$6.8 Million – Motor Vehicle Accident

Campbell & Sutherland v. Arc & Reeves

FACTS:

On October 27‚ 1993‚ a firestorm swept through the Laguna Beach area. Within days‚ the beach community was a disaster area. Hundreds of volunteer workers with various disaster organizations‚ including the ARC and the Southern Baptist Convention‚ mobilized to assist disaster victims. Plaintiffs were clients of the ARC. Defendant Reeves were transporting the two minor Plaintiffs from school to their temporary residence in a surplus 1972 U.S. Mail jeep he owned. The old mail truck was not equipped with rear seats or seat belts for rear passengers. As the jeep was descending a steep hill‚ its brakes failed‚ causing it to careen out of control and crash into a deep concrete culvert. Plaintiffs were ejected through the front windshield of the jeep and sustained severe injuries and trauma.

INJURIES:

Campbell: Severe closed head injury with loss of consciousness for 3 days; subdural hematoma; post-traumatic seizures; diffuse axonal injury; residual neurocognitive and behavioral deficits requiring continued special education and behavioral and neuropsychological therapies for life.

Sutherland: Closed head injury with multiple lacerations to the head; neck and back trauma; blunt thoracic injury. Scarring and neck and back pain.

CONTENTIONS:

The case was bifurcated on the issues of agency and damages. The negligence of Defendant Reeves as to the cause of the motor vehicle accident was stipulated to by the parties.

Plaintiffs alleged that Reeves was an agent of Defendant ARC at the time of the incident and had received authorization to transport the minor Plaintiffs. Plaintiffs also alleged that ARC supervisors and staff regularly transported victims in their private vehicles as part of ARC operations. Plaintiffs’ mother alleged a reasonable and good faith belief that the transportation on the date of loss was a service provided by ARC and that Defendant Reeves was acting within the scope of his agency and within the authority of ARC at the time of the trip. Plaintiffs contended that Plaintiff Campbell suffered severe damage to the frontal lobes of his brain in the accident‚ leaving him with severe neurocognitive and behavioral problems.

Defendant ARC denied that Reeves was an actual or ostensible agent and argued that Reeves had no authority to transport the children. ARC alleged they had a written policy which prohibited volunteers from transporting victims in their own personal vehicles‚ and that this trip was a personal favor by Reeves to the victims’ mother.

VERDICT:

$6‚870‚000

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