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.
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.
Trucking owner sentenced for falsifying electronic logs following fatal crash
Jury slaps Werner Enterprises with $40.5 million ‘nuclear verdict’ in fatal crash
Ex-fleet manager accused of bilking $1.6M from company