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Torts keyed to Best
Loth v. Truck-a-Way Corp.
Citation:70 Cal. Rptr. 2d 571 (Cal. Ct. App. 1998)
Plaintiff was a 27-year-old woman driving North on Interstate 5 in California for a business trip when she was involved in an accident with a truck owned and operated by Truck-a-Way Corporation. She was driving in the slow lane and passing the truck on the right when the truck changed lanes and hit its front end on the plaintiff’s car’s left rear. Plaintiff was pushed across three lanes of traffic and then hit by another vehicle before coming to a stop, facing the wrong direction, on the shoulder of the freeway.
Prior to the accident, plaintiff lived a physically active lifestyle. She had been a high-school varsity athlete in volleyball, softball, and basketball. She continued to play softball and volleyball three times a week and went to the gym daily. Plaintiff typically worked 10 – 11 hours days, including a second job as a night cocktail waitress. After the accident, she was unable to continue working has a cocktail waitress or engage in any of the sports she previously enjoyed. She could not sit for more than an hour at a sewing machine, play organized or recreational sports, or drive without severe pain. She lives with chronic pain in her lower back that sometimes extends through her leg. She also worried about her ability to have children in the future.
At trial, plaintiff brought an expert in economics to testify. The expert, Stanley V. Smith, testified that he had computed the economic value of life, minus employment earnings. The testimony provided by the economist used three types of studies to determine the baseline value of life: 1) the amount society is willing to pay per capita on safety devices such as seat belts, smoke alarms, etc., 2) the risk premiums employers pay to induce workers to perform hazardous jobs, and 3) the cost/ benefit analyses of federally mandated safety projects and programs. Based on three types of general societal studies, he valued the average person’s life value at $2.3 million as a baseline figure. He then adjusted for the plaintiff’s age and remaining life expectancy. Based on the objective societal valuations, the jury was allowed to use a table during that conformed with his calculations for determining loss of enjoyment of life. At trial, Truck-a-Way Corp. objected to his testimony because he used an objective and general calculation. They argued that pain and suffering – a subsect of loss of enjoyment – should not be assessed separately from overall general damages, and that the use of the economist’s testimony impermissibly encouraged the jury to award double damages.
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