George Liu, a San Jose State senior, was driving his Kawasaki racing style motorcycle on a two lane, curving road behind a Ford van. Both the van and the motorcycle were in the left lane.
Downstream a Honda made an illegal U-turn from the right lane across the left lane, forced the van to make an emergency stop. The van stopped in time and never hit the Honda.
Behind the van George jammed on his brakes so hard that he was thrown head first over the handlebars into the back of the van severely bending his back. His motorcycle never contacted the van.
When George hit the ground, he was a paraplegic, with immediate loss of the use of his legs. He had suffered a burst fracture of the L-1 vertebrae, cutting the spinal cord and resulting in permanent paraplegia
The Honda driver admitted to the police at the scene that he had made an illegal U-turn.
After the lawsuit was filed in Santa Clara County Superior Court, the insurance company hired a lawyer for the Honda driver and the driver changed his story. The Honda driver now claimed he was misunderstood by the police. The driver claimed the van was directly behind him and that he made a legal U-turn. His passenger gave the same story. Both lied in their deposition testimony.
The Honda driver carried $30,000 in liability insurance and his lawyer claimed George was 80% at fault. The insurance company stonewalled from the beginning, while the lawsuit was pending and as of the Friday before trial offered zero in settlement.
At trial the driver of the van testified that the motorcycle was 50 to 100 feet behind her and was operated at a safe speed about the same as her speed, in the range of 30 mph. “Suddenly” the Honda came from her right, “cut her van off” and forced her to “jam on her brakes.” The van stopped and about 2-3 seconds later she felt the impact – which turned out to be George Liu being thrown against the back of her van.
The most convincing evidence was a computer simulation by an accident reconstruction specialist. The simulation let the jury see how the crash unfolded through the eyes of George Liu. This state-of-the-art technology showed
• the crash developed over four seconds
• the motorcyclist’s view was blocked by the van
• the curve made it impossible for the motorist to see the Honda’s illegal turn
• the Honda forced the van to stop and caused the crash.
After pretrial motions, during jury selection the insurance company offered $1 million. After opening statements and testimony of the first witness, the offer rose to $2 million. On the morning of the third day of trial, the settlement offer increased to $3.5 million. After court on the third day as we were preparing George’s direct testimony for the next day and reviewing the jury the day-in-the life video for the next day in court, the offer was increased to $4.5 million. On the fourth day in open court, George Liu agreed to settle his claims for $4.5 million. It was fully paid by the same insurance company that earlier had refused to pay its $30,000 liability policy.
George Liu’s recovery and settlement requires us “not to mention the name of the defendant, his insurance company or lawyer . . . including any suggestion that might identify the insurance company.” This does not happen very often, but it confirms the misconduct by a major national insurance company whose advertising mantra you know well was shameful.