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13-Year-Old Girl Awarded $150M In Wrongful Death Suit

A Los Angeles Superior Court jury deliberated for about 3 1/2 days before finding in favor of 13-year-old Kylie Asam.

Patch file photo.
Patch file photo.

In what could be one of the largest verdicts of its kind, a Riverside girl who survived a 2009 fiery crash that killed three members of her family, who were riding in an SUV that crashed into the back of a big rig in Sunland, was today awarded $150,750,000.

A Los Angeles Superior Court jury deliberated for about 3 1/2 days before finding in favor of 13-year-old Kylie Asam in a wrongful death lawsuit brought on her behalf in October 2011 by her paternal grandfather, David Asam.

The driver, Rudolph Ortiz, and his employer, Watsonville-based Bhandal Bros. Trucking Inc. were found jointly liable.

Kylie was 9 years old when she and one of her brothers, 11-year-old Blaine, managed to climb out of a window of the family's crumpled SUV, which had struck the rear of the big rig parked along the shoulder of the Foothill (210) Freeway in the early morning darkness.

Blaine died in June. The $150.75 million verdict includes $8.75 million the jury awarded to the boy for his damages from the time of the accident until his death. That money will pass to Kylie as her brother's successor-in- interest, but all of the award will be placed in a trust until she is 18, according to her lawyer, Brian Brandt.

Brandt praised the verdict and said he has never heard of a larger award given in such a case. He had recommended during final arguments that the jury award about $130 million.

"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.

Kylie and Ortiz were not present for the verdict. Brandt said he had not yet had time to inform his young client of the verdict.

Defense attorney Raymond McElfish declined to comment.

Brandt said Ortiz parked the truck on the right shoulder to sleep, despite written warnings that stopping there was only allowed in emergencies.

"He violated simple highway rules and as a result three members of the community are dead," Brandt said.

McElfish denied Ortiz stopped to sleep. The driver testified he had taken a break to urinate and because he had a severe headache.

McElfish suggested during his closing argument that no damages be rewarded, saying the plaintiffs' attorneys had not met their burden of proof. He said the evidence shows the SUV's driver, Michael Asam, fell asleep at the wheel, and argued that Ortiz violated no law because he was parked on the dirt to the right of the shoulder.

Michael Asam, 41, his 40-year-old wife, Shannon, and their 14-year-old son, Brennen, were killed about 5 a.m. on Nov. 22, 2009, when their 2007 GMC Yukon struck the rear of the big rig. Ortiz parked his truck on the same shoulder Asam tried to reach after he struck debris on the freeway and tried to stop.

Asam never saw Ortiz's truck in the darkness, according to the plaintiffs' attorneys.

According to Brandt, Ortiz's trailer lights and his emergency flashers were off when the impact occurred. He also said Ortiz never put out his emergency reflectors. All of the actions were in violation of existing laws governing big rigs, Brandt said.

Although California Highway Patrol officers did not find any debris on the road despite shutting down the freeway and walking across the concrete, Brandt said a dent in the rim of one of the SUV's tires was proof that Asam hit something while driving that forced him to try and stop.

Ortiz could have left the freeway at numerous locations to sleep and was seconds away from the Sunland Boulevard exit, Brandt said. Instead, Kylie and Blaine were helpless as their family members perished before them, Brandt said.

McElfish countered that the dent in the rim was probably caused by the weight of the big rig on top of the SUV. He also maintained that Ortiz's primary reason for stopping was to take medication for a severe headache, which constituted an emergency.

He said the collision happened so soon after Ortiz stopped that he never would have had time to put out his emergency reflectors.

McElfish said the inability of the plaintiff's lawyers to come up with proof that there was debris on the road, plus the lack of other evidence, supported the defense theory that Asam was not awake when the SUV hit the big rig at about 40 mph.

The jury foreman, 39-year-old Douglas Decauwer of Pasadena, said he found the most compelling evidence to be the expert testimony in the case, with an edge going to the plaintiffs' witnesses. Although the panelists found Michael Asam also was negligent, they struggled before determining his actions were not a substantial factor in causing his family's deaths and that therefore the entire damages should be assessed against the defendants, Decauwer said.

