The list of the largest personal injury settlements ever awarded received a new addition this past December. A jury in California’s Kern County awarded over $70 million dollars to the Cuevas family for an accident that happened in the summer of 2017.
Tomasa Cuevas, the mother of the family, was driving with her 2 children, Alex and Maritza. They collided with a big-rig truck. Tomasa and Alex suffered severe injuries. Maritza came out in physically better shape, but was repeatedly screaming and has since been diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) several times over.
The lawsuit wasn’t a slam dunk though. The driver of the truck, Amarjit Aulakh, said that it was Cuevas who had run the red light. Tomasa was unable to be interviewed at the scene, having been knocked unconscious—in fact, to this day, her memory of the crash has not returned. An investigation ensued.
Two businesses that were close by had surveillance footage, but authorities were unable to make a determination on where the fault lay. Investigative work by Cuevas’ attorneys turned up the fact that a bus that was near the intersection also had video. That footage provided the viewing angles that showed that it was the Aulakh who had run the red light.
The video proof may have established the truck driver—and by extension his employer—as being at fault, but that alone would not have created a verdict of this size. That came from further work by the Cuevas legal team.
Their investigators discovered that Aulakh had been in more than a dozen crashes already and was driving with a suspended license. “This was a crash that was 100 percent preventable because the truck driver should never have been driving in the first place,” said the Cuevas lawyers.
A jury takes into account a number of factors when settling on a dollar figure to award the plaintiff. The desire to make the defendant pay for negligence in choosing their employees was one factor and the need for expensive long-term medical care was another.
Tomasa Cuevas will require care for the rest of her life. A mother of 4, her vision, hearing and sense of smell are all damaged and she is yet to fully recover her memory. According to her oldest son, 24-year-old Fidencio, she “isn’t independent anymore… She has to depend on us, the family.”
Doctors initially feared that Alex, preparing for his sophomore year in high school at the time of the accident, would have his track and field aspirations squelched. His hips were dislocated in the accident. But Alex rallied to make it back into action 2 months later and was eventually part of the state championship team at Bakersfield’s Ridgeview High in his junior year.