In one of the largest verdicts in Ohio history, a Cuyahoga County jury awarded $34.6 million dollars to a man involved in a serious truck accident. The case, captioned Kiara E. Torres, et al., v. Concrete Designs Inc., et al., went to a jury trial on September 18th, 2014. On October 14th, 2014 – almost a month later – the jury returned a verdict for plaintiff Rojas in the amount of $26.4 million dollars in non-economic damages and $8.2 million dollars in economic damages, for a total verdict of $34.6 million dollars. The jury also returned a verdict for Plaintiff Torres in the amount of $1.8 million dollars in economic damages and $6 million in non-economic damages for a total award of $7.8 million dollars. This is widely believed to be one of the largest jury verdicts in Ohio history.
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As with all serious injury accidents, the facts leading to this truck accident verdict are tragic. In the morning hours of November 15th, 2010, the Plaintiffs Kiara Torres and Joshua Rojas were in the passenger seats of a car driven by Jovanny Martinez. A large dump truck operated by a man named English collided with the vehicle – causing severe injuries. Among these injuries were debilitating brain and cognitive issues. A neuropsychology expert testified that Torres, due to the truck accident, now has an IQ of 67 and would never be able to work or live independently. Even worse, the expert opined that Torres was no even able to appreciate the severity of her injury. Torres was only 16 years old when she suffered this severe trauma – making the matter all the worse.
One of the interesting legal issues that arose from this case relates to “caps on damages.” In general, Ohio Revised Code Section 2315.18 provides for limitations on “non-economic” damages in some personal injury claims. However, these limitations do not apply if either of the following applies:
(a) Permanent and substantial physical deformity, loss of use of a limb, or loss of a bodily organ system;
(b) Permanent physical functional injury that permanently prevents the injured person from being able to independently care for self and perform life-sustaining activities.
In this case, the Defendants sought to minimize the harm caused to the Plaintiffs, and tried to argue that the severe and debilitating injuries did not qualify as “permanent and substantial physical deformity.” To support this, the Defense tried to argue that the only physical injury to Torres was a scar down her forehead and face, which in their telling, had healed “sufficiently.” The Court found that, while there is no “bright line rule” to determine when caps do not apply, the jury is largely empowered to make that judgment. As the Court of Appeals noted,
“In the instant matter, Torres was very seriously injured. Torres suffered an open skull fracture with intracranial hemorrhaging and a frontal sinus fracture. As a result, her injuries necessitated several operations. She is blind in her right eye and has a diminished sense of taste and smell. Because of the brain injuries, Torres suffers from cognitive and behavioral functioning limitations that affect her everyday.”
This major verdict represents a huge victory for the rights of the injured in Ohio. Truck accident victims throughout the State and Country sent a loud message to trucking companies everywhere – carelessness and negligence has very real and expensive consequences.
Dennis P. Sawan
Licensed in Ohio and Georgia
Christopher A. Sawan
Licensed in Ohio and Michigan
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