Raymond Paul Johnson - Civil Litigators - Los Angeles, CA - Recent Case Summaries

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Aviation Law
Products Liability
Insurance Claims / Bad Faith
Entertainment Law / Breach Of Contract
Killer Road / Highway Construction Cases



The Aircraft Explosion Case

One tragic December morning, a modified Boeing 707 (KC-135) tanker aircraft while on the ground exploded in a fireball at General Billy Mitchell International Airport, throwing an eerie and alarming light across the entire Milwaukee skyline.

Our clients, the wives and children of five (5) Air National Guardsman who perished in fiery deaths, retained us to determine the cause of the explosion and the guilty parties. Our investigation showed that the explosion was set-off by a defective fuel pump. Several of its internal wires had arced, and the resulting sparks ignited fuel vapor in the center wing tank.

Depositions of military and civilian personnel were taken across the country. We and the defendant pump manufacturer retained well over a dozen experts. In fact, some of the experts that testified in our case subsequently testified before the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) and Congress in hearings related to the cause of the TWA 800 explosion in New York. Based on findings related to our case, the NTSB investigation refocused on potentially defective fuel tank wiring as the cause of the TWA 800 explosion.

Meanwhile, in our case, on the first day of trial in federal court in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, the fuel pump manufacturer agreed to settle for a confidential amount that our clients felt could change their lives, and the lives of their children for the better.

The X-31 Experimental Aircraft Case

Our client was a world-renowned German test pilot, Karl-Heinz Lang, who suffered a career-ending injury when he was forced to eject from an advanced military aircraft, the X-31. The X-31 is a single-seat, single-engine experimental jet operated with state-of-the-art computerized controls. We were retained to determine the true cause of the aircraft failure. The defendant manufacturers and others had blamed the incident on pilot error.

After years of litigation that included depositions in Germany and throughout the United States, we and our experts determined that the cause of the aircraft failure was a defective pitot probe, and incomplete safety analyses conducted during aircraft development and testing. The defendant manufacturers decided to settle for a confidential amount prior to trial. Our client, Karl Lang, his wife Marianne, and their children now live in the Bavarian section of Germany.

Air Crash Into An Apartment Building

Our client was home alone in his living room. Suddenly, he heard a loud buzzing noise, then a tremendous crash and explosion of fire. Almost instantly, his third-floor apartment was engulfed in flames and smoke.

A plane had crashed vertically into his apartment building, right through his living room. He had to escape immediately. Our client made his way to the outside hallway, but encountered a wall of fire. Seeing no alternative, he ran through the flames to avoid death. He escaped to the stairwell and finally outside the building.

After exiting the fiery inferno, he looked at his arms and hands, and saw burnt flesh hanging and blistering. He suffered intense pain from severe burns over 20% of his body as he waited for emergency medical attention.

Our investigation revealed that the pilot had spent almost eight (8) hours at Santa Monica Airport waiting for clouds and haze to “burn off.” Despite his lack of instrument rating, he refused to wait longer. The pilot, a West Los Angeles contractor, took off in his Beech Bonanza A36TC turbo-prop airplane.

Because he was not instrument-rated, the pilot had to stay VFR (under Visual Flight Rules). Our experts discovered however that conditions along his flight path never improved sufficiently for VFR flight. Within ten minutes of departure, his plane plowed through our client’s apartment.

After additional investigation and intense discovery, the pilot’s multiple insurance companies settled with our client for a confidential amount that will help him live well and receive first-rate medical attention.

The “Severe Air Turbulence” Case

Our client was a passenger on Midwest Airlines to San Francisco. She was traveling from her hometown of Kansas City, Missouri to attend an award celebration for her father. After the Midwest captain announced that he was about to begin descent into the Bay Area, the airplane suddenly and without warning dropped towards the earth. This sudden drop threw several passengers – including our client – into the ceiling of the aircraft.

At the time, our client had her seatbelt off to reach for an object under the seat in front of her. Almost immediately after this first plummet – it happened again. This second drop was so unexpected and so sudden that there was absolutely no time for our client and other passengers to prepare before they crashed again into the ceiling. As our client’s head smashed the second time, she heard a sickening “crunch” and suffered two herniated discs in her neck.

