In one of Orange County's largest personal injury judgments, a jury this week awarded $23.4 million to a Newport Beach teenager who suffered serious brain injuries in a car accident last year.
Cade Feitler suffered debilitating brain injuries when a driver allegedly ran a red light and slammed into his family's car, leaving the youth in a coma for two weeks. Cade had turned 13 the day before.
"Although there's no amount of money that will change what's happened to Cade and our family, the funds will provide him with the therapy and additional resources he will need for his recovery," said Lisa Feitler, his mother.
The case turned on whether the driver's employer, an Omaha-based electrical manufacturing firm, should be held responsible for Cade's injuries. The jury agreed it should.
A lawyer representing E.A. Pedersen Co. did not return phone calls.
The car accident occurred Feb. 7, 2005, at Newport Boulevard and Industrial Way as Cade, his mother and sister were heading to a fast-food restaurant after school.
Though his mother and 16-year-old sister sustained only minor injuries, Cade suffered a fractured skull and brain injuries that left him in and out of hospitals and rehabilitation facilities for 15 months.
He was left with severe communication and mobility limitations.
"It was a terrible, traumatic injury of a permanent and serious nature," said Wylie Aitken, a Santa Ana lawyer who filed the lawsuit on behalf of Cade and his family.
"He is able to communicate in a very limited way; by blinking an eye yes or no, making a slight turn of the head or very limited purposeful movements," Aitken said.
Feitler said her son and others with similar injuries "have a very long and challenging road ahead of them. There's no doubt their lives are changed forever."
During the trial, Aitken argued that Peter Infranca, the driver of the car, was engaged in the "course and scope of his employment" with Pedersen, even though he was heading to a doctor's appointment at the time of the accident.
Defense lawyers argued the firm should not be held responsible because Infranca was engaged in personal business when the accident occurred.
"The award was so high because the injury was so devastating," Aitken said.
About $4.9 million of the money is designated to cover past medical expenses, Aitken said, with $7 million for future expenses and $1.5 million for future lost earnings.
The jury awarded $10 million for past and future "physical and mental suffering and loss of enjoyment of life."
On a website she created for her son, Feitler explains that she spends most of her days in therapy with Cade.
She said he had to relearn to talk, sit, stand and walk.
Feitler said that on Labor Day, the family took its first overnight trip since the accident, going to Santa Barbara with friends.
"Certainly, it was bittersweet ... trying to fight back the emotion that instead of just resting in a beach chair in the shade, Cade should certainly have been out there in the surf and endlessly entertaining us with his usual antics," she wrote.
"But no ... we are still waiting for more movement and to hear his voice and laugh again. It is so unbelievably painful...."