In June 2017, a Los Angeles jury awarded $10.7 million to a young girl after determining that her traumatic brain injury was caused by an auto accident. The girl, who was ten years old at the time of the accident, received the verdict following unsuccessful settlement negotiations in which her lawyers asked for $2.25 million and the defendant countered at $1.25 million. Economic damages made up $6.78 million of the judgment, with the remainder awarded for non-economic damages.
The driver of the vehicle that struck the car in which the young girl was a passenger admitted his guilt in the accident. His lawyer argued that the girl had a pre-existing intellectual development disability that led to her brain injury. The girl’s attorney argued that while the girl did have a learning disability, it was the accident that caused the brain injury and led to an 11-day stay in a pediatric intensive care unit.
After a nine-day trial, it took the jury just two days to order the verdict in favor of the girl.
California law dictates that even if a plaintiff is unusually susceptible to injury, defendants cannot avoid their liability if they are responsible for injuries from car accidents in which they were at fault. While the girl in this case may well have been more susceptible to a traumatic brain injury because of her learning disability, this determination is not relevant in terms of whether the defendant had to pay for her injuries.
Defendants in California cases are not liable for damages related to a pre-existing condition, but they are responsible if that condition worsens or is aggravated. In this case, the girl suffered from moderate but permanent brain damage that was a direct result of the auto accident. The fact that she already had a visual processing disorder did not play into the jury’s decision under California law, as it was clear that the accident caused additional harm. The $10.7 million judgment against the defendant is to cover the costs the young girl will incur over the course of her lifetime due to her traumatic brain injury.