Since 1980, Rouda Feder Tietjen & McGuinn has built its reputation on maximizing its clients’ recovery, even in cases with daunting obstacles. The firm, which handles all aspects of personal injury litigation, has a history of persevering against difficult opponents, and continues to see possibilities where others see problems.
Partner Cynthia McGuinn, for example, recently secured the largest personal injury verdict in Sonoma County history, in an auto accident case that presented a number of complex challenges.
The case, Cole v. Henry, involved 28-year-old Angie Cole, who was injured during a cross-country move when her father fell asleep at the wheel and crashed their rental truck. Cole, who was wearing a seat belt and sleeping in the passenger seat, suffered severe fractures to her spine. Despite multiple surgeries, she is permanently disabled and will require life-long supportive care.
"What makes this case unique is that to obtain compensation from her father’s insurance company, Angie was required by California law to sue her own dad," McGuinn explains. The insurance company, however, refused to pay Cole’s claim, and as a result, her parents took her and her children in after the crash, expending a substantial amount of their own money in the process. The defense then used these circumstances to advance an "ungrateful child" theme in the case, requiring McGuinn to confront the juror prejudice associated with that premise.
Still, by arguing that Cole had twice asked her father if he was too tired to drive, McGuinn was able to obtain a record $13.4 million jury verdict. That result was appealed, but in December 2015 the case settled for a confidential sum.
Like McGuinn, partner Timothy Tietjen also obtained a significant settlement in a recent auto accident that involved several complicated issues.
His client, 27-year-old Rebecca Forkey, had been driving north on Interstate 680 when she was forced off the road by the driver of an Acura SUV, who was himself swerving to avoid the impaired driver of a Toyota Highlander. Forkey suffered a permanent spinal cord injury in the rollover, among other injuries.
Although the Toyota driver had been impaired from prescription drugs at the time of the accident, Forkey’s main lawsuit ended up being against the Acura driver, an employee of an Acura dealership who had reported the Toyota driver to 911 for erratic driving, but then ignored the dispatcher’s warning to stay away from the Toyota.
With the Acura dealership as a central defendant in the case, Tietjen faced a challenging independent-contractor defense (the argument that an employer is not liable for the torts of an independent contractor). Still, he rejected an initial $17 million settlement offer, and eventually the case settled for $24 million.
"This was an example of a Good Samaritan gone wrong, and as a result, Rebecca’s life was changed forever," notes Tietjen. "It was a hard-fought case, but we wanted to ensure that she would be fairly compensated for her catastrophic injuries."
Partner John Feder, meanwhile, faced similar challenges in a recent wrongful death case involving a pedestrian who was struck by a car while walking home during rush hour. The car’s driver, a wine salesman returning to Oakland from a tasting event in San Francisco, was heading toward the Bay Bridge when he hit and killed a 44-year-old single woman.
An issue in the ensuing lawsuit was whether the tasting event constituted as a "special errand" by the driver’s employer, an Oakland-based wine merchant. If so, it would have allowed for an exception to the going-and-coming rule, which states that an employer is not liable for injuries occurring during an employee’s routine commute. The defense argued, though, that regardless of the exception, the employer still couldn’t be held liable, because the driver had stopped for coffee before the accident, thus abandoning his employer’s business.
Despite these arguments, Feder secured a settlement for the woman’s parents that was 20 times the driver’s insurance policy limits. He says, "These cases may seem daunting, but we have a strong commitment to standing up for clients who have been hurt due to others’ action or inaction, and our track record of success proves that."
"We’re able to take on these tough cases because of the experience, drive, and creativity of our attorneys," adds Ronald Rouda, the firm’s founding partner. "We strive to take cases we believe in and work with people we care about, so often we find ourselves handling matters that others would be too intimidated to accept."