Jury Awards $150 Million to 13-year-old in Wrongful Death Case

A jury has awarded 13-year-old Kylie Asam $150 million in damages after watching her family burn to death in a fiery crash on a California freeway.

Kylie was 9-years-old when she and her 11-year-old brother, Blaine, escaped their family’s burnt, mangled SUV after it was struck and became caught under a big rig that was illegally parked on the shoulder of Interstate 210. After colliding with debris, her father attempted to pull over on the freeway. The children watched their parents and older brother burn alive as they were trapped in the vehicle.

The verdict included an $8.75 million award to Blaine, who committed suicide on his mother’s birthday before the trial began. That money will be placed in a trust for Kylie, as her brother’s successor in interest, when she turns 18.

The jury deliberated for about three days before finding that the truck driver, Rudolph Ortiz, was negligent for parking on the side of the freeway without any lights or emergency reflectors, during the early morning darkness. Ortiz and his employer, Watsonville-based Bhandal Bros.Trucking, were found jointly liable.

Asam’s wrongful death suit alleged that Ortiz pulled over to sleep, despite written warnings that stopping there was allowed in emergencies only. The lawsuit said Ortiz parked on the same shoulder Asam’s father tried to reach after he struck debris on the freeway and tried to stop. The Asam family of Riverside was headed to Oregon to spend Thanksgiving with relatives when the crash occurred on November 22, 2009.

During the trial, attorneys for Ortiz countered that Ortiz stopped on the freeway to take medication for a severe headache, which they claim constituted an emergency. His defense also contended that he did not break any law because he was parked on the dirt to the right of the shoulder.

Although California Highway Patrol officers found no debris on the road, it was alleged that a dent in the rim of one of the SUV’s tires was from the SUV hitting something.

It was reported that the children flagged down a driver who used a fire extinguisher and shoveled dirt to try to put out the growing fire. That driver said Ortiz came out of the truck after a second ‘911’ call was made.

The jury agreed that Asam’s father was also negligent, but determined his actions were not a substantial factor in causing his family’s deaths.

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