Freeman Mathis & Gary beat back a $12.5 million lawsuit last week when a California jury handed down a defense verdict in a wrongful death lawsuit that involved an intoxicated pedestrian.
Paul Bigley, a partner and the chair of the firm’s California office, secured a win for client Daniel Yokomizo when a jury on March 11 found he was not negligent in the death of Nadesan Ravichandran, a Wells Fargo mortgage loan officer. Ravichandran, was killed in 2016 when he was run over on a major roadway in Los Angeles County after a night of drinking with colleagues.
Yokomizo, who was 20 at the time, was driving the car that hit Ravichandran, who was inebriated and passed out in the road, Bigley said. Yokomizo was with a friend at the time, and Bigley said the two initially panicked and were unsure of what they hit. They left the scene to return home, where they called 911 before returning.
Ravichandran’s widow and son filed a wrongful death lawsuit in Los Angeles Superior Court in 2016.
Judge Timothy Dillon oversaw the roughly three-week trial in Alhambra, California, which concluded last Monday with the verdict. In closing arguments, plaintiffs attorney John Sweeney sought a total of nearly $15 million—specifically, $2,662,548 in uncontested economic damages, and $12,425,000 in noneconomic damages.
Bigley described Yokimozo’s case as a “hard fought” one on Monday.
Bigley said part of his strategy was drawing a contrast in “choices” in Yokomizo’s case, which pitted the credibility of his client and the circumstances of the Ravichandran’s death against each other.
The evidence suggested Ravichandran was three times over the limit for driving at the time of his death and made the choice to walk across a major boulevard at night, Bigley said. Bigley added that Yokomizo was not drunk at the time but driving with a friend after a night of playing video games.
“Right out of the gate, one of my first lines to the jury was, ‘This is a case about credibility, common sense and personal responsibility.’ So my theme for every witness was to reinforce those points,” Bigley said.
“I had every single witness that took the stand, whether it was police officer or what plaintiffs counsel called good Samaritans that came upon the scene after and stopped,” he said. He added they admitted “he was in dark-colored clothing, face down on the roadway, mid-block, outside a crosswalk—all the things that I thought would resonate with the jury.”
Witnesses included Go Yoshida, who was in the car with Yokomizo.
Bigley credited investigators, process servers, and his trial support team for corralling witnesses. He gave particular credit to his associate on the case, Matthew Jones, who also handled some of the direct questioning.
“Between (Jones) and my in-house paralegals—every single day, we’re always on the phones updating our witnesses as to trial status, keeping them informed,” Bigley said. “Trials are very fluid. Every single day things change and schedules change, so it’s always a juggling act on some level.”
Bigley praised his opposing counsel, describing Sweeney as “very seasoned.”
Sweeney did not respond to requests for comment.
Bigley said one of the major challenges in the case was the sympathy factor for Ravichandran. Ravichandran’s widow who didn’t work at the time of her husband’s death, and their son is a student at the University of California, Irvine.
“Sympathy is always a challenge in a death case,” Bigley said, describing how he examined the jury pool on sympathy during the voir dire process. “Because it was an extraordinarily sad case.”