A 13-year-old girl who survived a 2009 car crash on a Southern California interstate that left her parents and older brother dead was awarded $150.75 million.
Kylie Asam was nine years old when she and her 11-year-old brother Blaine managed to escape from their family’s SUV after it struck and got caught under a big rig parked on the shoulder of Interstate 210. They witnessed their parents and older brother get burned alive after the car caught on fire.
The jury found the Watsonville-based company Bhandal Bros. Trucking and the truck driver, Rudolph Ortiz, jointly liable, the Associated Press reports.
The wrongful death lawsuit alleged Ortiz pulled over to sleep, ignoring signs that said stopping was allowed only in emergencies. Ortiz parked on the same shoulder Asam’s father tried to reach after he struck debris on the freeway.
Plaintiff attorney Brian Brandt said the children flagged down a driver who used a fire extinguisher and shoveled dirt to try to put out the fire. The driver said Ortiz came out of the truck after a second 911 call was made to authorities.
The jury deliberated for about three days before finding Friday that Ortiz was negligent for parking on the side of the freeway in the early morning darkness without leaving on any light or emergency reflectors.
The verdict included $8.75 million the jury awarded to Blaine, who committed suicide on his mother’s birthday this past June, Brandt said. That money will go to Kylie but will be placed in a trust until she is 18 years of age, he said.
“I’m glad the jury saw through the smokescreens put up by the defense and that justice was served to Kylie and her family,” Brandt said.
During the trial, defense attorneys countered that Ortiz stopped to take medication for a severe headache, which counts as an emergency. Defense attorney Raymond McElfish argued that there was proof that the SUV’ driver, Michael Asam, fell asleep at the wheel.
But plaintiff attorneys said Asam never saw Ortiz’s truck in the darkness because Ortiz failed to turn on any emergency lights or reflectors.
McElfish suggested during his closing argument that no damages be rewarded, saying the plaintiff’s attorneys failed to provide any substantial proof of anything.
California Highway Patrol officers found no debris on the road, but Brandt said a dent in the rim of one of the SUV’s tires was proof that the vehicle hit something.
The jury agreed that while Asam’s father was also negligent, his actions were not substantial enough in causing his family’s deaths.
The family was headed to Oregon to visit relatives for Thanksgiving when the crash occurred on Nov. 22, 2009. Kylie Asam is now living with an aunt in Orange County.