck. As the box truck was traveling north on State Route 41, also known as Yosemite Freeway, in Fresno, it collided with a stopped state pickup truck operated by Anthony Quiring. Prior to the collision, a truck operated by Andre Catuiza was traveling on SR-41 with a shelving unit in the back that was not properly secured. The unit ultimately flew out of the truck and landed on the roadway. Quiring, who was trailing behind Catuiza’s vehicle, stopped his vehicle to attempt to use his truck to block the area of the roadway where the shelving unit landed so that other drivers would not encounter it. However, Steven Rodriguez was not able to stop his box truck until the last second, resulting in the collision with Quiring’s truck. As a result, a camper shell that was covering the back of Quiring’s pickup truck went into the right, front passenger area of Steven Rodriguez’s vehicle, where Viruegas was sitting, and struck Viruegas’ head. Quiring sued Steve Rodriguez; Rodriguez’s employer, Cold Spring Granite Co.; the motorist who was initially carrying the shelving unit, Andre Carlos Catuiza (who was erroneously sued as "Andre Carlos"); and Catuiza’s employer, Westech Systems Inc. Quiring alleged that Rodriguez and Catuiza were negligent in the operation of their respective vehicles, that Cold Spring Granite was vicariously liable for Rodriguez’s actions and that Westech Systems was vicariously liable for Catuiza’s actions. Viruegas, by and through his guardian ad litem, Monica Ferrante, filed a separate lawsuit against Westech Systems and Quiring’s employer, the state of California. Ferrante alleged that Quiring and Catuiza were negligent in the operation of their respective vehicles. She also alleged that the state was vicariously liable for Quiring’s actions and that Westech Systems was vicariously liable for Catuiza’s actions. Steven Rodriguez and Jaime Rodriguez brought another separate lawsuit against Catuiza, Westech Systems, Quiring and the state of California. (Liberty Insurance Corp., acting on behalf of the Rodriguez brothers, was later added as a plaintiff.) The Rodriguez brothers alleged similar claims of vehicular negligence and vicarious liability against the defendants. The three matters were consolidated. Prior to trial, Quiring settled his claims against Westech Systems and Cold Spring Granite (Viruegas and the Rodriguez brothers’ employer). The Rodriguez brothers also settled with Westech Systems to resolve their claims against Westech Systems and its employee, Catuiza. As a result of those settlements, Quiring’s claims and the Rodriguez brothers’ claims were dismissed. In addition, Ferrante, acting on behalf of Viruegas, settled Viruegas’ claim against Westech Systems. Thus, the matter proceeded to trial with only Viruegas’ claim against the state of California. The state accepted that Quiring was in the course and scope of his employment at the time of the accident. However, the state’s counsel argued that Quiring was not negligent and that the multiple-vehicle collision was caused by the other drivers., Viruegas suffered blunt force trauma to his head, resulting in an epidural hematoma, a diffuse axonal brain injury and a midline shift (a displacement of brain tissue across the center line of the brain). He also suffered numerous fractures throughout his body, including his pelvis and a femoral head. Viruegas was hospitalized for approximately two months at Community Regional Medical Center, in Fresno. He spent 1.5 months in the intensive care unit and then spent over a year at Centre for Neuro Skills, in Bakersfield. Due to his , Viruegas is unable to work. He also requires assistance to care for himself 12 to 24 hours a day. His girlfriend at the time, who is the mother of his two children, broke up with him as a result of his condition. The plaintiff’s life care planning expert opined that Viruegas’ future medical costs would total between $7 million and $11 million. Viruegas sought recovery of past and future medical costs, and damages for his past and future pain and suffering. The parties disputed whether Viruegas would have sustained any if he had been wearing his seatbelt at the time of the accident. The state’s counsel contended that Viruegas caused the to himself by not wearing his seatbelt. In response, Viruegas’ counsel contended that Viruegas would have sustained the whether he was wearing a seatbelt or not. Specifically, the plaintiff’s biomechanical engineering expert presented a 3D laser scan of Viruegas’ vehicle and Quiring’s vehicle, and pointed out how the scans of the two vehicles lined up together. From those scans, the expert opined as to the maximum crush location, which allegedly showed where the camper shell intruded into the section of the box truck where Viruegas’ head would have been. The plaintiff’s expert further opined that the camper shell still would have collided with Viruegas’ head, even if his head moved forward 14 or 15 inches, as it would have if he had his seatbelt on.
Superior Court of Fresno County, Fresno, CA

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