California Court of Appeals, Second District, Third Division
FOR PARTIAL PUBLICATION[*]
from a judgment and postjudgment order of the Superior Court
of Los Angeles County No. BC511347, Malcolm H. Mackey, Judge.
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.
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.
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. At the jury trial,
Jimenez, but not Rodriguez, conceded liability. The following
evidence was elicited.
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.
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.
she died, Claudia was just 38 years old and the single mother
of four children: Rachel Fernandez, Jeremy Valle, Donovan
Valle, and Ryan Valle.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.”
still misses family dinnertime when they would talk about
their day, waking on Sunday mornings to loud Mexican music,
and her mother’s laughter.
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.
Jeremy is a professional gamer and is developing a game for
kids. He first got into gaming when his mother bought him a
counseling helped him a “small amount.”
had a boyfriend whom Jeremy considered to be his father, but
he left when Claudia died.
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 ...