Truck-driver father runs over own daughter; guess who is to blame?

by Ted Frank on March 10, 2010

In 2004, truck driver Simon Loza Mejia violated company regulations, and took his eight-year-old Diana Yuleidy Loza-Jimenez along on a long-haul trip from Oregon to Bakersfield. That November 27, he was pulling away in the truck, but apparently didn’t bother to check where his daughter was, and ran over her. This was, argued her attorneys, the fault of her father’s employer—and a Sacramento County judge agreed with the argument that it was legally irrelevant that her father was the one who ran her over. Unsurprisingly, a jury ignorant of the facts awarded Diana, whose lower body was crushed, a jackpot verdict of $24.3 million, over $20 million of which was noneconomic damages. (Andy Furillo, “Sacramento jury awards record $24.3 million to girl run over by dad’s truck”, Sacramento Bee, Mar. 9 (h/t @BobDorigoJones)).

{ 23 comments }

1 ceebee 03.10.10 at 4:58 am

wow that is totally screwed up.

2 Eric T. 03.10.10 at 6:41 am

Jackpot?

Somehow, I think that if given the choice between crushed body and health, you wouldn’t find a whole lot choosing the former over the latter.

3 Ed 03.10.10 at 7:09 am

How about the choice of taking responsibility for your own actions, or suing the people who told you NOT to bring your child.

4 Doug 03.10.10 at 8:08 am

Sometimes bad things happen that are the responsibility of yourself, and not the company you work for.

5 Reformed Republican 03.10.10 at 8:44 am

I see where, legally, a trucking company would be liable if someone is run over. I think the problem is that the company does not have any legal recourse to recover damages from a negligent employee. The driver caused the company to lose a lot of money. The company should be able to recover that money from the employee.

6 jkoerner 03.10.10 at 9:26 am

Why can’t the company recover from its negligent employee? If he broke company policy, was negligent, and caused injury that the employer was liable for, why can they not sue him to recoup their costs?

7 Roy B 03.10.10 at 10:08 am

A company sets policy, an emplyee disregards that policy, the company is responsible. I believe the issue here is the growing number of Courts that allow these type of cases to go forward. Rules and regulations are not worth the paper they are written on.

8 Doug 03.10.10 at 10:39 am

To Roy B. “Bingo” we have a winner.

9 Eric T 03.10.10 at 11:24 am

A company sets policy, an emplyee disregards that policy, the company is responsible.

And what of companies that sets a policy (“because the lawyers made us do it”) but don’t enforce it?

The entire concept of holding employers responsible for the acts of the employees (respondeat superior) is based on the fact that the servant is doing the work of the master, profits from the acts of the servant, and is also responsible for his/her acts.

10 Eric 03.10.10 at 3:04 pm

So if the company is responsible because it hired a negligent driver, then yes, the company should be able to sue the driver for breaking company rules. I see no reason that that a jury should be told the driver ran over his own daughter — they should only be told that he caused the company substantial loss through his negligance, ruined a young girl’s life, and he certainly has he assets from which to recover the loss.

11 mojo 03.10.10 at 5:19 pm

You too can become a “California Judicial Millionaire”, provided you are willing to maim your children for life!

12 Bob Lipton 03.10.10 at 5:58 pm

Eric, while I understand the theory of the servant, the application here is a little dim. In what way did the corporation benefit by having this driver break its rules against passengers and by running over the driver’s daughter, even absent the award of money?

Bob

13 nevins 03.10.10 at 8:05 pm

Unfortunately the judge took away the jury’s ability to weigh all of the evidence. The fact that the driver was the father of the kid hit was very relevant; the jury should have the opportunity to consider this as a material fact in the case:
If this guy had backed over some kid that had come out of no where then that is a tragic accident; it is a judgement call as to whether the details of the situation suggest a negligence on the part of the driver.
But if the driver knew that there was a kid about, and knew with absolute certainty that the kid was not in the cab of the truck, then it would be reasonable for a jury to conclude that he had acted with wanton disregard for the safety of his own child. And any man willing to act in that manner must be acting in a manner contrary to his training and reasonable professional standards. In breaching his duty to the child and doing so in a manner contrary to company policy he needs to be on the hook for her injuries.
Sure, they claim that they would trade it all for her to be well; but that is a safe bet because the damage cannot be repaired for any sum of money. So in the mean time he is living large on the fruits of his screw up.

14 Eric T. 03.10.10 at 10:39 pm

Eric, while I understand the theory of the servant, the application here is a little dim. In what way did the corporation benefit by having this driver break its rules against passengers and by running over the driver’s daughter, even absent the award of money?

Corps don’t benefit when an employee, while doing the acts of his employer (truck driving), acts negligently and hurts someone. That is the downside of the master-servant equation.

So long as the truck driver has not taken a “frolic and detour” off his route (i.e. going several blocks out of his way to buy groceries and hits someone while off route) the company will be responsible.

Assuming the driver has not gone off-route, he hasn’t taken the frolic and detour.

Put another way, if he had improperly picked up a hitchhiker, but was still on route and had an accident, then same result, company would be vicariously liable. Thus, choose your employees wisely.

The fact that the injured was related isn’t legally significant.

15 Eric T. 03.10.10 at 10:43 pm

Wikipedia does a decent summary of the frolic and detour concept for the non-lawyers who may have made it this far down in the comments:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Frolic_and_detour

16 Antireidistributionist 03.11.10 at 12:22 am

The employer’s supposed remedy of suing the negligent father/employee who willfully violated company policy is no remedy at all, because there is no way he can satisfy the judgment.

The expansion of an employer’s vicarious liability to include acts that (a) clearly do not benefit the employer and (b) have been forbidden by the employer is simply a way of finding a deep pocket.