We contended that the Midwest pilot should have been aware of prevailing severe turbulence in the area through AIRMET and PIREP warnings that we discovered through investigation. As an example, our meteorologist found an AIRMET (Tango 2) warning of turbulence in the vicinity between 20,000 and 39,000 feet due to severe mountain wind shear.

We uncovered even more information available to Midwest’s pilot. PIREPS, one of the best indicators of potential turbulence, are radio reports by pilots of what they encountered in a particular area in the way of turbulence, down drafts, and the like. In this case, multiple PIREPS existed in the area of the Midwest flight. Some of the PIREPS were urgent in nature, and posted by experienced commercial pilots of larger planes such as Boeing 737s.

Midwest Airlines contended that its pilot had instructed the passengers to fasten their seatbelts and had illuminated the warning sign before the first turbulence hit. We countered with witnesses, located through investigation and discovery, who contradicted that contention.

To our client’s great pleasure, after seeing some of the results of our investigation, the airline settled for an amount that funded her future medical needs and other losses.

The “Friendly Fire” Shootdown Case

This case arose out of the “friendly fire” shootdown of two United States Army Black Hawk (UH-60) helicopters by two United States Air Force F-15 jet fighters over northern Iraq. At the time of the incident, the Black Hawks and F-15s were engaged in activities related to Operation Provide Comfort, an effort to protect and provide humanitarian aid to the Kurdish minority in northern Iraq.

On behalf of our clients, we contended that the Identification-Friend-or-Foe (IFF) equipment on board both the UH-60 helicopters and the F-15 fighters were defective, and failed to effectively alert the fighter pilots that the helicopters were friendly aircraft.

Our clients were the surviving family members of 13 American servicemen and women who were killed in the downing of the helicopters. The defendants were the manufacturers and distributors of the aircraft and its IFF interrogator/receiver and transponder equipment. Further information in the case fell under the U.S. Military Secrets Acts.

The “F-15 Ejection Seat” Case

We represented the family of a young Air Force Academy graduate who died when his F-15 ejection seat failed during an aircraft fire and ejection over the Gulf of Mexico. The defendants, manufacturers of the aircraft and ejection seat systems, filed a two-thousand page Summary Judgment Motion under the “Military Contractor Defense” established by the U.S. Supreme Court in Boyle v. United Technologies.

At this writing, our firm is proud of the fact that – to our knowledge – we have defeated more of these onerous motions related to military aircraft crashes than any other law firm in the country. In that vein, we also defeated this motion, allowing the litigation to proceed to trial.

But winning the case also required intense investigation and discovery. We eventually located the inventor of a device in the F-15 ejection seat system called the “shielded mild detonating cord.” He confirmed the nature of the defect. As a result of this case and the related Air Force investigation, all F-15 ejection seats were modified to be safer – saving pilots’ lives worldwide.

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The Post-Collision Fire Case

Our clients, four young women, were occupants in a GMC Suburban that was hit in the back by another driver on the I-1O Freeway in Los Angeles.  The Suburban was slowing down at the time due to an obstacle ahead.  After impact, the Suburban rolled one-half turn onto its roof.  A fuel-fed fire engulfed the vehicle.  Click here for a depiction of the fire.  All four women were tragically burned and died horrifying deaths before they could escape the Suburban.  Our fire safety experts opined that the Suburban’s huge 40-gallon fuel tank, positioned just off the rear bumper, had leaked through its filler-neck opening and another hole in the tank from the collision, and that the dangerous location of the tank caused the post-collision fire that killed all four women.  GM’s experts countered that the excessive speed of the striking vehicle (allegedly 86 miles per hour) caused the deaths.  After two years of litigation and expert depositions, this erupting-fuel-tank case settled for a confidential amount just before trial.

A Tire Defect and the Death of Six Friends

This case involved one of the deadliest rollover crashes in California history. It arose from Ford Motor Company’s use of Continental “Grabber AW” tires on its Expedition vehicles.

