Panish Shea & Boyle LLP attorneys David Rudorfer and Tom Schultz obtained a $6,300,000 jury verdict for the family of a Southern California man who suffered fatal injuries as a result of being struck by a vendor vehicle at the Whittier Uptown Association Farmers Market. The case was heard before the Honorable Patrick T. Madden in Los Angeles County Superior Court, South District.
“State Farm didn’t think the life of a 74-year-old man from Pico Rivera was worth anything and this jury’s verdict proves that the insurance company was very wrong,” said David Rudorfer. “The verdict sends a message to all companies that operate or manage Farmers markets across the country that if they violate safety rules meant to prevent pedestrians from being injured in vehicle collisions, they cannot escape the responsibility by simply blaming the driver or vendor.”
On the morning of April 1, 2016, decedent Armando Martinez was a customer at the Whittier Uptown Association Farmers Market (WUAFM) when a vehicle driven by Defendant Maria Acuna drove in reverse at approximately 5 miles per hour striking Mr. Martinez and causing him to land on his head and suffer injuries resulting in his death. At the time of the incident, the Farmers Market was already open for business and Defendant Acuna, who was working for a market vendor, was permitted by the WUAFM manager to drive onto the market grounds to set-up her vendor tent despite the known danger posed to customers. Mr. Martinez was survived by his wife and his two adult daughters with whom he had an extremely close relationship.
Prior to trial, Defendants Whittier Uptown Association (the “Association”) and Acuna both admitted that they were negligent in causing the fatal collision but the State Farm attorneys representing the Association claimed that Defendant Acuna should be held responsible for a significant majority of the blame because she was the driver of the vehicle that struck Mr. Martinez. The Plaintiffs contended that the Association was 100 percent responsible for the collision because, as its management admitted in deposition, it was supposed to keep vehicles off the property after the market opened for business and it violated a safety rule that would have prevented the fatal incident.
Throughout the seven days of trial, the Plaintiffs called numerous witnesses to prove the Association was negligent including the operations manager, the market chair, the onsite manager, the Association president and vice president and board members. The Association only called one witness who failed to refute the strong evidence of the Association’s negligence.
Despite a number of witnesses who were called to testify about the close relationship Mr. Martinez had with his wife and children, the Association argued that they should be awarded less than $250,000.00 in damages for the loss of their husband and father.
Plaintiffs had to convince the jury to not only find both parties liable for Mr. Martinez’s death, but to allocate a significant portion of the responsibility to the Association if they were going to collect on any judgment as Acuna had only $100,000 in insurance. Plaintiffs damages were solely based on noneconomic damages, there was no claim for financial support.
The jury deliberated for approximately one and one half days before reaching a verdict for $6,300,000 and apportioning liability by placing 99.5% of the responsibility for Mr. Martinez’s death on Defendant Whittier Uptown Association and only 0.5% on the driver Defendant Acuna.
“The lives of this family are forever changed as a result of this horrific accident and the negligent actions of Whittier Uptown Association by failing to adhere to its own safety protocols,” said Tom Schultz. “The jury’s verdict should serve as a wake-up call to any organization or company that puts its profits over the safety of its customers and the public at large.”