Diabetic Defendant Drives Knowing Blood Sugar Is Low And Causes Collision — Amador County Jury Returns Record Verdict
On Friday, September 19, 2014, an Amador County jury returned a record personal injury verdict of $3,695,978.59 for injuries suffered by Tara Frisk in a December 2009 automobile collision.
Plaintiff was represented by attorneys Jason Sigel and Hank Greenblatt of Dreyer Babich Buccola Wood Campora, LLP. Defendant was represented by Robert Drabant of Robert J. Drabant Law Offices.
The defendant, age 53 at the time of the incident, denied liability both for causing the collision and for plaintiff's damages. Defendant has been a Type 1 insulin-dependent diabetic since the age of 14 and on the evening of the collision she blacked out from low blood sugar, crossed the centerline and struck the plaintiff's vehicle. The collision occurred on Highway 49 after the defendant left the Kmart in Jackson headed for a Chinese restaurant less than one mile away. When she arrived at Kmart, the defendant locked her keys in her car. She then phoned her husband who brought her a spare key. While waiting for him, the defendant felt that her blood sugar was starting to get low. Despite this feeling, the defendant did nothing to address her condition before getting behind the wheel. Instead she decided to drive the relatively short distance to the restaurant to eat.
The defendant's DMV record was clean prior to this collision and showed no history of other collisions or medical restrictions. Test results in the defendant's medical records admittedly demonstrated that her diabetes was well-controlled and her personal physician testified at trial that her average historical blood sugar readings were in a range that indicated an ideal level of control. Defendant's husband also testified at trial that in the moments before the defendant got behind the wheel, she seemed totally normal. He saw no outward signs that his wife was suffering any symptoms of low blood sugar and she failed to report any subjective concerns to him before driving away.
Plaintiff alleged that a reasonable diabetic should, once they feel it is decreasing, do something to bring up their blood sugar before driving. plaintiff also argued that the risk of a blackout due to falling blood sugar levels was known to the defendant and that she never should have attempted to operate her vehicle while feeling the onset of low blood sugar-related symptoms.
Ms. Frisk ultimately required a single-level disk replacement in her cervical spine. While the surgery alleviated much of the pain caused by the disk that was damaged as a result of the collision, the plaintiff is still symptomatic and limited in her recreational activities. plaintiff's surgeon testified that she will likely need a double-level fusion surgery sometime in the future. The defendant's retained orthopedic surgery expert testified that he could not relate plaintiff's cervical disk injuries, and need for surgery, to the subject collision.
Plaintiff's pain management doctor testified that she will likely require pain management care and medication for the rest of her life. The defense heavily disputed the reasonable value of the past and future care as well as the need for the past disk replacement and future fusion surgeries.
Before trial, the plaintiff amended the complaint to include a claim for punitive damages. In closing argument, Mr. Sigel argued that the defendant's conduct was egregious to the extent that it justified an award of punitive damages to punish the defendant and deter similar conduct in the future. Mr. Sigel argued that the jury should award Ms. Frisk the full measure of her past and future damages and only punish the defendant in the amount of $1 to send her the message that her conduct was not acceptable in the community.
The jury returned a compensatory award for the plaintiff's past and future economic and non-economic damages of $3,695,977.59 and $1 in punitive damages — every item of damages urged by Mr. Sigel as owing under the circumstances.
"We are very pleased that the jury held the defendant responsible for her actions. Diabetes affects so many of us and it is important that people know they have to manage the disease in a way that doesn't put others at risk. We hope the jury's verdict sends the message that if you know your blood sugar is dropping, you need to take care of it before you get behind the wheel," said Mr. Sigel following the verdict.
As a result of the verdict, Mr. Sigel was interviewed by the CBS affiliate in San Francisco regarding issues related to diabetes and driving safety.
The verdict is the largest personal injury award in Amador County's history.
About The Attorneys
At Dreyer Babich Buccola Wood Campora, we strive to provide you the highest quality legal representation for your injury or loss of a loved one. Our passion is helping people, and our focus is always on the client. We are committed to getting you not only a fair result or a just result, but the best result we can for your own individual situation. That's because we treat you as an individual and tailor the way we build your case around your unique circumstances.