In January 2012, an apprentice electrician (plaintiff) was doing electrical
work at an office in Mountain View, California with his immediate supervisor,
a journeyman electrician (defendant). The defendant offered to take the
plaintiff out for lunch, and they got into the defendant’s car and
headed out for a meal.
The defendant had a history of substance abuse problems, and though those
around him thought he was clean and sober, he was actually far from it.
The defendant drove the plaintiff from the Mountain View office to Sunnyvale,
California, where the defendant picked up his girlfriend. Over the course
of an extended lunch break, the defendant drank and argued with his girlfriend
while the plaintiff waited to be driven back to work. When that time eventually
came, the defendant’s argument with his girlfriend escalated, with
the two bitterly yelling at each other in the vehicle while the captive
plaintiff asked to be returned to work.
At one point, the defendant ordered his girlfriend out of the car. When
she refused to leave, the defendant flew into a rage, slamming on the
gas and tearing through the streets of Sunnyvale. The plaintiff and the
girlfriend begged the defendant to stop, and watched the speedometer climb
to 100 mph as he flew northbound down Wolfe Road in Sunnyvale. At this
point the plaintiff was screaming for him to slow down, but the defendant
was crazed and ignored the pleas.
As the vehicle crossed Arques Avenue, the defendant lost control, driving
off the right side of the road, taking out trees planted along the sidewalk,
and rolling the vehicle multiple times all the way into the parking lot
of the nearby Lowe’s Home Improvement store. After the plaintiff
helped the defendant out of the vehicle, the defendant fled the immediate
area. He was later convicted of drunk driving and hit and run violations.
The plaintiff faces a long road to recovery. Though he only needed basic
emergency care and suffered no fractures, he suffered nerve damage throughout
his c-spine, causing bilateral parethesia (tingling, pricking) in his
arms. After trying to conservatively treat the injury with medication
and injections for three years, it was clear he required a cervical fusion,
which he is planning on completing in 2016.
Initially The Dunnion Law Firm attorneys faced the problem of making sure
there were adequate funds to go after for the plaintiff. The defendant,
who was in his 20s, had no money of his own, and an insurance policy of
only $25,000. Thankfully, he had borrowed his father’s vehicle temporarily,
and his father carried an insurance policy of $500,000. If Dunnion attorneys
could establish that the father negligently entrusted his vehicle to his
son, the father’s $500,000 insurance policy would cover the plaintiff
for the loss. After much discovery, negligent entrustment was definitively
established in depositions of the father and son. In those depositions
it was shown that the father was aware of his son’s substance abuse
problems, but irresponsibly felt his son was a competent driver because
of his son’s complete recovery after battling substance abuse. Problematically,
the father admitted that the only basis for this conclusion was the son’s
statements that he no longer had a substance abuse problem. In other words,
the father had not independently verified anything, and was relying only
on his addict son for an honest representation of his progress in battling
substance abuse. By the conclusion of the deposition it was clearly established
that he had reason to believe his son was incompetent to drive his vehicle,
and had departed from the standard of care in entrusting his vehicle to
his son. With that, the plaintiff had the potential to recover $500,000.
Until shortly before trial, the defense offered $0. The defendants’
attorneys claimed that plaintiff had preexisting back issues, knew defendant
was drunk and still drove with him, and that his surgery would not be
necessary. The defense further argued that plaintiffs conservative care
was too expensive, and that they need not pay plaintiff’s full medical bills.
Shortly before the Monterey, California trial, the defense offered $200,000,
then $300,000, then $475,000 to settle the matter. The plaintiff accepted $475,000.