Although there are conflicting accounts presented in Gonsalves v. Li, what is undisputed is that the son of a man interested in buying a high-end, high-powered BMW crashed the vehicle while taking it on a test drive.
The salesman, who was in the passenger seat, asserted significant back injuries were proximately caused by the crash.
The wreck reportedly occurred after the salesman, against his better judgment, allowed both the prospective buyer of the car as well as his son to test-drive the vehicle without a sales price agreement and confirmation of the customer’s ability to pay, as was typical for this particular kind of vehicle, which most owners want to purchase with zero mileage.
Salesman said he worried he had insulted the customer by requesting this information after customer insisted he had the money to pay, was very interested in buying the car – for his son’s use – and insisted his son had a clean driving record (a fact later disproven).
After the son got behind the wheel, salesman said he drove recklessly at several points during the test drive, at one point reaching speeds of up to 120 miles-per-hour while weaving dangerously through traffic.
The son exited the highway to return to dealership at salesman’s insistence, but then said he wanted to try one more thing and attempted to re-enter the highway. However, while on the ramp, he quickly accelerated and pressed the “M” button, causing him to lose control of the vehicle and crash the luxury car.
There are disputes about how fast the driver was traveling at that point.
Salesman later filed a car accident lawsuit against the prospective buyer and his son, though prospective buyer was later dropped as defendant and the case proceeded solely against the son.
Plaintiff requested $2 million in damages for medical expenses and pain and suffering. Defendant argued he had not acted negligently and plaintiff’s damages were significantly overstated.
Jury found defendant negligent, and awarded plaintiff $1.2 million in compensation for damages.
On appeal, defendant argued trial court erred in admitting certain evidence and in allowing plaintiff to examine certain subjects. Specifically, defendant objected to the court allowing his refusal to answer certain potentially incriminating statements as evidence against him. Appellate court agreed this was error. Additionally, appellate court found consideration of defendant’s prior speeding tickets was improper. The court also found plaintiff’s counsel committed misconduct in at least two instances: In bringing up information about a former client/paralyzed child and secondly by talking about plaintiff’s workers’ compensation coverage.
On the latter point, frequent references were reportedly made regarding plaintiff’s receipt of workers’ compensation. Appellate court stated the issue of whether there is secondary insurance to collect and the amount of that insurance is “none of their business, basically.”
The court ruled that collectively, these errors warranted a remand for a new trial, as they had unduly prejudiced defendant.
This does not mean defense has won, but plaintiff will have to press through another trial to secure recovery of damages.
Call Freeman Injury Law — 1-800-561-7777 for a free appointment to discuss your rights.
Gonsalves v. Li, Jan. 13, 2015, California Court of Appeals, First Appellate District, Division Five
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