A 13-year-old Orange County girl has won a $150 million wrongful death lawsuit against a trucking company and a driver for a collision that ultimately cost the girl her entire immediate family.
The fatal accident occurred four years ago this month, when the plaintiff was just 9 years old. The family, who lived in Riverside, was driving to Oregon to spend Thanksgiving with family. She was riding in an SUV in the early morning hours with her parents and two older brothers when their vehicle hit a big rig truck that was parked on the side of the 210 Freeway. The truck driver had no emergency reflectors or lights on, even though it was dark.
The SUV, which became trapped underneath the truck, caught fire. The girl and her 11-year-old brother were able to get out of the vehicle. However, their parents and older brother were unable to extract themselves. The two children had to stand by, watching their family get burned alive. The truck driver did not come out of his truck immediately, but the children were able to get another driver to stop. That driver put out the fire.
That was not the end of the tragedy. The surviving brother ultimately killed himself before the trial began.
The two sides in the suit argued in part over whether the truck driver had any right to park on the shoulder of the freeway. It is against the law, except in case of emergency. His attorneys contended that he actually was parked in the dirt, off the shoulder of the freeway, so was not breaking the law. They also argued that he had stopped because he had a serious headache and needed to take medication, which qualified as an emergency. According to the Los Angeles Times, the driver, however, gave varying accounts of why he had stopped.
The jury still found the truck driver negligent. While they also found that the plaintiff's father, who was driving the SUV when it hit the truck, was negligent as well, he was not primarily responsible for the crash, according to the jury.
The attorney for the young plaintiff, who has gone to live with relatives in Orange County, says that she is not really able to understand the enormity of the amount awarded by the jury. However, the verdict and the award can certainly send a message to other trucking companies that they need to make safety a top priority for all of their drivers.
Source: The Washington Post, "Los Angeles jury awards $150 million to girl who saw family die in fiery freeway crash" No author given, Oct. 29, 2013