Case details

Tractor-trailer driver claimed plaintiff made unsafe lane change





Result type

Not present

back, bulging disc, lower back, lumbar, neck, neurological, radicular pain, radiculitis
On Jan. 7, 2013, at approximately 2:45 p.m., plaintiff Paul Ruetti, 29, a San Francisco police officer, was operating his two-door, 2004 Volkswagen GTI/hatchback on his way to work on Bryant Street in San Francisco. Bryant Street is a one-way street that runs eastbound, and a large Peterbuilt tractor-trailer operated by Soheil Badiee was in the lane to Ruetti’s left. As the vehicles entered the intersection with 10th Street, a collision occurred, causing Ruetti’s vehicle to spin around and end up facing west. Ruetti’s vehicle was totaled, and Ruetti claimed to his neck and back. Ruetti sued Badiee and the owner of Badiee’s truck, Best Auto Tech. Ruetti alleged that Badiee was negligent in the operation of the tractor-trailer and that Best Auto Tech was vicariously liable for Badiee’s actions. It was ultimately determined that Badiee was a self-employed truck driver who resided in Arizona and owned Best Auto Tech. Thus, for simplicity, plaintiff’s counsel dismissed Best Auto Tech. Ruetti claimed that Badiee made an unsafe lane change by attempting to turn right onto a freeway on-ramp from the middle lane. Plaintiff’s counsel noted that the police report faulted Badiee for the accident and attributed a statement to Badiee about attempting to turn right onto the freeway on-ramp from the middle lane. Badiee denied attempting a right turn and claimed he was proceeding straight through the intersection. He contended that his destination was a car dealership on 8th Street, so he was, therefore, intending to proceed straight on Bryant Street for another two blocks. He also contended that he saw Ruetti’s vehicle in his side view mirror as he turned onto Bryant Street, when they were approximately one block back from Bryant Street and 10th Street intersection. However, Badiee claimed that Ruetti was going “pretty fast,” and estimated that Ruetti was traveling at 35 to 40 mph on a road with a posted speed limit of 25 mph. Thus, Badiee claimed that it was Ruetti who made the unsafe lane change and caused the accident. Defense counsel contended that because Ruetti is an officer, the accident was handled differently by the San Francisco Police Department, in that Badiee claimed that nine San Francisco police officers arrived at the scene within minutes of the crash. Thus, defense counsel argued that the police investigation was biased., Ruetti claimed to his neck and back, including lumbar disc bulges at the L4-5 and L5-S1 levels with radiating symptoms down into the right leg. Later that day, he presented to his chiropractor, whom he had treated with for several years before the accident, to undergo “maintenance.” Ruetti claimed that he continues to suffer pain to his back and leg. He claimed that as a result, he will require additional care, such as physical therapy and an epidural steroid injection. He further claimed that his treating orthopedic surgeon imposed physical restrictions on him, such as no heavy lifting, twisting or bending. Ruetti, who joined the police force in approximately 2007, alleged that as a result of his continuing complaints and physical restrictions, he is unable to work as much overtime as he used to. The plaintiff’s treating orthopedic surgeon attributed the lumbar disc bulges to the subject accident and opined that the bulges, in turn, caused neuroforaminal narrowing. He also opined that it is medically probable that Ruetti will continue to have lower back and right leg symptoms for at least another five years. Thus, Ruetti had approximately $6,000 in past medical expenses, including approximately $5,000 in chiropractic charges, post adjustments, and his past loss of wages for six days of missed work totaled $3,363. However, he did not claim these amounts at trial. However, Ruetti did seek recovery of $45,000 in damages for his past pain and suffering and $105,000 in damages for his future pain and suffering. He also sought recovery of $220,000 in loss of future earnings at $10,000 per year for 22 years. Accordingly, plaintiff’s counsel asked the jury to award Ruetti $370,000 in total damages. According to the defense’s medical expert, Ruetti sustained an uncomplicated soft-tissue injury to the lower back. The expert opined that the findings on the MRI were minor, degenerative in nature, and not caused by the subject accident. The defense’s expert also opined that Ruetti does not require future care and that Ruetti’s continuing subjective complaints were disproportionate to, and not supported by, the absence of objective medical findings.
Superior Court of San Francisco County, San Francisco, CA

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