Gonsalves v. Li – $1.2M Crash Verdict Reversed for Trial Errors

A test drive of a high-end, luxury sports vehicle went horribly wrong when the son of a prospective purchaser crashed the brand-new vehicle with the salesman in the front passenger seat. sportscar1.jpg

The salesman suffered significant injury as a result, and he was successful in securing a $1.2 million personal injury verdict against the driver. Unfortunately, he will not be able to collect that money without enduring another trial, barring some type of settlement agreement.

Multiple trial court errors and purported misconduct resulted in the appellate court finding these acts amounted to cumulative prejudice against defendant, and thus it was only fair to reverse the jury findings and remand for a new trial.

The facts in Gonsalves v. Li are this:
Plaintiff worked at a car dealership in California when defendant and his father arrived, interested in the purchase of a powerful, expensive sports vehicle. Usually, test drives of such vehicles are only allowable with a signed letter of intention to buy the vehicle and proof of funds, but in this case, plaintiff was concerned he had offended the prospective buyer by requesting this information, so he allowed a test drive. After the prospective buyer drove the vehicle, he requested his son be given a go at the wheel. Plaintiff was hesitant, but prospective buyer insisted his son was a safe driver with a clean driving record (assertions later proven untrue).

Plaintiff would later say defendant operated the vehicle extremely recklessly, reaching speeds of up to 120 miles-per-hour on the highway and weaving in and out of traffic. Repeatedly, plaintiff demanded the son slow down. Defendant exited the highway to return to dealership, but then asked a question about the “M” button on the vehicle. Plaintiff told defendant not to press it. However, defendant then accelerated (the rate at which is disputed) toward the highway on-ramp, pushed the “M” button, lost control of the vehicle and slammed into a guardrail, proximately resulting in plaintiff’s injuries, which included damage to his back and neck, requiring surgery, and ongoing numbness in his extremities.

At trial, he sought more than $2 million in damages for past and future medical expenses and pain and suffering. Although he did collect workers’ compensation coverage, this irrelevant fact was repeated numerous times at trial. Jury ultimately awarded him $1.2 million.

On appeal by defendant, abuse of discretion by court and misconduct by plaintiff attorney was alleged. Among the issues alleged:

  • Trial court allowed defendant’s Fifth-Amendment refusals to answer certain questions or admit guilt into evidence, used to indicate guilt and “failure to take any responsibility”;
  • Trial court allowed plaintiff to question defendant about whether his own driving was a substantial factor in the crash, something that was the ultimate legal issue in the case and about which defendant was not qualified to answer and to which his legal team objected 16 times;
  • Trial court allowed evidence of prior speeding tickets, which were prejudicial and should have been inadmissible, considering expert witnesses on both sides indicated speed was not a causation factor.

Defendant argued a host of other alleged wrongs, but the court largely denied those were problematic. However, those that were improper collectively caused undue prejudice to defendant, and therefore, a new trial was warranted.

Our Greenville car accident lawyers recognize procedural correctness in these cases is equally as important as the strength of the facts. That’s why you should only trust your case to an experienced legal team.

Contact the Carolina injury lawyers at the Lee Law Offices by calling 800-887-1965.

Additional Resources:
Gonsalves v. Li, Jan. 13, 2015, California Court of Appeal, First Appellate District, Division Five

More Blog Entries:
Comstock v. UPS Ground Freight, Inc. – Misconduct Ends in Crash Case Dismissal, Jan. 22, 2015, Greenville Accident Lawyer Blog

Contact Information