Commercial trucker Craig Bond, 48, and his driving partner were traveling in icy, snowy conditions when they pulled their tractor-trailer onto the shoulder of the freeway to attach tire chains. Around the same time, trucker Jorge Gonzales pulled his rig onto the shoulder behind Bond’s truck. As Gonzales pulled back onto the freeway, Gabriel Dooley, driving a tractor-trailer for HTrans, Inc., lost control of his truck and clipped the rear of Gonzales’s trailer. Dooley’s truck then veered onto the shoulder and struck the rear of Bond’s truck, which in turn struck Bond, knocking him to the ground.
About a week after the incident, he was diagnosed with a concussion and post-concussion syndrome. The doctor noted that Bond was having difficulty finding his words. Although CT and MRI scans showed no abnormalities, Bond continued having trouble finding his words and expressing his thoughts. Over the next several months, he developed trembling speech and a chronic mouth tremor. Bond was subsequently diagnosed with a mild traumatic brain injury and conversion disorder—a condition in which a person suffers neurological symptoms without any definable organic cause. The symptoms are thought to arise in response to stressful situations affecting a person’s health. Bond underwent physical therapy and speech therapy. The majority of his medical expenses were paid by workers’ compensation.
Bond was earning $55,000 annually at the time of the incident. He returned to work but was forced to stop after his condition worsened. He is now permanently disabled.
Bond sued Dooley, alleging that he was negligent in driving too fast for conditions and in losing control of his truck. Suit against HTrans alleged vicarious liability.
Bond also sued Gonzales and his employer because Dooley blamed Gonzales, alleging that he was negligent in pulling out onto the freeway too close in front of Dooley, causing him to brake suddenly and lose control of his rig.
The defendants denied liability and blamed each other for the incident, and Dooley also argued that Bond was negligent in parking his tractor-trailer with it protruding one to two feet into the right-hand lane.
The defendants also disputed the nature and extent of Bond’s injuries and argued that his tremor and trembling speech were purely psychological and caused by the conversion disorder. The defense additionally argued that Bond was malingering.
The plaintiff countered that his tremor and speech problems were a direct result of the mild traumatic brain injury, that conversion disorders are caused by mild traumatic brain injuries, and that to the extent any of his problems were psychological, they were in response to his difficulty in handling the brain injury.
In the liability phase of the bifurcated trial, the jury found Dooley 100 percent at fault. Before the damages phase, Dooley and his employer accepted judgment against them for the employer’s $4 million policy limits.
Citation: Bond v. HTrans, Inc., No. 37-2009-00079365-CU-PA-CTL (Cal., San Diego Co. Super. Apr. 17, 2013).
Plaintiff counsel: AAJ member Nicholas C. Rowley, Tiffany T. Chung, and Andrew S. Lind, all of Beverly Hills, Calif.; Brenna E. Hampton, San Diego; and Jeffrey J. Greenman, Newport Beach, Calif.
Plaintiff experts: V. Herbert, trucking industry practices, Quincy, Calif.; and Derald Herling, accident reconstruction, Corvallis, Ore.
Defense experts: David King, accident reconstruction, Lake Forest, Calif.; David Casteel, accident reconstruction, San Diego; and Alan Coulter and Peter Philbrick, trucking safety, both of Phoenix.