A jury Friday ordered the county of Los Angeles to pay $1.2 million to a 7-year-old girl whose father was accidentally struck and killed by a sheriff’s deputy in an unmarked car while awaiting help after a 2010 freeway collision.The Los Angeles Superior Court panel deliberated for about 1 1/2 days before finding in favor of Jocelyn Hernandez, whose interests were represented in the case by her mother and legal guardian, Debbie Castaneda of Silver Lake.
Castaneda and the girl’s father, Randy Hernandez, were once high school sweethearts, but never married and were living apart when he died at the age of 20.
Castaneda wept as she heard the verdict. She testified that she and her child’s father met as children and that their romance blossomed when they attended John Marshall High School. Their daughter was born in July 2007.
The jury found the county negligent for the actions of Deputy Ted Broadston, who was previously dismissed as a defendant. Also found negligent was the other driver involved in the initial collision, Eric Lauderdale, who also was not a party to the case. They attributed 60 percent of the blame to him and 40 percent to the county, thus reducing the overall $3 million award to $1.2 million.
Defense attorney Brian Stewart declined to comment on the verdict. However, plaintiff’s attorney Bruce Broillet said he was pleased with the award, which was substantially higher than the $280,500 awarded by a jury in the first trial three years ago.
He and other attorneys representing Jocelyn Hernandez appealed after the verdict in the first trial, arguing that the panel might have awarded more money had Judge Michelle Rosenblatt not allowed them to hear that Randy Hernandez had a medical marijuana prescription.
Last October, a 2nd District Court of Appeal agreed, finding that Randy Hernandez’s marijuana use did not cause the accident and that Rosenblatt erred by admitting it as evidence. The justices ordered a retrial.
Randy Hernandez and Lauderdale were involved in a collision in the southbound lanes of the Harbor (110) Freeway near Olympic Boulevard shortly after 5:30 a.m. on Feb. 28, 2010.
Broadston, driving an unmarked car, subsequently hit Lauderdale’s disabled vehicle, then struck Hernandez as he and Lauderdale stood near a median to await help, according to testimony in both trials.
Alcohol and drugs were not a factor in Broadston’s driving and he was not responding to an emergency, according to testimony. However, attorneys for the county maintained in the first trial that Hernandez’s judgment was impaired by marijuana, which he used to treat a bad back.
The plaintiffs’ attorneys maintained Broadston was driving at least 75 mph, but defense lawyers denied he was speeding and said Hernandez should have stayed in his SUV.
However, Lauderdale testified that Hernandez decided to get out of the SUV when yet another collision occurred nearby, before the two of them were hit by Broadston’s vehicle. He said a vehicle wheel came toward them and Hernandez said, “(Epithet) that, I’m getting out of the car.”
Moments earlier, Hernandez handed him a soda and the two chatted as they waited for help to arrive, Lauderdale said. He said that after Hernandez got out of the SUV, the two of them stood in front of the vehicle and hoped that its headlights would alert drivers to their presence.
Lauderdale said the sound of the engine in Broadston’s car alerted him that it was approaching.
“It was all real fast,” he said. “Next thing, I looked up and I was on the other side of the freeway. I saw my car crashed into the wall.”
Lauderdale said the drivers passing him in the northbound lanes began sounding their horns at him and that he later found out one of his ankles was broken.
Broadston testified that he told traffic investigators he may have had some fault in the collision. He testified that the bright illumination of the Staples Center sign near where the accident occurred may have contributed to his inability to see the two men before hitting them. However, he said he was not blinded by the sign’s lighting and that he mentioned it so that it could be considered as a possible contributing factor to future accidents.
Broadston said he gave CPR to Hernandez. He said his speed before the collision was about 55 to 60 mph.
Broadston, a member of the Sheriff’s Department’s Transit Services Bureau, was headed to work assignment that day after leaving the Gateway Center.
— City News Service
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