On a clear, dry day, six life-long friends (three married couples) were traveling on Interstate 15 in a Ford Expedition sports utility vehicle (SUV) to meet other family members in Las Vegas. At approximately 9:30 p.m., near the City of Barstow, the left rear Continental “Grabber AW” tire on their Ford Expedition suddenly blew out. Following investigation, we asserted that the tire’s defective design and manufacture caused the crash, and that the tire’s sudden tread and belt edge separation resulted in part from improper adhesion (i.e., vulcanization).

Due to the rollover and the lack of laminated glass in the side windows of the Expedition, four of the occupants were fully ejected. The remaining two people were partially ejected. The resulting horrendous injuries included decapitation and dismemberment. All six friends died at the scene from injuries suffered during this rollover collision.

Our complaint asserted that the subject Continental “Grabber AW” tire had internal defects evidenced by the tire itself, and a history of excessive tread separations. Three months after this deadly crash, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) required defendant Continental Tire to issue a nationwide recall of the subject model tire (and its sister tire/the “Contitrac AW”). Tires in this group exhibited a lower than specified rubber gauge between the belt edges; a condition we alleged was present in the failed subject tire, leading to separation within the tire and tread detachment.

We further asserted that Continental had full knowledge of the likely consequences of its conduct, and the high probability that serious and permanent injuries and even death would be suffered by motorists using Ford Expedition SUVs equipped with Grabber AW tires. As such, we successfully argued the appropriateness of punitive damages in this case. After years of litigation, just prior to trial, the defendants settled this tragic case for a confidential amount with all thirteen heirs of the three deceased couples.

The “Exploding Tire” Case

Our clients were returning from a family vacation in their Mazda MPV (minivan). Suddenly the tread of their right rear tire separated and wrapped around the wheel well. The tire blew out, and the vehicle careened out-of-control, rolling down an embankment. After investigation, we contended that the tire failed due to defective manufacturing by defendant Goodyear Tire and Rubber Company and a faulty repair by defendant America’s Tire Company. As a result of the rollover, the mother of the family, seated in the center of the van, suffered a broken neck, quadriplegia and became dependent on a ventilator to breathe. Click here to see an illustration of the rollover sequence.

We contended that the subject tire (a Goodyear “Road Hugger GT”) had internal defects evidenced by the tire itself, the high incidence of tread separations in similar tires, its warranty history, and the mechanism of failure. In addition, we asserted that a faulty patch repair by defendant America’s Tire Company caused air to migrate within the tire and accelerate the internal separation between the belts and tread.

The defective repair was evidenced by expert inspection of the repair area and deposition testimony by defendants employees. We argued that the combination of internal manufacturing defects and defective repair created, in effect, a time bomb at the right rear of our client’s minivan. It exploded that day, as our clients were returning from their family vacation, changing their lives forever.

After many intensive out-of-state depositions of Goodyear’s corporate representatives, and numerous court battles that ultimately forced defendants to produce what we contended was “smoking-gun” documentation, this case settled for a confidential amount that allowed the family, among other things, to build a room for their mother in their home (equivalent to a top-rated hospital room), and employ round-the-clock nursing staff for the rest of her life.

Tire Failure and Deadly Rollover

On a clear, sunny day, our client drove her 1995 Toyota Previa minivan on a California freeway. Her three children, ages 8, 10 and 19, were with her. Suddenly, debris flew between her vehicle and a tractor/trailer truck traveling on her right.

At the same time, her left rear tire failed suddenly and without warning. It caused the Previa van to go out of control and rollover. Although everyone was wearing seatbelts, her 8 and 10-year old children were killed.

We and our experts assert that the left rear tire, a Dominator Touring MRII manufactured by Cooper Tire and Rubber Company and sold by the Reinalt-Thomas Corporation, dba America’s Tire Company / Discount Tire Company was defective. Inspections revealed the tread had separated from the carcass of the tire, and wrapped around the rear axle of the minivan, causing it to go out of control and rollover.

Our firm is presently prosecuting this case in Superior Court against defendants Cooper Tire and Rubber Company, the Reinalt-Thomas Corporation, dba America’s Tire Company / Discount Tire Company, and Toyota Motor Corporation.

