A Santa Clara, Calif., jury awarded $49 million in damages Monday to a college student who was on his way to a camping trip when two trucks collided and one struck the car he was riding in, causing him traumatic brain injuries.
It appears to be the biggest single-plaintiff personal injury jury verdict by far in at least the past 10 years in Santa Clara County Superior Court, according to a scan of VerdictSearch, a Recorder affiliate.
The verdict is notable in part because the Santa Clara jury pool is known to be conservative, said San Francisco plaintiffs lawyer George Choulos of Choulos, Choulos & Wyle, who wasn't involved in the suit.
"It's my feeling that this is a verdict that, absent some mistake in trial, ought to be upheld," Choulos said. "It's a large verdict but the damages -- the out-of-pocket expenses -- are large."
Drew Bianchi, then 21, was riding in a Toyota Avalon in May 2007 on State Route 152 -- the Pacheco Pass -- when two trucks collided at or near the center line. Bianchi was struck by a Peterbilt truck driven by Samuel Bimbela, according to Bianchi's lawyer, Randall Scarlett of San Francisco personal injury firm Scarlett Law Group. He added that Bianchi's injuries necessitate round-the-clock medical care. Bianchi was also represented by Thomas Malone of Atlanta firm Malone Law.
The jury awarded $3.4 million in past medical expenses, $27.6 million in future medical expenses, $4.5 million for future lost wages, and $13.5 million in general damages. The defendants are jointly and severally liable for the special damages and severally liable for the general damages, according to Scarlett's firm.
"The numbers are certainly significant, but I think they only represent the staggering cost of care to individuals sustaining traumatic brain injury," Scarlett said. "This jury got it. In closing, I indicated to the jury that one can lose a leg, one can lose an arm, and there's a prosthesis that medical scientists have come up with. There is no prosthetic device when one loses the ability to use one's brain, one's sense of self and one's ability to have cognition."
In a five-week trial in front of Judge Carrie Zepeda, the jury found that Bimbela was 60 percent at fault, Gordon Trucking and its truck driver, Michael Demma, were 35 percent at fault, and the state of California was 5 percent at fault.
Bimbela's lawyer, John Simonson of Redwood City-based commercial litigation firm Hayes Scott Bonino Ellingson & McLay, said Tuesday he couldn't comment.
Gordon Trucking Inc.'s lawyers, Guy Calladine of Carlson, Calladine & Peterson and Elizabeth Dankof of Sacramento firm Hardy Erich Brown & Wilson, referred questions to the company's general counsel, Theresa Pruett.
Pruett said the company had no comment on whether it would appeal the verdict. In a statement, the trucking company, based in the state of Washington, reaffirmed its belief that its driver wasn't at fault: "The Santa Clara jury's apportionment of 35 percent fault to Gordon Trucking in this civil action has not and will not change our mind."
An attorney with the state's transportation department, Irene Moy, said the state settled with the plaintiff for $10 million at a settlement conference in July before Santa Clara County Judge James Emerson.
Salazar Equipment, Salazar Construction and Salazar Trucking, which employed Bimbela, also settled out for $2 million before the trial, said defense lawyer Kevin Cholakian of Cholakian & Associates, a 10-lawyer South San Francisco civil defense firm.
Scarlett's firm also won a large verdict -- $22.8 million in damages -- in 2007 in San Francisco for a woman who suffered permanent brain damage when she was hit by a tour bus on Nob Hill.