A jury in Fresno has awarded 57-year-old Maria Blanca Lopez and her family $10.5 million for injuries she suffered in a Fresno big rig accident caused by an intoxicated truck driver on June 9, 2007. According to a news report in the Fresno Bee, Lopez suffered severe brain injuries in the 06/09/07 crash. Jesus Chavez Ramirez, an employee for DAV Charities, ran a stop sign and broadsided Lopez’s car at the intersection of Church and Valentine avenues. He was on the job at the time and had a blood alcohol level of 0.08 percent, which is the legal limit in California.
According to court documents, Ramirez had been drinking the night before the accident and was still drunk when he arrived at work. Despite being intoxicated, he was still allowed to operate the 20,000-pound dump truck. Ramirez pleaded guilty to drunk driving in November 2007 and was sentenced to one year in jail.
Lopez’s family apparently depended on her minimum wage job at a local 99 Cents store to make ends meet. Lopez’s brain injuries have taken her memory away from her and she experiences “excruciatingly painful headaches,” her attorney said. Jurors found DAV Charities, Ramirez’s employer, responsible for $4 million in past and future medical expenses for Lopez plus $6.5 million for pain and suffering.
This is believed to be one of the largest ever awards in California’s Central Valley for an auto accident injury case. As a Southern California personal injury lawyer, I have observed that more and more juries in California are starting to award bigger verdicts in auto accident cases. This is especially true when they see that these incidents not only have an impact on the victims, but their families and their quality of life as well.
Take this case as an example. Lopez suffered severe brain injuries and she will never be the same person again. Her memory, her health and the skills she has developed over decades have been destroyed. Her family will have to look at alternate sources of income and they have to pay for Lopez’s care and continuing treatment. Even if $10.5 million may seem like a jackpot to many of us, please remember, that victims such as Lopez would rather have their minimum wage jobs and old personalities back rather then millions of dollars and brain injuries. I’m glad that Ramirez, the driver of the big-rig, was prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law and his employer was held financially responsible for their negligence.