Defective Seatbelts

Our Ohio client was catastrophically injured in a vehicle collision near Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. We sued the foreign vehicle manufacturer for supplying a defective lap-only seatbelt that caused her paralysis. After years of litigation across the country and key depositions of Japanese design and test engineers, the manufacturer agreed at mediation to settle for a confidential amount that allowed our client to lead a more normal and healthy life with her children and loved ones.

Vehicle Rollover Propensity

  • During the firm’s investigation of a recent case, our experts conducted full-scale stability testing on an exemplar sports utility vehicle. The vehicle was loaded similarly to the vehicle driven by our clients. As part of the testing conducted by our firm, it was driven through the "J-Turn Test" and the "Consumer Union Test". Please click to view our video of these J-Turn and Consumer Union Short Course Tests: WMV or MP4 format.

    During the J-Turn Test, the vehicle was driven through turns beginning at speeds of 30 miles-per-hour and increased in 5 miles-per-hour increments for each test turn. Failure of the J-Turn Test is marked by lifting of two wheels simultaneously during the test. A vehicle that fails this J-Turn Test is considered defective by reason of its rollover instability. The Consumer Union Short Course was developed by Consumer Union and involves driving a vehicle through a prescribed course that is essentially a double lane change. The vehicle is driven from one lane, around a cone three feet into the next lane, and back into its original lane. The vehicle should not go out of control during these maneuvers

    At speeds of only 35 miles-per-hour and without any tripping mechanism, the test vehicle rolled over and engaged the protective outriggers during both standard J-Turn and Consumer Union Short Course testing maneuvers. In our principal expert’s 25 years of experience, he had never tested such a dangerously unstable vehicle.

  • In still another rollover case, a Louisiana client was a young woman who was severely brain-injured when her sport utility vehicle (SUV) overturned on the roadway. After suing the vehicle manufacturer for the dangerous rollover propensity of the vehicle, deposition after deposition took place, as well as voluminous productions of related discovery documents regarding the design and engineering of the SUV. Following this work and our analyses, the manufacturer agreed to settle for a confidential amount that continues to take care of our client's needs for the rest of her life.

    Defective Medical Device

    Our California client was severely injured by defectively-made medical implants. After years of litigation and a six-week trial (involving hundreds of exhibits) in the conservative Vista Courthouse of San Diego County, the jury found the defendant guilty and returned a verdict for our client. This remains one of the few major plaintiff's verdicts ever returned in that conservative jurisdiction.

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    The Allstate Case

    Our client, Ms. Rita DiLiberto, was involved in a tragic automobile collision near Orlando, Florida. We asserted that her insurance company, Allstate, mishandled her claim and spoliated evidence in the case. The effect of that misconduct left Rita severely injured and without recourse.

    We filed an action in federal court in Orlando, Florida, and litigated the case with the preeminent Orlando law firm of Maher, Gibson, Guiley and Maher. After years of extensive law and motion, and in-depth depositions of Allstate personnel, the defendant agreed to settle for a confidential amount that the client and her family believed would more than take care of her needs for the rest of her life.

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    The Superstar Case

    Our client, a fashion model, was injured by a world-famous Hollywood actor who denied all wrong doing. We gathered evidence that demonstrated the truth. After months of legal maneuvering, Mr. "Superstar" had little choice but to agree to a confidential multi-year settlement.

    The Rooney Case

    Our client was the personal manager of Mickey Rooney. After eight (8) years of loyal service, Mr. Rooney decided to terminate our client and renege on promised royalties related to Mr. Rooney's autobiography, "The Black Stallion" television series, and other works. After filing suit, Mr. Rooney's lawyers countersued claiming that our client was acting as an unauthorized talent agent. Well-publicized administrative hearings were held and we prevailed in each and everyone of them. As a result, law was created that is cited by plaintiffs in almost every Hollywood-related agent case for the now-recognized legal distinctions between a personal manager and talent agent.

    After establishing that law, the breach of contract case against Mr. Rooney proceeded to trial. We were victorious on all counts, and judgment was entered against Mr. Rooney for all breach-of-contract damages.

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    The “Blind Curve” Case

    Here the defendant City failed to provide safe road conditions to protect the members of our society who need most protection—our children. As a result, our six-year-old client was struck by a car at a residential street intersection, and suffered permanent brain injury.

