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Verdicts & Settlements for Bennett Johnson, LLP

Family Suffers Severe Burns in Car Accident-$29,200,000.00

The plaintiff’s “older” model car was side swiped, causing it to roll over. Several members of the plaintiff’s family were severely burned when fuel escaped from the exposed fuel port on the vehicle. The uninsured responsible driver and California Highway Patrol (CHP) officer claimed the plaintiff didn’t have a fuel cap on his car, and so it was plaintiff’s fault the car caught fire.

Bennett Johnson took on a case that had been refused by numerous large plaintiffs firms. We first sent an investigator to the scene of the accident at an overcrossing of a railroad track. The plaintiff swore he had a “keyed gas cap” and described it in detail to the CHP and Multidisciplinary Accident Investigation Team officers after the accident. They concluded he had a “rag” in the fuel port, not a gas cap. The firm’s investigator found a charred “keyed” fuel cap under the overpass. Forensic x-ray evidence proved that the plaintiff’s key, which he still had in his possession, fit and could operate the locking system, although it was severely burned. A forensic x-ray also internally identified the lock manufacturing number, and from there Bennett Johnson proved that the defendant’s representation in its parts catalog of this particular locking fuel cap as appropriate for the plaintiff’s model vehicle was not true.

Family Awarded Millions After Highway 12 Crash-$29,200,000.00

CASE RESULT

In July 2011, a Solano County jury awarded $29.2 million to the surviving victims of the crash. After the award was announced, Richard Bennett said, “They (Caltrans officials) have to sit up and take notice, and realize this jury has sent them a message. They need to finish Highway 12 safety improvements to keep others from dying.”

FACTS

A woman and the three children of a friend were involved in a fiery head-on crash that killed two of the children and left the third child permanently paralyzed from the waist down. The collision occurred in 2006 on Highway 12 between Suisun City and Rio Vista. The driver of an SUV, driving eastbound, suddenly pulled into the westbound lane to pass another car and hit the victims’ compact car head-on at the crest of a hill. The offender was convicted of two counts of second-degree murder and is serving time in Ironwood State Prison.

LEGAL STRATEGIES

A spate of fatalities had previously occurred at the same location. Caltrans had made some safety improvements after the many incidents, including construction of a median barrier. However, the barrier ended short of the intersection where the accident occurred. Ultimately, jurors found Caltrans to be 35 percent responsible. Because of special damages, the State was liable for $20 million. At the time, counsel Richard Bennett said, “We wanted to settle but the State only offered $3 million.”

Driver Killed in Crash with County Garbage Truck-$25,000,000.00

CASE RESULTS

This case resulted in the highest award in Tulare County -- $25,000,000 including annuities -- at the time (2008) for an automobile accident case.

FACTS

The decedent was struck at an intersection in Pixley, California, by a “youth- group” volunteer driving a county garbage truck. The plaintiff contended the volunteer was speeding but there were no eyewitnesses.

LEGAL STRATEGY

Bennett Johnson ultimately determined that the truck was connected to a GPS that tracked the time and location of each garbage pick up. By comparing the time of the last garbage pick up with the time of the accident, we were able to prove the defendant had driven over 75 mph on a 55 mph road to reach the accident site by the time it occurred. The plaintiff also successfully proved that the intersection and controls at the subject intersection did not meet county road standards. We also proved the stop signs were obscured by a fruit stand on the corner of the intersection, which blocked line of site clearances by approaching vehicles which had been erected without a county permit. After the county denied knowing the fruit stand had been erected, the plaintiff obtained videotapes from a gas station adjacent to the fruit stand that showed county administrative personnel purchasing fruit from the stand. In particular, both the director of public works and the head of the county permit department, whose departments issued and enforced the permit section that applied to the area where the fruit stand was erected, were identified on the tapes.

Mother Loses Twin & Remains in Vegetative State-$25,000,000.00

CASE RESULTS

The plaintiff settled on the eve of trial for lifetime annuities exceeding $25,000,000.