The Asams were headed to Oregon to visit the children's grandparents for Thanksgiving.

Shannon Asam was a longtime legal assistant and her husband worked as a Riverside Public Utilities power line technician.

Kylie now lives with an aunt. --City News Service

Zachary Edmundson October 26, 2013 at 03:55 AM
Wow! Sounds like alot of lawyer-speak hovering around a terrible accident
Artemis Gordon October 26, 2013 at 09:46 AM
tort reform! And is there's negligence on both sides 150m is insane.
Aaron Powers October 26, 2013 at 11:05 AM
Runaway jury
Cik Bast October 26, 2013 at 03:58 PM
Liberal Judge and Moronic Parent bankrupt Bhandal Bros. Trucking Inc.
sherry October 26, 2013 at 05:21 PM
And the money goes to....The Lawyers. I am sure the amount will be reduced. Tragic accident, but the SUV hit the big rig in the back, while it was parked on the dirt/side of the road. I cannot see why the driver of the big rig is liable for any wrongdoing.
JJ Mclure October 27, 2013 at 09:42 AM
the driver violated several laws....that's why.
TVOR October 27, 2013 at 02:18 PM
Based on what I read here (perhaps not the whole story) this seems like a ridiculous outcome. The truck driver may not have been in the right place but it was the suv drivers fault he ran completely off the road and hit the truck. If it were a tree he hit the girl would be SOL.
Judith October 28, 2013 at 11:13 AM
Read again; the whole story is in the article. The truck driver broke several laws, the main one being that there were no lights or reflectors whatsoever to indicate that the truck was on the side of the road.
Mikerrr October 28, 2013 at 01:32 PM
Calm down people. This is why we have an appeals process. The "dent in the rim proves debris in the road" gambit strikes me as highly questionable when we're talking about an SUV that ran full speed into a semi-truck.
philip livingston October 28, 2013 at 02:22 PM
the semi was parked, possibly for a tempory emergency, OFF the road...what was the suv driver doing driving off the road?..i guess tort lawyers and expert (paid) testimony have a field day with california juries...oj had a field day with one
philip livingston October 28, 2013 at 03:11 PM
i think there needs to be some sort of tort reform in this country...the reward is rather astronomical, especially considering proof of neglegence is dubious at best...appearently there were no direct wittnesses to the accident, but rather expert supposition as to what might have occurred...and people wonder why health care has become so expensive...the same massive jury awards for failed outcomes which in many cases assessment of blame is doubtful causes health care providers to practice cya (cover your *ss) medicine. resulting in unnecessary testing expense, as well as massive malpractice insurance premiums that drive the cost to the point of unaffordability...but then our "lawmakers" are primarily lawyers, and as a whole lawyers reap much of the benefits of these massive awards (rewards).
Chris Griffin October 28, 2013 at 06:05 PM
Does it really make a difference considering this company will soon be out of business and filing for bankruptcy.
philip livingston October 28, 2013 at 06:59 PM
no, i guess it doesn't make any difference...unless you consider mr ortiz, who will probably lose his home and any savings he has been able to accumulate for the support of his family, plus loss of job...and all the other employees of the trucking co who will be unemployed...and the owners of the trucking company that will lose their company...and if this girl who at 18 years of age suddenly comes into all this wealth...goes out and buys a high performance sports car that she is too inexperienced to control and ends up wrapping it around a tree resulting in her death...so her remaining living relatives can now hire a new group of tort lawyers to sue her original group for neglegience in providing her too much wealth at such a young age resulting in poor judgement in monetary spending that resulted in her death...and the tort goes round and round and round
TVOR October 29, 2013 at 01:01 AM
I doubt she will ever see very much money from this.
Bob Macfarlane October 29, 2013 at 06:45 AM
Insane!
Peter October 29, 2013 at 09:48 AM
Only in California! A sad situation but the SUV driver rear ended the truck which was off the road and stationary. Have the same thing happen to you as the hitter and try telling your insurance company it was the other guys fault for being there. Rear end accidents are always found for the person being hit, not the hitter.
Gary Wilkes October 29, 2013 at 10:47 AM
Any vehicle on the shoulder is likely to have it's lights off. If you hit it it's your fault. Just like hitting a rock. The SUV driver screwed up, regardless. California is filled with idiots and lunatics.
