Whose Brakes Failed?

Whose Brakes Failed?

The Law Office of Adam Sorrells recently completed a jury trial in Roseville. The case involved a brake failure incident.

The plaintiff claimed that he had his brakes worked on by a dealership in Roseville, drove home to Oroville, and once in Oroville, tried to apply his brakes at a stop sign, where he proceeded to hear a loud pop and the brake pedal went to the floor. He had to turn to the right, drive over a curb, into a field, and came to rest in a small canal or ditch, injuring his shoulder.

The case had numerous challenges, including the fact that the plaintiff drove the vehicle away from the scene and took 2 weeks to first see a doctor. Even more, the doctor's records indicated that the wreck had happened 2 months earlier and did not disclose that the injury had been a result of a brake failure or car wreck. The inconsistencies went on and on. I got to know the plaintiff and his family and became convinced that he was a good, hard-working man who was telling the truth.

The defense position was that they had worked on the brakes that day and may not have properly tightened the torque member bolts that hold the brake calipers onto the left rear wheel, but that only one torque member bolt fell off. With only one torque member bolt off, the brakes would have functioned fine. They suggested that the plaintiff's story was made up to get money.

The defense hired a former Nissan engineer who was extremely credentialed to testify to their theory. The engineer drove exemplar vehicles with one torque member bolt off, and also did a second test wherein he took the entire caliper off the left rear wheel of another exemplar vehicle, drove the car, and testified that the brakes worked perfectly. One of the reasons (he said) was the fact that a Nissan Maxima has a split Y braking system, which is a fail safe. Even if one back brake fails, the rest should be enough to stop the car.

The plaintiff's expert witness was an extremely knowledgeable auto-mechanic who had run brake departments in the past and was quite excellent.

We were able to show that had the plaintiff kept pumping the brakes after he first hit the brake pedal and experienced failure, the brakes would have started working again. However, the plaintiff was panicked by the initial brake failure and had to react to an emergency situation. The plaintiff was put into that emergency situation by the carelessness of the dealership.

The case had many twists and turns too numerous to mention.

A few takeaways from the case are as follows:

1: If you are hurt in a car wreck through no fault of your own, go see a doctor as soon as possible. Many people want to wait and see if they get better, want to be tough and not bother with the doctor, are too busy, etc. These traits are admirable in general, but will be used against you if it later turns out your injury was more serious than you first suspected. Insurance companies may know that their insured has just totaled your only car, that you do not have the money to pay for a doctor, that they will not offer to help you, and that you are doing the best you can; and they do not care. They will still argue that it is your fault you did not promptly see a doctor. A lawyer can help with treatment if you need it and do not have the resources to seek treatment on your own.

2: From a trial lawyer’s point of view, it is important that cases are taken to trial with some frequency. Some personal injury lawyers have never seen the inside of a courtroom, or tried it 20 years earlier, and realized that trials are very risky and a lot of hard work.

3: Taking cases to trial outside of your home venue can be done successfully, but the expenses, logistics, and lack of local knowledge can work against you. Like most aspects of taking cases to trial (and doing the best job possible representing your clients), exhaustive case preparation, knowledge, and unrelenting hard work can carry the day.

4: Brake failure cases are expert witness extensive, and hence very expensive. This case was no different. Luckily, the Placer County Jury saw that my client was honest and was telling the truth. His brakes did fail, and it lead to his injuries. The verdict was to some extent a compromise verdict, but was three times higher than the insurance company’s final offer before trial. Had we lost the trial, the plaintiff would have been on the hook for the insurance companies' costs.

We were able to recover all of our statutory costs, and an additional $2,500 so the defense could avoid the risk of the plaintiff filing post-trial motions.

We were also able to get our client a substantial reduction in his health insurance company lien (See past blog article "Lien on me"). The combination of the prevailing party verdict in the plaintiff's favor, cost recovery, and substantial reduction in the lien allowed us to get all of our client's medical bills paid, all fees and costs paid, and put money in our client's pocket for his injuries to the person.

If you have a similar case or have been injured through no fault of your own and would like to discuss your case with a personal injury lawyer, please call our office today.


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