FACTS

An obese woman, pregnant with twins, went to a hospital emergency department, complaining about abdominal pain, chest pains, fever and shortness of breath. The woman was initially seen in triage. However, she was 20-plus weeks gestation, so no one treated her, and she was sent to labor and delivery. Three labor and delivery nurses had a differential diagnosis of a pulmonary embolism (PE). The classic PE signs in a patient such as she are chest pain, shortness of breath and anxiety, all of which the plaintiff exhibited. As the patient’s oxygen saturation and blood pressure dropped, the hospital’s on- call OB and pulmonary specialist did cursory exams and told the OB nurses their diagnosis was wrong. The nurses complained to their charge nurse, who ordered the on-call anesthesiologist to examine the patient. The anesthesiologist told the Obstetrics nurse, who had 20 years of experience, that she didn’t know how to properly take a blood pressure and the plaintiff was just in labor. The anesthesiologist then took the plaintiff in for delivery and over the objections of the Obstetric nurses gave her an epidural which, given her lack of pulmonary function, caused cardiac arrest. Plaintiff lost one of her twins and has been in a vegetative state since the delivery.

LEGAL STRATEGIES

Bennett Johnson successfully argued that the patient should have immediately been treated for a pulmonary embolism and, had that occurred, she could have then had the clot dissolved by routine interventional radiology prior to delivery.

Children Severely Injured at Church Picnic-$20,000,000.00

CASE RESULTS

On the first day of trial, the case settled for $20,000,000 after the church elders unsuccessfully tried to coerce the parents to drop their lawsuit. It was the highest award in Santa Barbara County at the time

FACTS

Two young children aged 8 and 10 were taken on a church picnic to the Point Sal recreational area on the Pacific Coast. The children were allowed to play in the tide pools, unattended and out of view of their adult supervisors napping on the beach some 500 yards away. While playing, the tide came in and trapped the two plaintiffs against 200-feet-high cliffs. The tide rose, forcing the children to climb the cliffs to avoid drowning or being washed out with the currents. After successfully climbing about 50 feet up the cliffs, the eight-year- old girl fell and knocked the 10 year-old-boy off the cliffs, with the two of them landing on the rocks below. They were rescued by Coast Guard helicopters after their church pastor finally called 911 to report them missing. The church argued that the children didn’t follow instructions and wandered off without church permission. The families of the two children were politically ostracized by the church elders for suing the church for alleged negligence and were forced to quit the church. The young boy was paralyzed from the waist down and girl sustained mild brain damage and post-traumatic stress disorder.

LEGAL STRATEGIES

Even though the defendant was a church, it had the same duty as a school teacher, babysitter or parent to properly oversee and protect the minor children it took on the outing. Elders in the church despite good intentions, were grossly negligent by allowing children to wander unattended in ocean tide pools. They were also negligent in familiarizing themselves with the area and the changes in tidal conditions before planning a field trip to an unknown area.

Incorrect Diagnosis Leads to Brain Damage-$15,000,000.00

CASE RESULTS

The case settled on the “courthouse steps” for lifetime care and funding for the child in excess of $15,000,000 via a guaranteed annuity.

FACTS

The plaintiff, 38 weeks pregnant, suffered from rashes and itching so she went to the nearest emergency room. Her blood pressure was elevated -- 140/97. Told she was suffering from a reaction to household cleaning products, she was given Benadryl and sent home. Two days later, she had the same symptoms and returned to the emergency facility. Again, she was given Benadryl and told she was fine. This time, her blood pressure was 190/91, a classic symptom of pre- eclampsia. Once more, the plaintiff was sent home and told to follow up with her obstetrician at her next scheduled obstetric appointment.

She should have been sent to labor and delivery immediately but was not. The nurse attendant who took her blood pressure claimed she told the Emergency Room physician of the elevated blood pressure, which he denied. The following morning, the plaintiff woke up with seizures, and her husband rushed her to the hospital. In route, he ran a red light and was broadsided in a major collision. By the time the plaintiff got to the hospital, she was semi-conscious and thus “worked up” for a head injury, not eclampsia, which had caused her seizures. By the time her daughter was delivered, she had severe brain damage due to her mother’s undiagnosed eclampsia.

LEGAL STRATEGIES

The defendants argued the child was injured in a car accident; sustaining a placental abruption. The delivery hospital argued they were not told of the seizures so only focused on the plaintiff’s head injury from the accident. The Emergency Room hospital that misdiagnosed the pre-eclampsia argued plaintiff was told to immediately see her OB-GYN physician. Forensic pathologists for the plaintiff proved that the placental damage occurred two days before the automobile accident, thus, the failure of the hospital to admit her when she first had abnormal blood pressure readings was the causative factor of the baby’s brain damage.