    After intense investigation, we determined the City had violated accepted traffic-safety engineering principles by allowing vehicles to park along the street at the “T” intersection. These vehicles obstructed the view of pedestrians as well as oncoming vehicles. And, in particular, a child’s view of approaching vehicles was blocked by cars and trucks at the intersection parked directly over the crosswalk area. The City further compromised safety by not marking the crosswalks, or placing signs warning motorists of the unmarked crosswalks in this residential area full of children.

    Our investigation also revealed that the City aggravated this dangerous condition by failing to properly control the timing and flow of traffic in and around the subject intersection. We found that the use of the street as a shortcut increased traffic through this residential neighborhood by 400 percent. The City settled this case on the eve of trial for a confidential amount that provided life-time quality care for our young client.

    The Dangerous “Concrete Barrier” Case

    Our clients were passengers in a sport utility vehicle (“SUV”) that rolled over on a State Highway. The driver had been forced to steer left towards a temporary center-median barrier when she was cut-off by another vehicle. The temporary barrier, known as a K-rail, had been set up to protect road workers in the center median, but was improperly located just to the left of the traffic lane, leaving no room for evasive maneuvers. As a result, the driver had to immediately steer right to avoid the concrete K-rail. The SUV went sideways and rolled.

    The rollover left a young 11-year-old dead at the scene, and caused life-altering injuries to her 18-year-old sister, who became mentally incompetent and partially paralyzed. The State settled these “Dangerous Condition of Public Property” claims for a confidential amount prior to trial.

    The Dangerous “On-Ramp Construction” Case

    Our client, a software engineer, drove his vehicle in rainy weather along a new transition curve leading from Interstate 5 northbound to State Route 55 northbound in Orange County, California. His vehicle went out of control as the tires passed through excessive water, mud and debris on the roadway.

    The vehicle began to rotate, and continued spinning down a dirt slope. The right side of the vehicle collided with a large construction detour sign in an unapproved and dangerous location, just prior to impacting a barrier wall running along the adjacent freeway.

    When the signpost slammed into the vehicle, it dislodged the removable T-top on the roof, invaded the occupant survival space of the vehicle, and struck the right side of our client’s head. As a result, he suffered permanent and profound brain injury. He remained comatose for nearly two months. His disabilities included traumatic brain injury, left hemiplegia and right hemiparesis, and he became dependent on full-time medical care.

    On his behalf, our firm sued the California Department of Transportation (Caltrans) and other defendants for “Dangerous Condition of Public Property”. During investigation, discovery and consultations with expert engineers in accident reconstruction, biomechanics, automobile design, road construction and safety practices, we determined that the subject transition curve was dangerous. This was based on inadequate drainage on the road surface, and the failure to incorporate reasonable safety measures, including guardrails and needed warning signs. In addition, we emphasized that our client’s injuries were caused directly by the heavy signpost which had been improperly and dangerously located.

    The case settled after many extensive expert depositions for a confidential amount that provided excellent life-time care for our client.

    The Deadly “Construction Zone” Case

    This dangerous condition of public property case arose from a two-car collision on a four-lane highway with a center median. The highway was under repair at the time. Our clients, husband and wife, were driving home. A driver, heading in the opposite direction on the other side of the median, was forced onto his right shoulder by an unidentified vehicle. To avoid dirt, gravel and debris piles near the shoulder area, the other driver steered back into his travel lanes, and across steel construction plates on the roadway surface. The other driver’s vehicle went out-of-control and over the center median, striking our clients’ vehicle in a near head-on collision.

    Both clients were extricated from their vehicle and rushed to nearby hospitals. For approximately one year, the husband (age 42) remained under intensive care in an essentially comatose state due to severe brain injury. On May 10, 2001, he died leaving behind his wife, (age 47), and small son, (age 7). The wife suffered multiple fractures on the left side of her body and a head injury during the collision.

