Case details

Van driver’s unsafe lane change caused accident: motorcyclist





Result type

Not present

back, chest, fracture, rib
On May 29, 2016, plaintiff Robert Fulp, 55, an auto mechanic/machinist, was motorcycling in the right hand (number two) lane on Euclid Street, near Chapman Avenue in Fullerton, when a van operated by Leonilo Pajarillaga, who was in the left (number one) lane, made a lane change into the right lane. Fulp did a braking maneuver to avoid colliding with Pajarillaga’s van, but Fulp was forced to lay down his motorcycle. As a result, the motorcycle slid out with Fulp on it. Fulp claimed to his chest and pelvis. Fulp sued Pajarillaga and Pajarillaga’s employer, Blue Van LSG Corp., which also and owned the van. Fulp alleged that Pajarillaga was negligent in the operation of his vehicle. Fulp also alleged that Blue Van LSG Corp. negligently entrusted Pajarillaga with the van and was vicariously liable for Pajarillaga’s actions. Plaintiff’s counsel noted that, prior to trial, Fulp admitted to taking methamphetamine in the days leading up to the crash and that Fulp tested positive for methamphetamine and opiates at the hospital. Fulp also admitted to speeding. As a result, the defendants’ central defense was based on Fulp’s alleged intoxication, but plaintiff’s counsel filed a successful motion in limine to exclude the defense’s toxicology expert and any evidence of Fulp’s alleged intoxication under "Sargon Enterprises Inc. v. University of Southern California," 55 Cal. 4th 747 (2012), and Evidence Code § 352. According to plaintiff’s counsel, the exclusion was a major turning point that prompt unsuccessful settlement discussions thereafter. In addition, Pajarillaga denied making a lane change prior to trial, but at deposition, he ultimately admitted that there was a lane change in close proximity to the crash. According to plaintiff’s counsel, Pajarillaga’s deposition testimony was highly inconsistent. Pajarillaga also failed to appear at trial, which required plaintiff’s counsel to shift trial strategy quickly, as the Pajarillaga was to be plaintiff’s counsel’s first witness. During the trial, plaintiff’s counsel argued that Pajarillaga was negligent for making an unsafe lane change and causing the accident. Specifically, counsel contended that Pajarillaga slowed down his vehicle to get into a CVS parking lot, which was near the right (number two) lane that Fulp was traveling in, and that Pajarillaga negligently crossed through the right lane in front of Fulp, causing the accident. Defense counsel disputed liability, arguing that Fulp’s own negligence was the sole cause of the accident. Specifically, counsel contended that Fulp’s excessive speed caused the accident. Defense counsel also denied that Blue Van LSG Corp.’s entrustment of the Blue Van Super Shuttle to Pajarillaga was negligent. The defense’s accident reconstruction expert opined that Pajarillaga’s lane change did not cause Fulp’s accident because Pajarillaga changed lanes 10 to 12 seconds before the crash. On cross-examination, plaintiff’s counsel pointed out that the defense’s accident reconstruction expert offered a reconstruction that was inconsistent with Pajarillaga’s own deposition testimony. Specifically, counsel pointed out that while the defense’s expert made the assumption that the lane change was made 10 to 12 seconds before the crash, Pajarillaga testified during his deposition that it was five seconds before the crash. In addition, plaintiff’s counsel noted that Blue Van LSG Corp.’s person most knowledgeable admitted that Pajarillaga was involved in a prior accident, but that Pajarillaga was not suspended or given any additional training after that accident., Fulp sustained fractures of his pelvis, vertebral end plate and seven ribs. He also sustained one displaced fracture of the rib cartilage and an L1 burst fracture. Fulp was taken by ambulance to a hospital. He ultimately underwent a percutaneous surgical fixation of the posterior pelvic ring at UCI Medical Center, in Orange. Fulp claimed that he would benefit from having the surgical screws removed in the future, but there was no defined course of future treatment. He also claimed that his past medical costs totaled approximately $39,000, but the amount was waived. Thus, Fulp only sought recovery of noneconomic damages for his past and future pain suffering. During closing arguments, plaintiff’s counsel asked the jury to award Fulp $1.94 million in total damages. Defense counsel argued that that Fulp would not require any future treatment and that there would be no benefit in having the surgical screws removed. As a result, counsel argued that only $125,000 in damages was reasonable.
Superior Court of Orange County, Orange, CA

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