If an employer fails to “choose employees wisely,” the remedy is a direct (active negligence) claim for negligent hiring, not the imposition of vicarious liability without fault. The “choose wisely” rhetoric is just an attempt to make it seem that the employer is being held liable for some negligent act.

17 John Rohan 03.11.10 at 9:18 am

Eric T. said: “The fact that the injured was related isn’t legally significant.”

Someone versed in law please tell me how the fact that the driver was the father of the victim is not legally significant??

1. Doesn’t it mean that the driver was even more negligent than if it was a stranger? After all, he moved the vehicle after forgetting that a passenger was missing.

2. Isn’t there a direct conflict of interest when this driver, an employee of the company, is sued by his own daughter? Essentially you have, if nothing else, the strong possibility (if not absolute certainty) that the two will collude together to maximize damages against the deepest pocket in this case.

3. Most importantly – when awarding damages, shouldn’t the jury at least know that the person who caused the accident is the legal guardian of the victim, and so would stand to become a multi-millionaire from his own grossly negligent conduct??? Many states have laws that prevent criminals from cashing in on their crimes – couldn’t that law be applied in this case as well?

4. Finally, what if – hypothetically – the father intentionally tried to kill the daughter that day? Should he still be rewarded for this?

18 Eric T. 03.11.10 at 5:43 pm

2. Isn’t there a direct conflict of interest when this driver, an employee of the company, is sued by his own daughter? Essentially you have, if nothing else, the strong possibility (if not absolute certainty) that the two will collude together to maximize damages against the deepest pocket in this case.

Yes. I assume the girl had a different guardian for the purposes of the lawsuit. (Certainly in NY that would be required)

Most importantly – when awarding damages, shouldn’t the jury at least know that the person who caused the accident is the legal guardian of the victim, and so would stand to become a multi-millionaire from his own grossly negligent conduct???

The father doesn’t stand to gain bupkus. It’s the kid’s money. I would assume that, if CA is similar to NY, the money of a minor is protected. Courts are always worried about this very issue and bend over backwards to protect the kid from relatives who might have an eye on the money.

19 John Rohan 03.11.10 at 8:27 pm

Eric T. wrote: Yes. I assume the girl had a different guardian for the purposes of the lawsuit. (Certainly in NY that would be required)

I notice you ignored several other questions – but in any case, it doesn’t matter if he had another guardian for the purposes of the lawsuit. The lawsuit eventually ends, and he is (one of) her legal guardians, and stands to make millions off of this.

The father doesn’t stand to gain bupkus. It’s the kid’s money. I would assume that, if CA is similar to NY, the money of a minor is protected. Courts are always worried about this very issue and bend over backwards to protect the kid from relatives who might have an eye on the money.

Sorry, but I’ve seen this happen. Even when the system works, it’s still like trying to only pour water into one side of a bathtub. If this girl needs constant care, her parents are the ones most likely to provide it. They can buy her a huge multimillion dollar estate, with a swimming pool and several cars, all in her name. They will just happen to live there. Even if she’s too injured to enjoy these things, they certainly will. And if the girl dies, who do you think is the next of kin?

Meanwhile, unless this is covered by insurance, it’s certain that the company will have to make layoffs to cover the huge loss. And even if it is covered, premiums will have to be raised. In other words, some people are going to lose their jobs while the guy who ran over the girl is set for life.

The bottom line is, the father is, by far, the most guilty party here, and in a just system, he would be the one to pay damages.

20 Jerry Vandesic 03.11.10 at 8:57 pm

I was once called for jury duty in VA and the case had some similarities to this one. The case was one where a woman was a passenger in a car, and the driver caused an accident. The woman sued the driver for medical costs and pain & suffering. But the driver was the woman’s husband. The judge made a point of saying that the suit was allowed under the law.

I can certainly understand it. The driver had insurance to cover accidents that he was involved in, whether he caused them or not. The fact that his carelessness caused another person injury was what was covered by the insurance policy, and it didn’t matter that the person he harmed was his wife.

If you think that it does matter, to what degree should the law require non-relatedness? How about cousins, 2nd cousins, 5th cousins twice removed?

ps. I was not selected as a juror so I don’t know what ultimately happened. It would have been interesting to see the conclusion of the case.

21 TC 03.11.10 at 9:41 pm

Just the result of the CA judicial system attempting to do it’s part for the budget crunch.

30% of 24 mill makes for some revenue to the state!

22 John Rohan 03.12.10 at 7:53 am

Jerry Vandesic wrote:

If you think that it does matter, to what degree should the law require non-relatedness? How about cousins, 2nd cousins, 5th cousins twice removed?

How is that relevant? Except in unusual circumstances, you are not the legal guardian or spouse of your cousin. When you are dealing with immediate family members, it’s nearly impossible to cleanly divide wealth between one and another.

23 CheChe 03.24.10 at 2:43 pm

If you think that it does matter, to what degree should the law require non-relatedness? How about cousins, 2nd cousins, 5th cousins twice removed?

I think the sore point here is not that the 2 were related. It is the fact that the jury was not given all of the facts. They weren’t told the whole story. How can you make a correct decision knowing half of the facts?

The Driver broke company policy by bringing family along with him. This should protect the company just as a warning label on a frying pan protects the manufacturer.

The father was negligent in more than one way. He broke his companies rules and his training guidelines which he was required to know to become a driver in the first place (not to mention negligent in the care of his daughter).

This guy should be in prison for child endangerment and destroying his daughter’s life by disregarding responsibilities, laws and rules. Instead, he is living it up in a mansion with no worries about money ever again.

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