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$70.5 Million California Personal Injury ‘Nuclear Verdict’ Largest in Kern County History

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Tomasa Cuevas big rig accident scene

In August 2017 a mother was driving two of her children on a shopping trip when a big rig truck ran a red light and T-boned her SUV, causing a major accident that resulted in catastrophic injuries for two of the passengers.

Tomasa Cuevas, a mother of four and the driver of the SUV, suffered skull and facial fractures and a catastrophic brain injury. Her son, Alex, was seated in the passenger seat and also suffered skull and facial fractures, as well as a brain injury that, according to attorneys representing the family, led doctors to conclude that he might never be able to run again. Alex was reportedly a decorated high school cross country runner prior to the accident.

Maritza Cuevas, the 11-year-old daughter of Tomasa, was riding in the back seat at the time of the crash. She witnessed the severe injuries sustained by her mother and brother.

Last week, a California state jury awarded just over $70.5 million to the Cuevas family for damages related to the accident. The substantial verdict represents a record sum for a personal injury case in Kern County, where the city of Bakersfield is located.

The trial lasted 12 days in the Kern County Superior Court. On December 18, the jury ruled against RAI Transport Inc., the company that owned and operated the big rig truck, and its driver, Amarjit Aulakh, with a final verdict of $70,578,289.

According to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s website, Ajit Singh Rai, doing business as RAI Transport, had its authority revoked on Oct. 10, 2018. 

In terms of how the $70.5 million awarded will be distributed among the family, the breakdown is as follows:

The jury awarded Tomasa Cuevas approximately $6.5 million in future economic damages (i.e. medical expenses) and $32.5 million for past and future noneconomic damages (i.e. pain and suffering).

The jury awarded Alex Cuevas approximately $591,000 in future economic damages, and $25.5 million in past and future noneconomic damages.

The jury also awarded Maritza Cuevas $5.5 million in noneconomic damages. A press release issued by attorneys representing the family stated Maritza “witnessed the horrific injuries to her mom and brother.”

During court proceedings, attorneys representing the Cuevas family told the jury that Aulakh, the big rig driver, had been involved in over a dozen previous auto accidents, and was operating the truck at the time of the accident on a suspended license. Bakersfield.com, a local news outlet, reported that Aulakh had been involved in 14 prior crashes.

Daniel Rodriguez of Rodriguez & Associates, a personal injury firm in Bakersfield, California, is one of the attorneys who represented the Cuevas family. Rodriguez has stated publicly that the jury’s award constitutes the highest personal injury verdict ever recorded in Kern County. “Nuclear verdicts” are described as jury awards in which penalties exceed $10 million.

Rodriguez issued a statement declaring, “This was a crash that was 100% preventable because the truck driver should never have been on the road in the first place because he was driving on a suspended driver’s license.” “The family is grateful and thankful to the Kern County jury for listening to their story,” he added.

In addition to Daniel Rodriguez, the Cuevas family was represented by Rodriguez & Associates attorneys Chantal A. Trujillo and Danay Gonzalez. The family was also represented by Joseph H. Low IV of The Law Firm of Joseph H. Low IV.

The RAI Transport company is represented by Aaron Hancock of Bishop Barry in Emeryville, California.