Man Suffered Injuries When Cab Jumps a Curb-$10,000,000.00

CASE RESULTS

The matter settled at mediation for $10,000,000.00 with the taxicab company and the bank contributing to the settlement.

FACTS

Bennett Johnson represented a man who was struck by a taxicab while using an ATM at a bank in San Francisco. The man suffered traumatic bilateral leg amputation when a taxicab jumped the curb and pinned him against the ATM.

LEGAL STRATEGIES

Bennett Johnson argued that the ATM machine was located at the corner of a busy intersection requiring bank customers to use the ATM machine with their backs to the intersection. Bennett Johnson maintained that the location of the ATM at the corner of the busy intersection presented an unreasonable risk of harm to bank customers using the ATM machine such that the Bank should have installed bollards or some other barrier to protect its customers using its ATM machine at this particular location.

Driver Permanently Paralyzed in Truck Accident-$8,400,000.00

CASE RESULTS

The jury found both defendants negligent, and the plaintiff was awarded damages of $8.4 million.

FACTS

Plaintiff Rodriguez was paralyzed when a big-rig produce truck pulled out of a strawberry field directly in front of his passing vehicle.

LEGAL STRATEGY

Bennett Johnson again went the extra mile for their client, not only collecting insurance from the trucking company, but also from the packing shed and farm where the truck had just been loaded with strawberries. Rick Bennett tried the case in Santa Barbara County after an offer of $10,000.00 by the farm and packing shed owners. At trial, he proved that due to prior accidents and near misses, the packing shed owner should have placed stop signs at the end of the packing shed’s driveway to force truckers to yield to passing traffic when exiting. Moreover, Mr. Bennett proved that the farm owner had illegally placed five foot tall black plastic dust fences along the roadway within the county road right of way to protect the strawberries. This tall black non-opaque fence essentially blocked drivers’ vision of trucks approaching from the packing shed.

Teen Killed By CHP Officer in High-Speed Chase-$5,700,000.00

CASE RESULT

A jury verdict in the amount of $4.5 million which found the officer was 80 percent at fault and the teenager 20 percent negligent. Prior to hearings on punitive damages and attorney fees, the case settled for $5.7 million.

FACTS

In June 2001, an 18-year-old high student was shot and killed by a California High Patrol officer on Highway 99 in Stanislaus County after a high-speed chase. A Merced County sheriff began following the young man after he ran a stop sign in front of his high school. The sheriff called for reinforcements from the CHP. The teenager eventually ran into a traffic break due to an unrelated traffic accident, which forced him to make a U-turn in the median area of Hwy. 99 near the City of Keyes. Officers then rammed the young man’s vehicle in an effort to end the chase. The cars of the CHP officer and teenager ended up in a drainage culvert, adjacent to the highway. According to the officers at the scene, the teenager then tried to back up to escape, even though his car was surrounded and officers had their guns drawn. Ultimately, a CHP officer, claiming the decedent was trying to ram his patrol car door as he was exiting it, fired six shots into the young man’s vehicle, two of which struck and killed him.

LEGAL STRATEGIES

The parents of the teen sued the officers at the scene, as well as their departments and the Merced County Sheriff. All defendants, except for the CHP officer, were dismissed via summary judgment motions. The CHP officer then appealed the denial of the summary judgment as to his case and lost. The parents alleged the officer had used excessive force, which violated their 14th amendment rights and claimed damages for their son’s wrongful death.

The case was originally tried in federal court in 2008 in Fresno. It ended in a hung jury of 5-1 in favor of the officer. In the second re-trial, Richard Bennett and Randal W. Hooper of Bennett Johnson, citing testimony of forensic experts, argued that the officer’s version of events was not accurate since the bullet trajectories were not consistent with the angle that the slugs entered the teenager’s vehicle. Counsel also argued that the shell casings would have been in a different location if the officer had been pinned between two cars (as he had claimed) when he fired. Counsel brought in two independent eyewitnesses who contradicted the police officers’ version and testified that the CHP officer was not pinned between the cars and was instead outside the vehicle and was not in any danger when he fired. Moreover, the extensive forensic evidence counsel presented proved that the shots could not have been fired while the officer was pinned against his car door. Unfortunately, the “cover-up” for Speers was never prosecuted by the State Attorney General’s office, the DA or the Justice Department.

