Penney and team pick-up victory in negligence case that kills two family members
Esteemed Criminal Lawyer Frederick W. Penney and his Penney and Associates partners and trial lawyers Kevin Elder, Kent Luckey, and Garrett Penney won a monumental case against Californian vehicle-for-hire company, Lyft.
Representing the family of the late Wyatt Zmrzel – who met an unfortunate demise at the hands of a negligent – and seemingly untrained driver, with no previous experience driving for Lyft, Penney and co. came out on the winning end of a four year-long case.
After almost a half-decade of incurring legal fees, Wyatt’s parents; Bill Zmrzel and Diane Love were celebrating to the tune of US$6M after a jury found the ridesharing organization guilty of negligence. The verdict was a welcome relief for the plaintiff, who had chosen to carry on the fight for their son, as opposed to all of the other deceased and injured victims – who had settled out of court prior to the start of the trial.
On the night of Wednesday, December 27, 2017, at approximately 10:05pm, 22-year-old Wyatt, along with his uncle, Joseph L. Doub Jr., left a Sacramento tattoo parlour where they had just gotten matching Los Angeles Rams tattoos in honor of Wyatt’s sister Sydney Zmrzel becoming a Rams cheerleader. Both men were off to celebrate their newly-acquired body art in Loomis, California and decided to reach out for a ride across town.
Zmrzel – and Doub, of North Carolina, had good cause to take advantage of Lyft’s services. Zmrzel had been born with a rare neuro-degenerative condition called adrenoleukodystrophy – an illness so severe, it would cause chronic seizures, ultimately leading to a shorter life span. The illness had taken hold when – as a baby, Zmrzel began to suffer from epileptic seizures. He was diagnosed with the disease at age seven, and at age 21, began to develop atrophy on the right side of his body. This affected his mobility, and at times, his speech. Despite this derailment, he competed on the University of Washington’s gymnastics team, and upon returning home to Loomis, worked as a fire sprinkler technician at his father’s company, BZ Plumbing Company, Inc.
Responding to the request from the two young men was 29-year-old Rafiullah Amiri; who had been approved to represent Lyft only the day prior. During the subsequent investigation it was discovered that Amiri hadn’t been provided any training, including a routine safety check to test his driving capabilities.
Within minutes of their call, Amiri arrived and – rather than take the estimated 30 minute-journey through Interstate 80, he embarked on an alternate route to Zmrzel’s home that included taking Northbound Interstate 5, then going north on State Route 99 toward Yuba City – the complete opposite direction.
Off-course and disoriented, Amiri made a u-turn on Highway 99, into the centre median separating the North and Southbound lanes. Attempting to merge into the Southbound lane, the vehicle – a Toyota Sienna, collided with a Toyota 4 Runner. Zmrzel died almost immediately. 52 year-old Uncle Doub Jr. held on for 69 more days before succumbing to his injuries at UC Davis Medical Center.
The verdict was the culmination of an arduous four-year process, that included a month-long trial in the Sacramento County Superior Court, and was considerably higher than the US$1.5M recommendation from Lyft, as well as of the pre-trial settlement offers made by Lyft and its insurers.
During this time, Penney and Associates immediately set-off to reconstruct the tragic accident; hiring an esteemed former Highway Patrol officer while the evidence was still fresh. A lawsuit was filed soon after and thus began over 35,000 hours of investigation from the law firm – led by Penney, who has been nicknamed “The Super Lawyer” because of his exploits in the Northern California region as a diverse Attorney who gets results.
Throughout the trial, Lyft contended that Amiri was only part-responsible for the fatalities because the driver of the 4Runner, 37 year-old Jennifer Alford, was driving faster than the posted 65 mile-per-hour speed limit. She and 36 year-old Stephen Alford suffered injuries, but survived. The jury disputed this notion, establishing no fault to Alford, rather determining that Amiri had been solely at fault for the collision. As a Common Carrier, he was compelled to use the highest standard of safety on the road. Furthermore, Lyft argued that Amiri was an independent contractor and therefore not liable for the crash. Upon further investigation by the representatives of Penney and Associates, a concession from Lyft’s attorney’s subsequently admitted that Amiri was their agent, and therefore responsible.
Speaking to the media shortly after the decision in their favour, Bill Zmrzel and Diane Love pleaded for Lyft and like-minded companies to review their company policies so as to prevent future tragedies, saying; “Wyatt would have wanted it that way.”
Sarshar Hosseinnia, Writer