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Judge slaps wholesale distribution company with $23.7M ‘nuclear verdict’ in crash

Motorcyclist worked as a houseman at a Beverly Hills hotel before losing leg in collision with truck

Photo: Shutterstock

A California judge has awarded $23.7 million, considered a “nuclear verdict” because its damages exceed $10 million, to a Southern California motorcyclist who lost part of his leg after he was struck by a work truck in December 2017.

Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Stephen Czuleger awarded Steeve Rojas $18 million in general damages and more than $4.5 million in economic damages on Tuesday after a nine-day bench trial. Rojas’ wife was awarded $1.2 million for loss of consortium.

What happened?

Rojas was driving his 2003 Yamaha R6 motorcycle south on Coldwater Canyon Avenue in Los Angeles on Dec. 5, 2017, when police say Kevin Anthony Henderson, who was driving a work truck for Hajoca Corp., crossed three lanes of traffic and struck him.

In his deposition, Henderson admitted that he didn’t see Rojas until just prior to the impact. Both Hajoca and Henderson were named in the civil lawsuit that was filed in January 2018.

Hajoca did not respond to FreightWaves’ request for comment about the verdict on Wednesday.

Hajoca Corp., headquartered in Philadelphia, is a supplier of plumbing, heating and industrial supplies. The company has 872 power units and 1,166 drivers, according to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) SAFER website. Hajoca has more than 400 locations nationwide in over 40 states, according to the company’s website.

Experienced motorcyclist loses lower leg

Rojas, who rode motorcycles for more than 30 years, underwent several surgeries following the crash to try to save his right leg, but doctors were forced to amputate his lower leg eight days later because of extensive damage, according to court documents.

He was fitted with a prosthesis in June 2018 and attempted to return to work in October 2018 as a houseman in the housekeeping department of the Peninsula Hotel in Beverly Hills, according to court documents. 

Court filings state that Rojas was forced to retire after he developed a severe infection at the wound site that required surgery and hospitalization. 

“This result will allow Mr. Rojas and his family to move forward after this tragic collision and provides them the financial resources they need for Mr. Rojas’s medical care and future expenses,” trial attorney Brian Panish of Panish Shea & Boyle LLP said in a statement.

A study by the American Transportation Research Institute (ATRI) in 2020 found that nuclear verdicts have skyrocketed more than 300% in the past seven years, leading to soaring insurance premiums.  

Click for more FreightWaves articles by Clarissa Hawes.

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  1. Greyson Goody

    The author of this article throws in a silly comment about insurance premiums skyrocketing and “nuclear verdicts.” Clear tort reform insurance company rhetoric aimed at disregarding a very serious crash and this mans leg was taken from him. Guarantee you this poor guy would rather have his leg than this verdict.

    1. John

      Yeah I don’t know. While I wouldn’t want to loose a limb either, 23 million for a leg is excessive. Of course truth be told, the judge likely awarded that much because the judge is well aware that the lawyer is automatically getting 50 percent or more of it. After the lawyers cut, the medical bills and etc., dudes probably walking away with 5 million tops. You want to cut down these nuclear verdicts, start going after these lawyers and placing limits on what they can collect. Don’t like that idea? Then find another profession. Plenty of court appointed arbitraries out here that could handle the case. But that’ll never happen because the vast majority of State Legislators and Congress members are lawyers and get to write these laws.

      1. Tim

        Here in ohio lawyers charge 33% fee. They are maxed at that. The argument I have is the 1.2 million for consortium. That’s to his wife for not having sex.

Comments are closed.

Clarissa Hawes

Clarissa has covered all aspects of the trucking industry for 14 years. She is an award-winning journalist known for her investigative and business reporting. Before joining FreightWaves, she wrote for Land Line Magazine and If you have a news tip or story idea, send her an email to [email protected]