A civil jury Thursday awarded more than $9 million in damages to two motorists who were seriously injured in a rear-end collision on Highway 180 in Fresno in April 2008.
Susan Lutz, 51, of Fresno hugged her attorney, René Sample, in Fresno County Superior Court after the panel awarded Lutz nearly $2 million in damages.
Lutz suffered a brain injury in the April 11, 2008, collision and has vertigo for the rest of her life, Sample said.
The panel awarded $7.3 million to Clarice Brewer, 56, also of Fresno. Brewer can no longer walk because of the collision and uses a wheelchair, said her husband, Henry Brewer.
The $9 million award is one of the larger personal injury awards in Fresno County, according to Warren Paboojian, a specialist in personal injury cases who was not involved in this case.
"It is a large verdict for an automobile accident," Paboojian said.
The two women sued Hussmann Corp., which manufactures and repairs refrigeration equipment.
Jason Mudford was driving a company truck east on Highway 180 when he made an unsafe lane change and rear-ended Lutz's pickup at 55 mph at the Clovis Avenue offramp, said attorney Michael Renberg, who represented Missouri-based Hussmann Corp.
The impact pushed Lutz's pickup into the rear of Brewer's van, Sample said.
"It was a clear day in the middle of the afternoon," Sample said, noting that Mudford's truck left no skid marks before impact.
An issue in the four-week trial was whether Brewer was wearing a seat belt. If she wasn't, it would have reduced Hussmann Corp.'s financial liability.
But after two days of deliberations, the panel determined on a 9-3 vote that she was wearing one.
Sample said the collision turned the two women's lives upside down.
Lutz was organizing a church event and was heading to a store to purchase supplies when the collision happened, leaving her unconscious for a few minutes, Sample said.
Before the collision, she worked for the Fresno Unified School District as a clerical employee. Because of her injuries, she can no longer work, Sample said.
The panel awarded Lutz about $981,770 for medical expenses and past and future wage loss and $1 million for pain and suffering.
Brewer also was active in her church. She had just purchased a prom dress for her daughter and was heading to the dentist when the accident occurred, Henry Brewer said.
The jury awarded her about $2.36 million for past and future medical expenses and $5 million for pain and suffering.
"She can't walk, but we're happy that the jury did the right thing," Henry Brewer said.