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Penney And Associates Hits Lyft With A Six Million Dollar Verdict In Sacramento

·5 min read

The parents of Wyatt Zmrzel are pleased that their son finally had his day in court.

SACRAMENTO, Calif., Dec. 8, 2021 /PRNewswire/ -- Penney and Associates partner and trial lawyers Kevin Elder, https://www.penneylawyers.com/kevin-l-elder/, Kent Luckey https://www.penneylawyers.com/kent-luckey/ and Garrett Penney https://www.penneylawyers.com/garrett-penney/ received a verdict on behalf of their clients Diane Love and Bill Zmrzel for the death of their son Wyatt Zmrzel in the amount of six million dollars.

Wyatt Zmrzel
Wyatt Zmrzel

After four years of fighting Lyft and with thousands of hours of work by Penney and Associates, Ms. Diane Love and Mr. Bill Zmrzel bravely went forward with their case as other parties settled out, to let a jury hear about their son's tragedy at the hand of a Lyft driver. "I hope our son's death will help others by making Lyft and other companies that transport people change or review their rules and regulations about the training and experience of their drivers. Wyatt would have wanted it that way." Bill Zmrzel.

On Wednesday, December 27, 2017, at approximately 10:05 PM 22-year-old Wyatt Zmrzel used his smartphone to contact Lyft for a ride home from a Sacramento, California tattoo shop. Wyatt and his very close family friend, Joseph Doub of North Carolina received matching tattoos from a parlor located at 2416 16th St. in Sacramento. Their destination was Loomis, California, due east of the pick-up point. Several family members, including Wyatt's father Bill celebrated the tattoos as part of their Christmas holiday.

Lyft's driver, Rafiullah Amiri responded to the ride request within a matter of seconds and picked up Wyatt and Joseph at 10:09 PM. Lyft's driver received his California driver's license 7 months earlier. When he picked up Wyatt and Joseph, Amiri had only been approved to drive for Lyft the preceding day. Wyatt was Amiri's first and last passenger as a Lyft driver. Through the process of investigation and discovery it was learned that Lyft provided no training of any kind to Amiri, including any training related to the safe operation of motor vehicles. Amiri had no background as a professional driver.

The most direct route to Wyatt's home was Interstate 80, a mere 17 miles east of the tattoo parlor and less than 30 minutes away. Instead, for reasons unknown, Amiri took northbound Interstate 5, then further north on state route 99 toward Yuba City, in the complete opposite direction. By now the Lyft driver, more than 20 miles off course, made a left-hand turn from northbound highway 99 to the center turn median separating the North and Southbound lanes. Inexplicably, the Lyft driver moved from the safety of the center median, very slowly accelerating into the southbound lanes of highway 99 where his vehicle was struck by another vehicle traveling at freeway speed. The collision occurred at 10:30 PM; Wyatt succumbed to his injuries approximately one half hour later at the scene of the accident. Passenger Joseph Doub also died 69 days later.

Wyatt's parents, Bill Zmrzel and Diane Love retained Penney and Associates https://www.penneylawyers.com/ within days of the collision. Immediately, Penney and Associates hired a well-regarded former Highway Patrol officer to reconstruct the collision while the evidence was still fresh. Shortly thereafter a lawsuit was filed followed by nearly 4 years of investigation and formal discovery. All the other deceased and injured victims of the Lyft driver's negligence settled prior to the start of trial.

Wyatt Zmrzel was born with adrenoleukodystrophy, a rare neuro-degenerative condition that caused him to have seizures and ultimately would have led to a shorter life. It was because of his seizures that Wyatt utilized Lyft.

Lyft's position up to and throughout trial was that Amiri was an independent contractor and thus Lyft was not vicariously liable for his negligence. Aggressive investigation and discovery ultimately led to a concession on the part of Lyft's attorneys that Amiri was their ostensible agent making it responsible for the negligence of its driver. Lyft also contended that its driver was only partially responsible for the incident as the other involved vehicle was driving above the posted 65 mile-per-hour speed limit. At trial, it was established that the conduct of the southbound driver was not a substantial factor leading to the collision. The jury concluded that the sole cause of the incident was the Lyft driver's ill-advised and unsafe attempt to cross the highway. Amiri, in driving people for a fee was held to be a Common Carrier obligated to use the highest standard of a very cautious driver.

Lyft's final defense addressed the damages claimed by Wyatt's family. It was Lyft's position that Wyatt Zmrzel would have died within a short amount of time notwithstanding the collision due to his adrenoleukodystrophy.

After a month-long trial in the Sacramento County Superior Court, the jury returned a verdict against Lyft and its driver in favor of Wyatt's parents Bill Zmrzel and Diane Love in the amount of $6,000,000. The final verdict was substantially higher than Lyft's recommended verdict of $1,500,000 as well as any of the pre-trial settlement offers made by Lyft and its insurers.

Diane Love and Bill Zmrzel have set up a foundation called Cure ALD to honor Wyatt's life and help find a cure for adrenoleukodystrophy.

Frederick Penney

Frederick W. Penney Attorney at Law (PRNewsfoto/Penney and Associates)
Frederick W. Penney Attorney at Law (PRNewsfoto/Penney and Associates)

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SOURCE Penney and Associates