Big Verdict Against Utility Company Shows How Injured Parties Get Treated by Big Business

scalesA Fresno jury recently awarded 5.7 million dollars to Manuel Orenelas, a man who was seriously injured in an auto accident in 2009. The accident occurred on Highway 168 near Shaver Lake. The man had stopped to put snow chains on his vehicle. He was legally parked on the side of the road completely out of the traffic lane. A utility vehicle, driven by a Southern California Edison employee, was driving without chains and too fast for the conditions when he lost control of his vehicle and ran into the man’s van.

Mr. Ornelas seriously hurt his back and pelvis in the accident. The former marathon runner now needs a cane to walk. He can’t control his bowels, and cannot sit for long periods of time. He can’t pick up his children, mow his lawn, or even push a grocery cart. He incurred medical bills of nearly $160,000.00. Due to his personal injuries, he can’t work and he lost $1.2 million in past and future earnings.

Before the trial, Southern Edison only offered him $1.7 million, barely enough to cover his medical bills and lost wages. Then during the trial they raised their offer to $5 million, which was rejected by the injured man. The Southern Edison lawyer told the jury that with therapy Mr. Ornelas could return to work. He told the jury “it was an unfortunate accident.”

What is “unfortunate” is the way that Mr. Ornelas was treated by this utility company. They made a minimal offer to settle his case considering the serious injuries to his back and pelvis, and the enormous financial losses he sustained and then forced him through a grueling jury trial. In the trial, they brought in their experts to talk about how he could return to work with proper therapy. Then, when they knew their ship was sinking, they finally offered the man 5 million dollars during the middle of the trial. Why wasn’t this sum offered much earlier, long before a jury trial?

As a personal injury lawyer in Alameda for over 27 years, I have seen this pattern repeated over and over. Large companies and insurance companies drag the injured person through stressful litigation, make a low ball offer, and then when all is said and done, throw up their hands, and tell the jury, what an “unfortunate accident” it was. The jury never knows what happened behind the scenes and how the company tried to shirk its financial responsibility by making unfair, low offers, putting extreme financial pressure on the injured party to settle. I am glad to see that justice was done for Mr. Ornelas.


Fresno Bee, Clovis couple gets $5.7m in utility-truck crash suit, March 1, 2011

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