“You never really know what a jury is going to do. It is very difficult to get feel sometimes as to how they are responding to the evidence,” said attorney Merrick. “The injuries themselves were very evident as Joshua was in court with one of the doctors who was explaining the injuries.”
Merrick and his co-counsel presented expert testimony from a life care planner, an economist, and a vocational expert. The trio testified as to the lifetime of lost earnings, cost of care, and the life expectancy of Rojas following such an injury. Their estimate of economic damages came to $8 million in the case. But the jury returned an additional verdict of $26 million for pain and suffering.
Rojas and Ms, Torres, both of Cleveland, were passengers in a car driven by Jovanny Martínez, which was headed downtown on the Lorain-Carnegie Bridge. According to the lawsuit, Brian English was driving a company dump truck for Concrete Designs and cut in front of the car, a move that caused the crash.
Rojas and Martínez were best friends who watched movies and were hanging out after Martínez got off work at Wendy's. They were accompanied by a third friend, Ms. Torres, and one of her friends, Yareline Santiago. The four young Latinos decided to go to Taco Bell, crossing the bridge when the crash occurred.
The right side of the 1992 Honda, where Rojas and Ms. Torres were seated, suffered the worst damage in the crash. Both victims suffered extensive head injuries and are blind in their right eyes. Rojas, now 22 years old, also suffers from severe functional limitations and now is confined to a wheelchair.
Rojas had to have emergency brain surgery which involved the partial removal of his skull, which was later replaced in a subsequent surgery to repair multiple skull fractures. A surgeon testified that Rojas lost a third of his brain. He spent six months in the hospital following the crash.
“Joshua needs 24/7 care for all his daily needs. He has taken physical therapy and is trying to walk a little each day with the help of a walker,” explained attorney Merrick. “He has paralysis on the left side of his body so his left leg/foot make it difficult to support his body.”
According to court documents, the jury further found that the injuries suffered by Ms. Torres amount to “a permanent and substantial physical deformity.” Due to their brain injuries, neither Rojas nor Ms. Torres has any recollection of the crash.
“His last memory of that night was being in the car listening to (the) Bruno Mars song ‘Billionaire,’” said Merrick.
Merrick’s legal team had to overcome a couple of obstacles during the civil trial. First, Martínez, 24, pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor charge of negligent assault and received six months probation. He had been facing a pair of felonies for causing the accident.
“For three weeks he stayed at the hospital with his best friend Joshua, only leaving to change his clothes,” recalled Merrick. “At his bond hearing, the judge put a restraining order on Jovanny, stating that he could not see or speak to his best friend Joshua. He was offered a plea deal of a misdemeanor and he accepted it. The insurance company of the truck driver denied the claim.”
With no clear picture as to who was at fault, Merrick filed the civil lawsuit against both Martínez and the cement truck driver. The jury found English at fault for causing the crash and cleared Martínez-- but had to sort through conflicting stories of what happened from both drivers. The trial lasted 10 days and the jury deliberated over a two-day period.
“The version of Jovanny Martínez/Yareline Santiago was that as they were driving on the bridge in the right hand lane, the dump truck passed them on the left, turned in front of them and cut them off,” said Merrick. “The version of the truck driver was that as he was approaching the crest of the bridge he saw what he thought was police behind him so he turned into the right lane and was struck from behind by a car.”
Even accident reconstruction experts hired by each side disagreed about what happened that fateful Sunday morning.
“I think that the story of the driver of our vehicle and backseat passenger, coupled with our accident reconstruction expert was more believable and credible than that of the driver of the truck,” said Merrick.
English acknowledged during his testimony that he had a felony record and was going through a contentious divorce at the time of the crash.
Merrick, a bilingual [Spanish/English] attorney, is well-known for helping Latino clients with legal issues, large and small. He specializes in accident claims, Social Security disability benefits, and workers compensation claims. He also practices in personal injury cases. Merrick was an active part of the legal team who obtained the verdict nearly four years after the accident first happened.
“This will not reverse the events of that night,” said Merrick. “However, it will make life a little easier for Joshua and his mother. Joshua calls his mother his 'guardian angel.' She has been taking care of him 24/7 for the past four years.”
Lawyers for English and his company filed a 200-plus page motion for a new trial about a month after the jury’s verdict. Merrick and his legal team filed a response to that motion last week. Whether another trial occurs will be up to a judge or an appeals court in the coming months.
Counsellor Merrick earned his bachelor’s degree from Youngstown State University in 1992 and his law degree from Case Western Reserve University in 2004. He has his own law firm, Patrick Merrick Attorney at Law LLC.
On the Internet: www.MiOhioAbogado.com