William Bednarz October 29, 2013 at 10:54 AM
They hit a parked truck and the truck is wrong???
Ed Poche October 29, 2013 at 01:32 PM
Her lawyer ( or team of ) will get a huge chunk of that money. I almost died and lost my career because of a few bad doctors and I got pennies while my lawyer got rich.
kenneth archer October 29, 2013 at 01:56 PM
Accidents happens. I think that there should be laws against truck and cars on the open road because so many people are killed. Nobody wins and everybody loses. Up go insurance costs, up go lawyer fees, down goes another business. When we must decide who is the most wrong, there are no innocent people.
Lewis Regner-Redux October 29, 2013 at 02:17 PM
Only in a state that is the most likely originating point of the concept that; everything is at least partially someone else's fault but your own. Another ugly facet of the infamous liberal mindset, principles of relativism. And to think, I was actually taught to know better than that before I was even in elementary school...
philip livingston October 29, 2013 at 02:38 PM
let me see if i understand this...if i am flying a plane and an engine falls off and plumets to the ground...you are walking in a field and my fallen engine hits you...then you are at partial fault because of all the places you could have been you were positioned exactly where that engine was going to impact the earth...right
Epic Male October 29, 2013 at 05:07 PM
Insane! Hopefully this will be reversed upon appeal. Now, all you folks that applaud this insane hijacking of the civil court system, remember that YOU, one way or the other, are paying for such ridiculous awards.
wilsman2 October 29, 2013 at 07:19 PM
First of all Trot reform is total BS...Take a look at Texas if you want to see the results of Tort reform. Who do you think picks up the tab if there is a limit put on jury awards against negligent companies, doctors or yes truck drivers? The good old tax payer that's who. It comes right out of your's and my paycheck. So before you vote yourself a paycut I would think long and hard about giving the real guilty a free pass.
philip livingston October 29, 2013 at 11:02 PM
when i say tort reform, i am talking about these rediculously large awards wich are incongruent with the actual damages and degree of fault...besides the tax payer (consumer ) gets stuck with the bill anyway...liability is today a cost of doing business and that cost is passed on in higher prices for goods and services sold...even if there is no chance of proven liability, settlements are made anyway as paying them is less expensive than putting up a defense...furthermore, there is really no finite value that can be put on a human life. as each one is irreplacable...the us military puts a value on a fallen soldier at about $100.000 ( and that soldier might have had a wife and children to support)...this jury put the value at at $50,000,000...it's a system run amok
philip livingston October 30, 2013 at 02:23 PM
had you read the entire stream of comments and replies... your comment on my position might have been stated a little more correctly
big aunt harry mary November 02, 2013 at 07:30 PM
BOTH PARTIES AT FAULT......... WHERE DID THIS AMOUNT EVER BECOME A FAIR SETTLEMENT ???????
Open Letter Girl November 04, 2013 at 06:30 PM
To bad these Jurors did not sit in on the cases of Casey Anthony, Jodie AirAss and OJ!
Debra Myrberg November 04, 2013 at 08:38 PM
The insurance company will end up footing the bill. The driver may lose his drivers license to drive commercially and therefore may have to be retrained. By the time the tax and attorney fees are paid out, and possibly a stipend to the aunt for living expenses it won't be as large a sum. Money won't bring back a childhood or this girls family. I am unclear, however, how any of the drivers actions or non actions would have saved this tragedy from happening as the Yukon was skidding out of control. The only thing that would have prevented that would have been the absence of the big rig.
CB November 21, 2013 at 06:09 PM
Hitting a rock wouldnt kill a family. The reason it is so much money is because this girls entire family is dead. And she could have died as well. Whether or not the driver of the big rig was temporarily pulled over doesnt matter when he had no emergency lights or reflecters to warn of his stationary position. The driver of the SUV may have been trying to pull over himself and didnt see a vehicle was already parked in that spot. If the big rigs lights were on, then maybe the SUV driver would have seen it and not pulled off to the side in that spot. This is why they won the lawsuit

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