Inadequate Parking Lot Lighting Causes Accident-$5,000,000.00<

CASE RESULTS

The case was resolved at mediation for $5.5 million.

FACTS

The plaintiff was injured when he was hit by a pickup truck in a Contra Costa County shopping center on a dark rainy night. The responsible driver who was “in a hurry” hit the plaintiff in the parking lot.

LEGAL STRATEGIES

The firm agreed to take the case after the responsible driver paid his nominal insurance proceeds to the plaintiff and waived their fees in favor of plaintiff. Thereafter, Bennett Johnson sued the shopping center developer for inadequate lighting in the parking lot. The firm proved that the standard in the industry required two foot per square foot candle illumination and the shopping center developer failed to provide that. The developer argued it was the hurried driver’s fault, and the city and county had approved the lighting.

Child Injured Due to Machine Malfunction-$4,200,000.00

CASE RESULTS

Bennett Johnson obtained a settlement of $4.2 million.

FACTS

The plaintiff was severely injured as she followed her mother who was picking lettuce in the field. The lettuce conveyor malfunctioned and rolled backwards over the eight year old child.

LEGAL STRATEGIES

Bennett Johnson sued the owner of the farm since the child was not an employee. They also sued the manufacturer and distributor of the lettuce conveyor for not having a failsafe brake system or back-up bell and/or warning system. Apparently, this problem had occurred frequently with this conveyor. The ranch had reneged on its promise to provide day care for workers’ children, so the child was left unsupervised and wandered out to find her mother when struck.

Passenger Killed When Bus Overturned-$3,200,000.00

CASE RESULTS

Due to the multiple “aggravated liability factors,” the case settled for $3.2 million.

FACTS

The plaintiff’s decedent was killed when a large passenger bus overturned while traveling on US 101. The California Highway Patrol initially found that the driver had drifted onto the shoulder, lost traction and slid into a ditch adjacent to the freeway. Most of the passengers settled for nominal amounts.

LEGAL STRATEGY

Bennett Johnson did its usual deep inquiry and found that the bus company had forced the driver to drive after he had already been behind the wheel for 14 hours and had asked to be relieved. The company wouldn’t pay him overtime unless his bus route ended some 300 miles further. Bennett Johnson also successfully argued that the bus was defective due to seat design and lack of seat belts.

Motorcyclist Burned Due to Defective Fuel System-$2,300,000.00

CASE RESULTS

The plaintiff was awarded damages of $2.3 million.

FACTS

Plaintiff Smith’s motorcycle dealer failed to properly repair the fuel tank and fuel cap on Smith’s motorcycle after it had been slightly damaged. Following the repairs, the plaintiff was involved in an incident in which he was forced to lay his bike down to avoid an accident. At that time, fuel escaped from the fuel cell cap because it was not the proper size or fit, causing a major explosion and fire. The plaintiff was severely burned and had multiple surgeries for skin grafts.

LEGAL STRATEGIES

Bennett Johnson successfully argued that the plaintiff could no longer work as a carpenter because of the severity of his burns and that the dealer had negligently repaired the fuel system.

Defective Bicycle Part Leads to Brain Injury-$2,000,000.00

CASE RESULTS

Bennett Johnson obtained a $2,000,000 award.

FACTS

A 45-year-old man sustained a traumatic brain injury and facial fractures when the forks of his bicycle separated from the bicycle stem while he was riding, causing him to fall to the pavement.

LEGAL STRATEGIES

Experts retained by Bennett Johnson determined that the materials used in the manufacture of the bicycle forks were defective and below industry standards resulting in the product failure.

Handyman Paralyzed After Falling from Roof-$1,000,000.00

CASE RESULTS

The plaintiff, a handyman, received an award of $1,000,000.00 for an injury sustained when he was hired to clean debris off a commercial property owner’s rooftop.

FACTS

Bennett Johnson represented a handyman who fell off of the roof of a building and sustained a spinal injury resulting in partial paralysis.

LEGAL STRATEGY

Bennett Johnson was able to establish through its experts that the roof from which the man fell qualified as a balcony under the Building Code which required a guardrail and that a guardrail would have arguably prevented the man from falling from the roof.

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