    We contended that the defendant City, its inspectors, its contractors and the developer of the property, even after several public complaints, failed to properly oversee the roadway conditions in and around the construction zone. Intense investigation and discovery revealed that a dangerous amount of gravel, dirt and other debris existed on the steel plates which were placed dangerously along the subject roadway without proper ramping. As a result, the other driver’s vehicle hit the plate edges, jumped and landed on other plates with minimal friction, causing his vehicle to go out-of-control.

    The defendants settled this case just before trial for a confidential amount that provided for the future needs of the widow and small son.

    The “Flooded Road” Case

    Our client, a charming 25-year-old woman, suffered head injury while driving her 1994 Honda Civic along La Tuna Canyon Road in Los Angeles, California. Her vehicle was hit in the rear by another car.

    She had used this road many time in the past. But this morning, it was raining. As she approached a curve, she fell victim to a trap; a truck skidded in several feet of standing water. The truck hit a wall and stopped in the roadway. Attempting to avoid the truck, our client was unable to maintain control of her own vehicle due to the other pooled water hazards.

    As a result, her car rotated into on-coming traffic, where it was hit by another vehicle. Our client was injured, and suffered permanent brain damage.

    We brought an action against the City, asserting that: (1) the City had negligently modified the drainage system on the road; (2) the City knew for years that the road lacked a proper drainage system and was a dangerous condition of public property; and (3) the City failed to properly warn the public, including our client, of the dangerous condition.

    We retained an accident investigator, an accident reconstructionist and a road design expert, as well as a hydrologist, i.e., an expert who deals with the occurrence, circulation, distribution, and properties of water. They opined that the rain water flowing at the time of the incident was more than the out-dated drainage system could handle. Our independent investigation also found that the City Attorney's office had: (1) reported the history of prior accidents on this dangerous road to the city council, (2) handled two wrongful death lawsuits associated with this road, and (3) provided engineering reports showing that the road lacked adequate spillways to drain excess water. After we noticed the depositions of the involved politicians and city engineers, the defendant City settled our client’s claim for an amount that assured her needs were met for the rest of her life, an estimated sixty (60) years.

    The Unnecessary “Lane Closure” Case

    The automobile crash in this case occurred on U.S. Highway 101, the Pacific Coast Highway, in an unincorporated portion of Santa Barbara County, California. For weeks prior, the highway in both directions underwent significant but periodic construction activity.

    At approximately 12:45 in the morning, our client was a passenger in a 1992 Toyota Camry being driven southbound by her friend. The right-hand lane ahead was closed and blocked off by a line of barricade cones.

    Our client asserted that an unidentified “big rig” truck, traveling ahead of her vehicle, was forced by the lane closure to move abruptly into her lane. In an effort to avoid collision, the driver performed an evasive maneuver and lost control of the vehicle, which collided with a large tree near the right-hand shoulder of the highway.

    Through extensive investigation and formal discovery, we established that highway lanes are to be closed only if construction activity is occurring or will occur in a short period of time. Although defense witnesses testified to the contrary, we showed that no construction activity was actually occurring or was planned to occur in the lane closure that evening.

    The unnecessary closure of the lane, the misuse of traffic controls, and the lack of adequate supervision were all asserted to be contributing causes of this crash, which left our client paraplegic. Just short of trial, defendants settled the case for a confidential amount that assured our client would receive proper and needed care for the rest of her life.

    The Unsafe “School Crosswalk” Case

    This was a triple wrongful-death case involving two young children and their mother, as well as serious injuries to a third child. The children and their mother were killed standing on the corner of an intersection in the East L.A. section of Los Angeles. They were waiting to cross the street along the City’s recommended route of travel to their neighborhood’s Elementary School. We represented the family.

    The intersection was located between two schools, and children and their parents routinely used this recommended path to reach their respective school. While the family waited at the corner, a Ford van in the intersection attempted a left turn. At the same time, a Nissan Maxima proceeding northbound entered the same intersection. The vehicles collided, causing the Maxima to strike and fatally injure the mother and two of her sons, and seriously injure her third son. Following detailed investigation and coordination with safety experts, we asserted that school zone safety and other needed traffic control measures were not in place at the subject intersection.

    The defendant City maintained it had no liability. The case was tried for weeks, and the jury deadlocked. Afterwards, the City settled this tragic case for a confidential amount.

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