Boy’s Father Wins $5.7-Million Suit in Kidnap Death
CRAIG QUINTANA | Times Staff Writer
Tolleson vs City of West Covina
Nine years ago, soon after his son was found dead in the garage of a neighbor’s home, Ron Tolleson felt West Covina police were partly to blame.
On Tuesday, a Pomona Superior Court jury agreed, awarding Tolleson a $5.7-million judgment against the city, Police Chief Craig Meacham and former Officer Larry J. Todd.
In ruling against the city, the jury that heard the wrongful death lawsuit found that a “special relationship” existed between the Tolleson family and the Police Department, which did not live up to its responsibility to do everything possible to ensure Ronnie’s Tolleson’s safety.
Tolleson said the trial was an ordeal, but that he was gratified with the outcome.
“I know that they were negligent and I hope that the next time a little boy is captured . . . police do a better job,” he said. “If you don’t have the expertise to handle a case, you go and get it from somewhere else, especially when a child’s life is at stake.
“They owed it to me and my son.”
Ronnie, 10, was found strangled in the garage of neighbor Danny Jerome Young eight days after he was abducted from his home on Patty Court in March, 1980.
Officers conducted a partial search of Young’s residence the night of the disappearance, but found no trace of the boy.
Young, who was on parole from the California Youth Authority, became the main suspect and was eventually convicted of second-degree murder and kidnapping for ransom.
The exact time of the boy’s death became central in the trial of the lawsuit, with Tolleson’s attorneys maintaining that a more thorough and competent investigation–including a detailed search of the home Young shared with his family–may have saved the boy.
Medical examiners testified that Ronnie was alive for several days after his abduction. And a retired police lieutenant, William Flynn, testified that Meacham rejected a request to conduct a thorough search of Young’s residence.
Tolleson’s attorneys, Peter M. Wucetich and Charles C. Simon, also argued that inexperienced officers botched the investigation, allowing a potential suspect to escape from a ransom drop that police had under surveillance.
Thomas J. Feeley, the city’s attorney, argued that Young’s own testimony established that Ronnie was dead before police were contacted. Young, who is serving life in prison without possibility of parole, testified on the city’s behalf, saying that he killed Ronnie immediately after kidnapping him.
Jurors said they believed that police, and particularly Meacham, negligently pursued the investigation, which they were ill-equipped to handle without outside help.
“They didn’t have their act together,” said juror Brian Fulkerson, who added that most of the blame rests on Meacham. “He was in charge and didn’t exercise the right authority.”
Juror Minnie Crane called Meacham’s handling of the case “incompetent,” saying that the chief, the only member of the department with kidnap investigation experience, did not have the “abilities and credentials” to handle the case.
Meacham said the jury misapplied the legal aspect of “special relationship,” but said he accepted full responsibility for the conduct of the investigation.
“The adage ‘the buck stops here,’ applied in this situation,” he said.
The state Supreme Court has held that a “special relationship” occurs when a public entity voluntarily takes responsibility for an individual’s well-being. During the trial Tolleson testified that police officers assured him that they would return his son safely.
Meacham said the city may appeal, noting that the reputation of the department has suffered. He said he believes police could do nothing to save the boy.
The city may forgo an appeal, Wucetich theorized, because a loss at the appellate level would establish precedent concerning police liability. While the current verdict “sends a message” to municipalities and police, no binding precedent was set, the lawyer said.
Wins $419,842 for Motor Vehicle Negligence for Plaintiff
Case Maria Rodriguez and Rosa Rodriguez v. Barbara Parkson and Denise Rene Parkson, No. KC065118
Court Superior Court of Los Angeles County, Pomona
Judge Brian M. Hoffstadt
Michael Saeedian, Saeedian Law Group, Beverly Hills, CA (Maria Rodriguez, Rosa Rodriguez)
Peter M. Wucetich, Law Offices of Peter M. Wucetich, Rancho Mirage, CA (Maria Rodriguez, Rosa Rodriguez)
Eric W. Bladh, Law Offices of Kim L. Bensen, trial counsel to Allstate Insurance Co., Ontario, CA
Facts & Allegations
On Dec. 2, 2010, plaintiff Rosa Rodriguez, 42, who worked in sales, was operating her vehicle on Emerald Avenue on La Verne, with her sister, plaintiff Maria Rodriguez, 54, an entertainment producer, as a passenger. Subsequently, at the intersection with Foothill Boulevard, plaintiffs’ vehicle was broadsided by a vehicle operated by Denise Parkson.
Rosa Rodriguez and Maria Rodriguez both claimed injuries to their backs.
The sued Denise Parkson for motor vehicle negligence, as well as Barbara Parkson, Denise Parkson’s mother and owner of the vehicle, for vicarious liability.
Plaintiffs contended that Denise Parkson ran the red light on Foothill Boulevard to cause the accident.
