Two months after a judge overturned a multimillion-dollar award to a teen who survived a fiery crash that killed three members of her family, who were riding in an SUV that crashed into the back of a big rig in Sunland, the two sides have settled the case.
Court papers filed Tuesday in Los Angeles Superior Court by Brian Brandt, the attorney for 13-year-old plaintiff Kylie Asam, did not reveal the terms of the accord.
On Oct. 25, a jury that had deliberated for about 3 1/2 days found in favor of the teen in the wrongful death lawsuit brought on her behalf in October 2011 by her paternal grandfather, David Asam.
The $150.7 million verdict had swelled with interest to about $180 million.
Kylie was 9 years old when she and one of her brothers, 11-year-old Blaine, managed to climb out of a window of the family's crumpled 2007 GMC Yukon, which struck the rear of the big rig parked along the shoulder of the Foothill (210) Freeway about 5 a.m. on Nov. 22, 2009.
Killed in the crash were Kylie's 41-year-old father, Michael Asam, her 40-year-old mother, Shannon, and her 14-year-old brother, Brennen. Blaine died last June.
The truck's driver, Rudolph Ortiz, parked his rig on the same shoulder Michael Asam tried to reach after he struck debris on the freeway and tried to stop. He never saw Ortiz's truck in the darkness, according to the plaintiffs' attorneys.
The trucker and his employer, Watsonville-based Bhandal Bros. Trucking Inc. were found jointly liable.
However, on Feb. 3, Judge Marc Marmaro vacated the jury's award, finding it excessive and motivated by "a desire to punish rather a desire to fairly compensate."
Marmaro also ruled the jury erred when it concluded that the negligence of Michael Asam was not a major factor in causing the accident.
"In this case, there is no factual basis in the record for the jury's conclusion that Mr. Asam's negligent conduct was not a substantial factor in causing the damages," Marmaro wrote. "Rather, the facts of the case and the evidence presented indicate that the jury's findings ... were at best the result of uncertainty or confusion rather than a clear determination of fact by the jury."
Brandt said Ortiz parked the truck on the right shoulder to sleep, despite written warnings that stopping there was only allowed in emergencies.
"He violated simple highway rules and as a result three members of the community are dead," Brandt said.
Defense attorney Raymond McElfish denied Ortiz stopped to sleep. The driver testified he had taken a break to urinate and because he had a severe headache.
McElfish said the evidence showed Michael Asam fell asleep at the wheel. He argued that Ortiz violated no law because he was parked on the dirt to the right of the shoulder.
According to Brandt, Ortiz's trailer lights and his emergency flashers were off when the impact occurred. He also said Ortiz never put out his emergency reflectors. All of the actions were in violation of existing laws governing big rigs, Brandt said.
The Asams were headed to Oregon to visit the children's grandparents for Thanksgiving.
Shannon Asam was a longtime legal assistant and her husband worked as a Riverside Public Utilities power line technician.
Kylie now lives with an aunt.
- City News Service