Practice Area: Personal Injury
Outcome: $2,601,058 verdict for plaintiffs
Description: On May 9, 2007, Darla Friel (age 42 at the time) was heading home from work on the northbound 57 freeway in the car pool lane. She was traveling between 60 to 65 miles per hour, and was followed by an Isuzu gardening truck four to five car lengths behind her. A 2004 Ford F-350 truck, owned by HOL Construction Inc. and driven by its employee, Jose Barajas, was also proceeding in the northbound 57 in the no. 4, or “slow” lane heading back towards HOL’s vehicle yard. The Ford F-350 truck crossed all four lanes of northbound traffic and entered the carpool lane across a double yellow lane directly in front of Mrs. Friel’s path of travel. As a result, Mrs. Friel struck the F-350 near the driver’s door, and landed near the center median. Moments later, the Izuzu gardening truck also struck the Ford F-350 in a broadside/sideswipe fashion at approximately 40 miles per hour. At the scene, Barajas claimed the reason he crossed the northbound lanes and entered the carpool lane was that the steering of the Ford F-350 truck failed after the vehicle began violently shuddering. After the loss of steering, Barajas claimed that the truck began to drift to the left and there was nothing he could do to prevent this movement. The CHP inspected the Ford F-350 following the collision and noted that several components of the steering mechanism were broken. Subsequent inspection of the Ford F-350 trucks indicated that all the broken parts of the steering mechanism observed by the CHP, save one, were the result of the subsequent broadside collision between the Ford F-350 and the Isuzu gardening truck. One component of the steering mechanism, the sector steering shaft, showed significant fatigue cracking that pre-existed the collision. Plaintiffs’ experts concluded that this sector steering shaft failed prior to the collision with the Isuzu. Plaintiffs’ experts further determined that the sector shaft was not manufactured in accord with Ford specifications in that the part was not sufficiently hard. This lack of required hardness, combined with impurities in the metal itself, allowed numerous fatigue fractures to develop over the two year work life of the 2004 Ford F-350 vehicle. At trial, Plaintiffs argued that liability was determined by the jurors’ view of the testimony of Barajas. If the jury believed that Barajas made up the story regarding the loss of steering and merely made an unsafe lane change, as Ford contended, then Barajas and HOL were solely liable. On the other hand, if the loss of steering was believed, the cause of the steering loss was a manufacturing defect in the Ford sector shaft which, over time, became greatly fatigued and eventually failed in use. Plaintiffs further argued that Barajas’ failure to stop his vehicle prior to entering the carpool lane, when he had the physical ability to do so, was negligent. Darla Friel's injuries included a pelvis fracture requiring internal fixation, ankle fracture involving internal fixation, leg fracture, kidney damage, and multiple spinous process fractures. Darla Friel subsequently developed a chronic pain syndrome. Plaintiff Kevin Friel brought a claim for loss of consortium.