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Hunter Brown, et al v. United States of America

October 12, 2012


The opinion of the court was delivered by: M. James Lorenz United States District Court Judge


Plaintiff Hunter Brown, a minor, by and through his mother and guardian ad litem, Lori Brown, petitions this Court for an order approving the settlement of the claim of minor Hunter Brown. This action brought under the Federal Torts Claims Act ("FTCA") for personal injuries arises from an automobile collision that occurred on September 15, 2007 within Camp Pendleton, California. (Compl. ¶ 1.) This petition for approval of settlement is unopposed.

The Court finds this motion suitable for determination on the papers submitted and without oral argument. See Civ. L.R. 7.1(d.1). For the following reasons, the Court GRANTS Plaintiffs' motion.


On September 15, 2007, Mrs. Brown was driving a minivan eastbound on a road within the U.S. Marine Corps Base at Camp Pendleton, California. (Compl. ¶¶ 3, 8.) Hunter Brown was a passenger in the minivan. (Id. ¶ 8.) Plaintiffs allege that without warning a camouflaged 2007 AM General High Mobility Multi Wheeled Vehicle (HMMWV), driven by U.S. Marine Corps personnel, attempted to change lanes into Plaintiffs' lane without first ascertaining whether it was safe to do so. (Id.) As a result, the U.S. Marine Corps vehicle encroached upon the path of Plaintiffs' vehicle, damaging the driver's side mirror and forcing Mrs. Brown to swerve to the right to avoid further impact. (Id.) That forced Plaintiffs' vehicle to jump the curb on the edge of the roadway. (Id.)

Hunter Brown, born on February 24, 2000, was seven years old at the time. (Compl. ¶¶ 4, 19.) At the time of the collision, he was a restrained passenger who was seated in a car seat. (Id. ¶ 19.) "The booster seat was necessary because of his pre-existing cerebral palsy and epilepsy conditions." (Pls.' Mot. 3:4--11.) When the accident occurred, the child restraint and car seat came loose causing Hunter Brown to strike his head. (Id.) At the collision scene, Hunter Brown had a seizure, and was subsequently taken to a children's hospital. (Id.) Following initial treatment, he was then transported to a different children's hospital. (Id. at 4:2--14; Crandall Decl. Ex. B.)

Hunter Brown suffered a closed-head injury, post-traumatic seizure v. baseline seizure due to the head trauma sustained from the collision. (Pls.' Mot. 4:15--19.) After his examination, his condition stabilized and he was released from the hospital. (Id.)

Post-accident, Hunter Brown continued with his pre-accident regimen of occupational therapy and physical therapy. (Pls.' Mot. 4:28--5:5; Crandall Decl. Ex. D.)

On September 19, 2008, Plaintiffs' counsel spoke with a doctor who had seen Hunter Brown in June 2008. (Pls.' Mot. 5:14--22.) It was his opinion that Hunter Brown had hit his head fairly hard and had "healed" from his traumatic injuries. (Id.) However, it appeared now that Hunter Brown had more trouble with his seizures for a period of time following the collision. (Id.) However, his epilepsy returned to baseline. (Id.; Crandall Decl. ¶ 7.)

The total paid medical charges for Hunter Brown's collision-related treatment was $7,929.57. (Crandall Decl. Ex. F.) He is insured through his father's health insurance with TRICARE (also known as "CHAMPUS"), which is a federally funded health-insurance program. (Pls.' Mot. 5:1--11.) TRICARE benefits were provided because Hunter Brown's father is an active-duty Marine. (Id.) However, Hunter Brown's parents are not seeking any reimbursement for out-of-pocket expenses, including but not limited to co-payments made for his collision-related medical care. (See Crandall Decl. ¶ 9.)

On January 13, 2011, Plaintiffs commenced this FTCA action alleging claims for personal injuries and property damage sustained in the automobile collision and for negligent infliction of emotional distress. Though a settlement was not reached during the October 20, 2011 Early Neutral Evaluation before United States Magistrate Judge William McCurine, Jr., the parties continued settlement negotiations.

Eventually, Defendant offered $25,000.00 to settle this action in its entirety, whereby Mrs. Brown agreed to allocate half of that settlement to Hunter Brown for full and complete settlement of his claims for damages. (Pls.' Mot. 6:19--28.) Furthermore, Plaintiffs' counsel is not requesting attorneys' fees from Hunter Brown's settlement. (Id. at 7:2--15.) Plaintiffs' counsel rather is only requesting reimbursement of half of the out-of-pocket expenses used to prosecute this case. (Crandall Decl. ¶ 11.) Half of the out-of-pocket expenses totaled $1,240.84. (Crandall Decl. Ex. H.) The proposed net allocation of the settlement proceeds to Hunter Brown would be $11,259.16.*fn1 (Crandall Decl. ¶ 13.) Plaintiffs propose that the settlement proceeds for Hunter Brown be used to purchase an exterior tilting-platform wheelchair lift and interior swivel seat to be installed in the Browns' van and used to transport Hunter Brown. (Id. ¶ 14.) Plaintiffs attached estimates from Mobility Solutions, which estimate that the cost of the platform and seat including installation to be $12,438.00. (Crandall Decl. Ex. I.) If the cost of the lift and seat exceeds the amount of the settlement, Mr. and Mrs. Brown intend to pay the difference between the settlement and the cost of the lift and seat themselves. (Crandall Decl. ¶ 14.)


"District courts have a special duty, derived from Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 17(c), to safeguard the interests of litigants who are minors." Robidoux v. Rosengren, 638 F.3d 1177, 1181 (9th Cir. 2011). "Rule 17(c) provides, in relevant part, that a district court 'must appoint a guardian ad litem-or issue another appropriate order-to protect a minor or incompetent person who is unrepresented in an action.'" Id. (quoting Fed. R. Civ. P. 17(c)). Consequently, "a court must independently investigate and evaluate any compromise or settlement of a minor's claim to assure itself that the minor's interests are protected, even if the ...

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