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Fernandez v. Jimenez

California Court of Appeals, Second District, Third Division

September 26, 2019

RACHEL FERNANDEZ et al., Plaintiffs and Respondents,
v.
ELBA JANETH JIMENEZ et al., Defendants and Appellants.

         CERTIFIED FOR PARTIAL PUBLICATION[*]

          APPEAL from a judgment and postjudgment order of the Superior Court of Los Angeles County No. BC511347, Malcolm H. Mackey, Judge. Affirmed.

          Lewis Brisbois Bisgaard & Smith, Roy G. Weatherup and Allison A. Arabian for Defendant and Appellant Elba Janeth Jimenez.

          Dentons U.S. and Charles A. Bird for Defendant and Appellant Maria Elena Rodriguez.

          Carpenter, Zuckerman & Rowley, Gary S. Lewis and John C. Carpenter for Plaintiffs and Respondents.

          DHANIDINA, J.

         In this wrongful death action, a jury awarded the deceased’s four children $11, 250, 000 each in noneconomic damages. Elba Janeth Jimenez, who killed the children’s mother while driving drunk, and Maria Elena Rodriguez, who negligently entrusted her car to Jimenez, appeal the judgment on the ground it is excessive. Jimenez also contends that the trial court improperly awarded prejudgment interest. We affirm the judgment and postjudgment order.

         BACKGROUND

         I. The lawsuit

         Claudia Fernandez died on June 16, 2012 when an intoxicated Jimenez lost control of her car and struck Claudia, killing her. Claudia’s children sued Jimenez. They also sued Rodriguez, whose car Jimenez was driving, for wrongful death under a negligent entrustment theory.[1] At the jury trial, Jimenez, but not Rodriguez, conceded liability. The following evidence was elicited.

         II. Claudia’s death

         By June 16, 2012, Rodriquez and Jimenez had lived together for five years but had known each other longer. On that day, they were at a party where Rodriguez saw Jimenez have at least three shots of tequila. When they left the party, Jimenez drove them in one car to Jimenez’s mother’s house where Rodriguez had left her second car. Jimenez refused to give Rodriguez the keys to the car and drove away. Soon thereafter, a police officer noticed Jimenez driving erratically. She evaded him, exited the freeway, and crashed into a taco truck, where Claudia was buying food. Jimenez killed Claudia and one other person.[2]

         Although Rodriguez admitted to a police officer the day after the accident that she felt Jimenez was not okay to drive, Rodriguez maintained at trial that she saw nothing in Jimenez’s behavior and knew of nothing in Jimenez’s history to lead her to believe Jimenez was too drunk to drive that night.

         When she died, Claudia was just 38 years old and the single mother of four children: Rachel Fernandez, Jeremy Valle, Donovan Valle, and Ryan Valle.[3]

         III. Rachel

         At the time of the accident, Rachel was 22 years old. She was 26 at trial. Rachel described Claudia as a “cool mom” and her best friend. Claudia always wanted to have family time, and one of the things they liked to do together was go to the movies. Claudia and Rachel particularly loved shopping together. Rachel described her mother as a hard worker who worked at an animal hospital. Claudia was organized and provided the structure that is now missing from their lives. Claudia also provided emotional support. When Rachel was a senior in high school, she had low self-esteem and was trying to lose weight before prom. One day, Rachel discovered Post-its on her bedroom walls telling her she was beautiful.

         When the accident happened, Rachel was living on her own and studying child development at college. Sometimes her mother would bring her lunch. After her mother died, Rachel stopped attending college because she could not concentrate and lost interest in working with children. She also stopped working for several months. Although she wants to return to school, she now does in-home care for people with disabilities. Her goal is to become a nurse.

         When her mother died, Rachel “checked out.” But, when it came time for her brothers to go back to school, she “clocked back in” because “it had to be done. They had to go to school.”

         Although the extended family thought the boys should live with their grandmother, Rachel decided to raise her brothers, so she obtained legal custody of them. In many ways, this has made her a better person: she is more responsible and has a different perspective on life. Still, she feels that her life is on hold.

         Although Rachel and her brothers had a good sibling relationship when their mother was alive, Claudia’s death has driven a wedge between them. Her death put a lot of pressure on them, and Jeremy, as the oldest boy, has felt it especially. While Rachel can control her youngest brother, Ryan, she cannot control Donovan and Jeremy.

         The siblings went to grief counseling once, but they did not like talking to a stranger. Rachel felt it did not help her. Rachel and Jeremy also had some joint sessions.

         The children visit their mother’s grave on Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, Claudia’s birthday, and Christmas. Rachel explained, they visit on Father’s Day because Claudia “played both roles.”

         Rachel still misses family dinnertime when they would talk about their day, waking on Sunday mornings to loud Mexican music, and her mother’s laughter.

         IV. Jeremy

         When his mother died, Jeremy was 14 years old and was finishing his sophomore year in high school. At that time he had C’s and D’s in his classes. He had a D average his junior year, and a C average his senior year. After Claudia died, Jeremy lost interest in school and did not graduate because he was not “emotionally” “okay.” Rachel encouraged him to enroll in adult school, but he quit after a week.

         Currently, Jeremy is a professional gamer and is developing a game for kids. He first got into gaming when his mother bought him a Nintendo 64.

         Grief counseling helped him a “small amount.”

         Claudia had a boyfriend whom Jeremy considered to be his father, but he left when Claudia died.

         When his mother was alive, they had family picnics at the park. Jeremy described his former family life as what one sees in films and reads about ...


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