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Napa County Jury Returns Record $8.4 Million Verdict

Verdict: $8.4 Million | Napa County | Alvarez v. Syar Industries, Inc.

On Wednesday, February 1, 2017, a Napa County jury returned a verdict in favor of clients of the Dreyer Babich Buccola Wood Campora firm in the amount of $8,311,685 and $125,000. The firm represented Melissa Alvarez, a 35-year-old mother of three and employee of Napa County’s Probation Department and her 5-year-old son, Lorenzo Alvarez. The verdict for Ms. Alvarez represented the largest personal injury verdict in the history of Napa County.

Trial Counsel: Roger A. Dreyer, Esq. and Noemi Nuñez Esparza , Esq. tried the case over the course of 19 trial days before the Honorable Diane M. Price. The case involved a motor vehicle collision on April 17, 2015, where Ms. Alvarez was headed northbound on State Highway 221 in the number 2 lane with her then 3-year-old son, Lorenzo, in his car seat located in the middle of the rear bench seat in her GMC Yukon. As she was traveling at 55 miles per hour, an employee of Syar Industries was driving a street sweeper cleaning up spilled gravel in the shoulder area along the right hand lane. Inexplicably, this individual made a left turn from the shoulder out into the lane which Ms. Alvarez was traveling. Her vehicle broadsided the street sweeper resulting in both vehicles catching fire. Both Ms. Alvarez and her son had to be rescued by passers-bye who stopped and despite the vehicle catching on fire, entered the Alvarez vehicle and extricated them both.

During the year and a half of litigation on this matter, the defendant and its counsel hired by its insurance carrier, AIG, contested liability. The defense took the position that because Ms. Alvarez was on a hands-free telephone call that she was “distracted” and that she could have taken action to either avoid striking the street sweeper as it entered her lane or slow down such as the impact was not as significant.

Accident reconstructionist, human factor experts and visibility experts had to be retained and deposed throughout the pre-trial preparation to counteract and demonstrate that the defense’s position was not only untenable, it was false. As a result of the efforts by Mr. Dreyer and Ms. Esparza, the defense ultimately admitted liability on the first day of trial and dropped all contentions that Ms. Alvarez had somehow played a role in the incident taking place.

As a result of the collision, Ms. Alvarez sustained a right mid-shaft transverse femur fracture with lateral displacement, a right tibial plateau fracture, a right comminuted fibular fracture as well as a right bimalleolar ankle fracture. These fractures all happened as a result of her having placed her right foot on the brake in an avoidance maneuver. She also suffered multiple soft tissue injuries to her neck, chest and arms as well as displaced fractures in her left foot. Lorenzo was asleep at the time of the impact and was awoken to see his mother unable to physically take him out of his car seat or remove him from the vehicle. She literally had to be dragged on the hot asphalt from the vehicle and away from her son to get away from the burning vehicle. The witnesses during trial gave compelling testimony of Lorenzo’s ability to observe the circumstance and the car that he was in catching on fire. Ms. Esparza in her closing argument for Lorenzo was able to capture the moment and articulate for this small child the emotional impact it had left on him even though he was unable to articulate it to the jury himself. While he did not suffer any physical injury, the jury clearly appreciated the points made as demonstrated by the size of the verdict that it returned for Lorenzo.

Ms. Alvarez was married, had three children and was employed by the county as a juvenile counselor. She had been employed for the past 10 years and had demonstrated a tremendous capacity and ability in her position. The head of probation testified on her behalf at trial and was able to provide to the jury under examination by Mr. Dreyer the level of skill and compassion she had when carrying out her duties and responsibilities. She articulated for the jury not only what Ms. Alvarez had done in the past but also what kind of a future she would have within the county’s probation department because of her intellect and capacity to effect change in the juveniles housed at the facility. The scope of her injuries were so severe and the multiple surgeries that she had undergone made it quite clear that she was not going to be able to maintain her employment with the county because of the physical demands of the job. Ms. Esparza, who took the lead on presenting evidence of Ms. Alvarez’ co-employees’ testimony thought that was a critical component of the case for the jury to understand and appreciate Ms. Alvarez’ loss. “Melissa’s work ethic and compassion was evident to the jury through the testimony of her fellow employees. It is clear the jury appreciated just how much she loved her job and the devastating impact of not being able to continue as a juvenile counselor.”

The expert testimony addressing Ms. Alvarez’ physical injuries to her right leg and the need for future surgeries on her knee and ankle was powerful and demonstrated that she was looking at a long and continuous lifetime of future surgeries. “The insurance carrier in this case never fully grasped just how significant Ms. Alvarez’ future medical care was going to be,” said Dreyer. “She was looking at a lifetime of surgeries and rehabilitation just so she could do basic acts of daily living with her right leg. The medical testimony was compelling and the jury was not mislead by the defenses position through its hired physician.”

The jury took one day of deliberations to return its verdict. It awarded past and future economic damages in the amount of $2.5 million for medical expenses incurred, medical expenses required in the future and loss of income that Ms. Alvarez would suffer in the future. The jury also returned a non-economic loss for Ms. Alvarez for past and future of just under $6 million. “In talking with the jurors after the verdict, it was readily apparent that the jury understood just how devastating this injury was to Melissa and her family. It was so very gratifying to see how the jury was able to connect with Melissa through the presentation of the evidence both in terms of lay witnesses and experts that we were able to present to them,” remarked Ms. Esparza. No post-trial motions or appeal were filed.

About the Attorney

Roger Dreyer

Roger A. Dreyer

Noemi Nuñez Esparza

Noemi Nuñez Esparza

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.

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Further Reading

Napa Valley Register: Napa mom awarded $8.3M in damages