Case details

Taxi driver: No liability for crash that resulted in amputation





Result type

Not present

amputation, arm
At approximately 1:45 a.m. on March 18, 2009, plaintiff Chauntal Lewis, 21, an actress, was driving home on westbound Wilshire Boulevard, approaching the intersection with Westgate Avenue in West Los Angeles, when the left front corner of her vehicle struck the right rear corner of a tractor-trailer. The impact essentially sheared off the left side of Lewis’ vehicle, along with her left forearm. Lewis sued the driver of the tractor-trailer, Kevon Xavier Jankee; and the owning entities of the truck, Systems Services of America Inc. and Rush Truck Leasing Inc. She also sued the driver of a taxi cab that was also allegedly involved in the accident, Omar Abdi, and the cab’s owner, Taxirami Inc. Lewis alleged that the Jankee and Abdi were negligent in the operation of their respective vehicles. She also alleged that Systems Services and Rush Truck Leasing were vicariously liable for Jankee’s actions, and that Taxirami Inc. was vicariously liable for Abdi’s actions. Administrative Services Cooperative Inc., which was also known as L.A. Taxi Cooperative Inc. and doing business as Yellow Cab, was also initially sued, but the company was ultimately let out of the case when it was discovered that Taxirami was the actual taxi company that Abdi worked for. Thus, the matter proceeded to a bifurcated trial on liability against the remaining defendants. Lewis contended that as she approached Westgate Avenue, she saw the 18-wheeler and taxi cab stopped at the intersection, but that she assumed the two vehicles would be moving since there was a green light. She also claimed a vehicle to her left prevented her from moving into the left lane to pass through the intersection. The plaintiff’s accident reconstruction expert testified that there were three impacts; the first with the tractor-trailer, the second with the taxi cab and the third again with the tractor-trailer. The expert opined that Lewis lost her arm during the third impact. The plaintiff’s toxicology expert testified that Lewis was not driving impaired, even though she drank wine earlier in the evening. Finally, the plaintiff’s human factors expert testified that it was reasonable that Lewis would not perceive the tractor-trailer as being at a standstill and that the accident would occur. Lewis’ theory against the taxi cab was that, but for the presence of the cab in the red zone and in the curb lane, she would have passed the tractor-trailer on its left and no accident would have occurred. Jankee, Systems Services and Rush Truck Leasing were dismissed for a waiver of costs on the first day of trial. Abdi and Taxirami’s accident reconstruction expert testified that the angle of the impact was such that Lewis hit the tractor-trailer before she ever got to the taxi cab, and that the cab had nothing to do with the plaintiff losing her left forearm. Defense counsel asserted that Lewis told an employee of Q’s Billiard Club on Wilshire Boulevard, a few weeks after the accident, that she might have fallen asleep behind the wheel. Counsel also contended that there were positive alcohol findings through UCLA Medical Center. Thus, counsel argued that alcohol use, along with fatigue, caused Lewis drive into the rear of the stopped tractor-trailer., The trial was bifurcated; thus, damages were not before the court. Lewis sustained a traumatic below-the-elbow amputation of her left, non-dominant forearm. Doctors attempted to reattach Lewis’ arm in the emergency room, but failed to do so. She was ultimately fitted for a prosthesis. Lewis claimed some residual pain at the area of her amputation, which she claimed will greatly affect her career as an aspiring actress. Thus, she sought recovery of damages for her medical costs, lost earnings, and past and future pain and suffering.
Superior Court of Los Angeles County, Santa Monica, CA

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