WRONGFUL DEATH VERDICT
Jury Awards $10.45 Million in a Wrongful Death Lawsuit Against the City of Phoenix
On November 3, 2016, a Maricopa County Superior Court jury awarded $11 million to the plaintiff in a wrongful death claim against the City of Phoenix for negligent design and maintenance of an intersection.
The jury assigned 95% of fault to the City of Phoenix, making the net award $10.45 million. Schneider & Onofry attorneys Jason Kelly
and Chuck Onofry
represented the plaintiff.
Facts of the Case
On April 2, 2013, during the Tuesday evening rush hour, 43-year-old Kirk Jarvis was riding his motorcycle home from work, westbound on Pecos Road approaching 17th Avenue in Phoenix. Another motorist, Patsy Santerelli, was southbound on 17th Avenue and had stopped in order to make a left turn onto Pecos Road. In compliance with Arizona law, she came to a complete stop at the painted stop line in the turn lane. The stop line was approximately 24 feet away from the intersection. From that position, Ms. Santerelli’s sight distance was less than half of what was required by traffic engineering standards.
From the stop line, Ms. Santerelli slowly moved forward and had started her turn when her car struck Mr. Jarvis’s motorcycle.
Mr. Jarvis died at the scene. He is survived by his son, Karson, who turned five years of age just a month after his father’s death.
Wrongful Death Litigation
During the pretrial litigation, Kelly and Onofry discovered numerous prior reports from motorists complaining of poor visibility and, during heavy traffic hours, difficulties in making left turns from the intersection. Further, through work orders and photographs, field technicians documented numerous visual obstructions. For over three years, and despite citizen requests, the City took no action.
In response to the plaintiff’s allegations of negligent maintenance, the City of Phoenix stated that it had not kept the intersection clear of obstructions because maps showed that the intersection was controlled by the Arizona Department of Transportation (ADOT). However, further discovery showed that, during the 1990s, the City had improperly built this intersection over ADOT right-of-way land and had never submitted to ADOT the proper design documentation.
At trial, Kelly and Onofry successfully argued that the condition of the intersection created a high accident risk. Evidence elicited at trial indicated that local residents believed that stop lights were installed at other intersections along Pecos Road only after fatalities occurred. Phoenix officials considered this particular intersection safe because no serious injuries had occurred until Kirk’s death, and its engineers claimed there were other, more dangerous intersections in Phoenix. Further, Kelly and Onofry argued that the City had made maintenance of the intersection a low priority, as the intersection would at some point be demolished as part of the planned Loop 202 extension that is now underway.
Kelly and Onofry pointed out that the intersection could have been made safe simply by cutting out the bushes and trees, moving the painted stop line closer to the intersection or, as is more common in Phoenix, simply removing the stop line altogether. However, rather than address the safety issues raised by the public, the City ignored the complaints, ultimately resulting in the events that led to the death of Mr. Jarvis.
After seven days of trial and two hours of deliberation, the jury awarded $11 million in damages to Mr. Jarvis’s son, finding that the City of Phoenix was 95% at fault and imposing liability of $10.45 million. The remainder was assigned to Ms. Santerelli, a non-party at fault.
During the course of the litigation, the City of Phoenix rejected multiple Offers of Judgment from the plaintiff. Pursuant to the Offer of Judgment rule, legal sanctions against the City total more than $1.1 million, in addition to the jury award.
After the trial, the City of Phoenix hired a prominent appellate law firm to seek to overturn the jury’s award. Post-trial motions and appeals promised another three to five years of litigation, without closure for Karson and his family.
Taking our client’s best interests into consideration, we settled the case for $6 million and began work on setting up a trust for Karson. This settlement alone accounted for nearly half of all settlements paid by the City since 2012. The jury spoke, the City Council heard, and now Kirk has left Karson a financial legacy.