Southern California Gas Co. on Monday agreed to pay $46 million to settle a lawsuit by a motorcyclist who was struck and badly injured by a company driver who suffered an epileptic seizure.
U.S. Air Force Capt. Jason Lo was stopped at a red light in suburban Hawthorne on Feb. 13, 2017, when a SoCal Gas pickup truck struck him from behind. Lo and his motorcycle were wedged under the truck and dragged for more than 430 feet (131 meters), police said.
Other drivers stopped and surrounded the pickup to get the driver to stop as he headed toward a freeway onramp.
Dominick Consolazio, 50, of Hawthorne, later pleaded guilty to hit-and-run driving.
Lo, who was 30 at the time, worked at the Los Angeles Air Force Base in El Segundo and had been married for about six months.
He nearly lost his right leg, did lose about 40 percent of his blood, underwent several surgeries and faces more operations in the future, his lawyers said.
“Amputation of his right leg remains a threat that must be monitored for life,” according to a statement from the legal firm that represented Lo and his wife, who are expecting their first child.
“The winner in this case is the civil justice system, which again proved that disputes can be resolved by 12 members of the community. The Lo family will live with this tragedy for the rest of their lives,” attorney Brian Panish said in the statement.
Consolazio had suffered previous epileptic seizures and despite taking medication, he could get them without warning at any time, Panish said.
His doctor had warned him not to drive, according to the lawsuit.
Consolazio’s driver’s license was suspended in 2012. He eventually returned to his job, but he continued to have seizures, including one that occurred at work, Panish said.
SoCal Gas “certainly” knew about Consolazio’s condition but failed to take action, Panish said.
“SoCalGas took responsibility very early in the litigation process and admitted liability for our driver’s actions because they occurred during the course and scope of his employment,” the utility said in a statement. “We respect the jury’s role in deciding the verdict and extend our sincere condolences to Mr. Lo and his family for the injuries and hardship they have endured.”
During the 27-day trial, the defense argued for a smaller award of about $9 million. But on Friday, a Los Angeles County jury awarded Lo and his wife nearly $41.9 million in compensatory damages. The panel also considered punitive damages, which typically are much higher than compensatory damages.
However, the $46 million settlement ends the case before a verdict on a punitive damages award was announced.
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