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US jury awards $150M in wrongful death case

Published: 29th October 2013 10:56 PM  |   Last Updated: 29th October 2013 10:56 PM   |  A+A-

A jury has determined a trucking company and one of its drivers should pay $150 million in damages to a 13-year-old girl who watched her family burn to death in a fiery crash on a Southern California freeway nearly four years ago.

"It's hard for her to comprehend" the scope of the verdict reached last week in Los Angeles Superior Court, attorney Brian Brandt said Monday about his young client.

The jury found a California trucking company and one of its drivers liable.

Kylie Asam was 9 when she and her 11-year-old brother, Blaine, managed to escape from their family's mangled sport utility vehicle after it struck and got caught under a big rig parked on the shoulder of an expressway nearly four years ago. They saw their parents and older brother burn alive after the vehicle they were trapped in caught fire.

The verdict included $8.75 million the jury awarded to Blaine, who committed suicide on his mother's birthday, before the trial began, Brandt said. That money will go to Kylie as her brother's successor-in-interest, but all of the award will be placed in a trust until she is 18, he said.

A jury deliberated for about three days before finding Friday that the truck driver, Rudolph Ortiz, was negligent for parking on the side of the freeway in the early morning darkness without leaving on any light or emergency reflector. Ortiz and his employer, California. Trucking, were found jointly liable.

Asam's wrongful death lawsuit alleged Ortiz pulled over to sleep, ignoring written warnings that stopping there was allowed only in emergencies. The suit said Ortiz parked on the same shoulder Asam's father tried to reach after he struck debris on the freeway and tried to stop. The family was headed north to Oregon to visit relatives for a holiday when the crash occurred on Nov. 22, 2009.

During the trial, defense attorneys countered that Ortiz stopped to take medication for a severe headache, which constituted an emergency. Attorney Raymond McElfish also contended the truck driver broke no law because he was parked on the dirt to the right of the shoulder.

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