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Civil Litigation

Sep. 16, 2019

$60 million wrongful death verdict in San Bernardino

A superior court jury in San Bernardino has delivered a $60 million verdict to the parents of a teenager killed at a school crosswalk.

A superior court jury in San Bernardino County has delivered a $60 million verdict to the parents of a teenager fatally struck at a school crosswalk in 2016.

The verdict, secured by Orange County trial lawyers Paoli & Purdy PC on Sept. 11, is one of the largest to recently come out of the Inland Empire.

Historically, San Bernardino and Riverside Counties have not been the venues for many eye-popping verdicts, but as of late that might be changing. This summer a San Bernardino County jury delivered a $113 million child abuse verdict. And last year $33.5 million was awarded to the victim of a police shooting, one of the largest police-involved shooting verdicts in the country.

On Wednesday, after deliberating for about seven hours the jury awarded $10 million for past noneconomic damages and $50 million for future noneconomic damages against the defendant, the town of Apple Valley. They found the crosswalk intersection where the 14-year-old boy was killed in 2016 by an SUV was on notice of being in poor condition and a substantial factor in causing the death. Traffic engineers and accident reconstruction experts were called by the plaintiffs.

Attorneys for the district, McCormick, Mitchell & Rasmussen, did not call their own experts and offered $200,000 to settle on the eve of the verdict, according to Cody Purdy, who litigated the case along with partner William Paoli on behalf of the deceased boy's father. The mother was represented by Evan Ginsburg of Fullerton.

The plaintiffs asked for $6.5 million in statutory relief as a compromise a year before the trial date, their attorneys said.

"Throughout this case, and continuing at trial, the defendant contended that a San Bernardino jury would never award more than a million dollars for the damages sustained by Alex's parents for the loss of their first-born child. Further, defendant argued that Alex's negligence was a substantial factor in causing his death, which the jury rejected with its verdict of no comparative fault attributed to Alex," said Paoli and Purdy in a statement.

The plaintiffs' attorneys argued there were several problems with the intersection, including excessive speed, poor lighting and a lack of signs. A "school zone" sign was removed prior to the accident by the town and a sign reducing speed from 55 mph to 25 mph was never posted, according to the plaintiffs' attorneys.

Further, there were two prior accidents at the intersection in 2003 and 2004, the attorneys said. Stephen De La Cruz v. Town of Apple Valley, DS1619242 (S.B Super. Ct., filed Nov. 10, 2016).

Judge Janet M. Frangie presided over the trial. John McCormick of McCormick, Mitchell & Rasmussen, who defended the town, did not respond to a request for comment.

The town said "children were its greatest asset" but argued it had no legal obligation to reduce speed or require safety measures under the California Vehicle Code, according to the plaintiffs' attorneys.

Trial lawyer Robert Simon, founder of the Simon Law Group, said he prefers litigating many of his cases in the Inland Empire compared to Los Angeles.

"Jurors are real people and get it. The judges are very likely [among] the best in the state," said Simon, who noted he's had seven verdicts over a million dollars over the past two years in San Bernardino and Riverside Counties.


Justin Kloczko

Daily Journal Staff Writer

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