Defense admitted liability.
physical therapy; lower back; epidural injections; chiropractic; physical therapy; neck; lower back; chiropractic; decreased range of motion
The plaintiffs were transported from the scene of the accident by paramedics and taken to San Dimas Community Hospital for assessment of their respective injuries. Maria Rodriguez complained of pain in her low back. She was examined and then released from the hospital. She sought treatment with a chiropractor on Dec. 6, 2010. She treated with him through April 1, 2011 at which time she was discharged with a “guarded prognosis.” She sought treatment with another chiropractor on Oct.16, 2011. She treated with him through Jan. 19, 2012.She then sought treatment with plaintiffs’ treating physician in orthopedic surgery on Feb. 1, 2012. She treated with him through May 14, 2012. He referred her to her treating anesthesiologist for a series of three epidural injections. This treating physician and expert also indicated that she was a “good candidate” for a lumbar fusion. She then saw her treating physician and expert in neurosurgery on Oct. 16, 2012. She saw him on three occasions. He advised her to seek physical therapy and ordered a second MRI of her lumbar spine. Her last visit to this treating physician was on April 13, 2013. She received physical therapy from West Star Physical Therapy from Jan. 29, 2013 through April 27, 2013. She incurred medical expenses in the amount of $83,276. Based on the second MRI taken of Maria Rodriguez’s lumbar spine, plaintiffs’ treating physician and expert in neurosurgery testified that she needed surgery on her lumbar spine and that the cost of this surgery was approximately $65,000 to $75,000. Plaintiffs’ treating physician in orthopedic surgery had given an estimate for this surgery of approximately $120,000, which included the surgeon, assistant surgeon, anesthesiologist; surgical facility and rehabilitation. Maria Rodriguez worked in the Mexican entertainment industry as a producer. At the time of the accident, she decided to freelance and claimed she lost out on opportunities due to her injuries. She is limited physically and has pain radiating down both legs greater on the right than the left. When she experiences the pain she it necessitates her lying still on the floor, sometimes the entire day until the pain subsides. She has tried extension physical therapy, home exercises and epidural injections. This leaves only the alternative of a lumbar fusion, which she still requires.
Rosa Rodriguez injured her neck and lower back. She was also transported by paramedics to San Dimas Community Hospital. She was treated and then released. She treated a chiropractor, as well as plaintiffs’ treating physician in orthopedic surgery and plaintiffs’ treating physician and expert in neurosurgery. She incurred medical expenses in the amount of $22,766. Rosa Rodriguez worked in sales. She was limited in her range of motion and claimed a loss of earnings from her position due to her injuries.
The defense stipulated as to the amount of the medical expenses, but not as to their reasonableness, or that they were necessary. Defense’s expert opined that both plaintiffs only sustained soft tissue injuries and should have recovered, and if anything, their treatments after April 1, 2011 were unreasonable and unnecessary.
The jury returned a verdict as to Maria Rodriguez in the amount of $383,276. The jury submitted one question to the court as to Maria Rodriguez wherein they asked if the plaintiff would be required to use an award of $120,000 for future medical expenses if they awarded that amount. The court instructed the jury that if they made that award that the plaintiff could use the money as she saw fit. The jury did not award any future medical expenses.
The jury awarded Rosa Rodriguez $36,566 for incurred medical expenses and loss of earnings.
$83,276 past medical cost
$60,000 past pain and suffering
$240,000 future pain and suffering
$383,276 plaintiff’s total award
$13,800 loss of earnings
$22,766 medical expenses
$36,566 plaintiff’s total award
ADDITIONAL JURY VERDICTS, SETTLEMENTS, AND ARBITRATION AWARDS
The following jury verdicts, settlements, and arbitration awards were rendered on behalf of Mr. Wucetich’s clients from May 2014 to February 2016. The total verdicts and/or settlements were $3,082,825.
In 2014, in the case of Arden v. Castle, the jury returned a verdict in favor of the plaintiff in the amount of $231,383.
In May 2014, in the case of Rodriguez v. Parkson, Mr. Wucetich obtained an excess policy limits verdict, wherein the policy limits was $100,000. The jury returned a verdict in the amount of $419,842, which was paid by Allstate Insurance Company.
In August 2014, a settlement was reached in the case of Rico v. Allstate Insurance Company, wherein Allstate paid its policy limits of $85,000 to the claimant.
In October 2014, a settlement was reached in the case of Stevenson v. Gardner, wherein the defendants paid the plaintiff the sum of $270,000.
In December 2014, a settlement was reached during the course of the trial in the case of Bolour v. Thompson, wherein the defense paid the policy limits of $50,000.
In April 2015, in the case of Romero v. Romo, the jury returned a verdict in favor of the plaintiff in the amount of $258,600.
In June 2015, Mr. Wucetich arbitrated the case of Agnoletto v. Metropolitan Life Insurance Company, wherein an arbitrator’s award was returned in favor of the claimant in the amount of $102,500.
In July 2015, in the case of Warner v. Reidford, a policy limits settlement was reached, wherein the defense paid the plaintiff the $100,000 policy limits.
In October 2015, in the case of Strickland v. Miracle Market, a slip-and-fall, the defense paid the plaintiff the sum of $135,000.
In December 2015, a settlement was reached in the case of Ruiz v. RPM Consolidated, wherein the case was settled for the amount of $625,000.
In January 2016, a policy limits settlement was reached in the case of Burns v. Espinoza, wherein the case settled for the policy limits of $550,000.
In January 2016, a settlement was reached on behalf of the plaintiff in the case of Garcia v. Lares, wherein the plaintiff received a settlement in the amount of $95,500.