In what is being called the largest personal injury judgment ever against the state of California, a Van Nuys jury Wednesday awarded a Carson man $8.2 million in a case involving a traffic accident on the Ventura Freeway four years ago.
As a result of accident, Donald Ray Fairchild, 26, lapsed into a six-month coma. He now is a mute, spastic quadriplegic, according to his attorneys.
On Sept. 29, 1981, Fairchild's car became disabled on the eastbound Ventura Freeway near Haskell Avenue. Fairchild pulled his vehicle onto what he thought was the freeway shoulder, his attorneys said.
After looking under the hood of his car, he was struck by another vehicle going approximately 60 m.p.h., according to court testimony.
Fairchild's attorney, Charles O'Reilly, contended that the state did not post proper signs on the freeway, alerting drivers that the portion of the freeway between the Haskell Avenue and Hayvenhurst Avenue exits had no shoulder.
A fifth lane had been established in the late 70s from what was once the freeway shoulder, Ira Holyroyd, counsel for the state Department of Transportation, said.
During the monthlong trial, attorneys for Fairchild showed jurors a 30-minute videotape of Fairchild, in which he was depicted as a helpless man who is dependent on attendants to feed and bathe him. His attorneys said he was unable to appear in court due to his medical condition.
The jury deliberated for two days before reaching its decision.
The driver of the vehicle that hit Fairchild, Deborah Noyes, 25, of West Hollywood, was tested at the accident scene and found to have a blood alcohol content of .14, above the .10 at which a driver is considered intoxicated.
The lawsuit, filed in Van Nuys Superior Court on Aug. 5, 1982, asked for damages from the Red Onion restaurant, where Noyes was reported to have been drinking, as well as the State of California, for personal injuries sustained as a result of negligence. Fairchild was awarded $1 million last month in a separate suit filed against Noyes.
Wednesday's jury judgment found only the state liable.
During his closing arguments Tuesday, O'Reilly had asked jurors to award his client between $12 million and $16 million. He based that figure on Fairchild's around-the-clock care, medical costs, lost earnings from his job as a hospital custodian and general damages for pain and suffering.
"He has a body that can do nothing, and a mind that knows everything that's going on around him," attorney Michael Noland, who also represented Fairchild, said.
"This is the biggest judgment against the state that I know of," Holyroyd said after the jury's judgment.
Holyroyd said the state has no plans to reestablish the shoulder on the portion of the Ventura Freeway where the accident occurred.
"The state still does not consider the highway to be dangerous," Holyroyd said. "We feel our priorities are to make additional lanes from existing freeway shoulders to speed the flow of traffic."