South Bay : Jury Awards $585,500 to Victim of Drunk Driver

A Torrance Superior Court jury has awarded a former Redondo Beach man $498,000 in general damages and $87,500 in punitive damages in connection with a 1981 drunk driving accident.

The jury deliberated for three days after the 13-day trial before Judge George Perkovich Jr. The judgment was made against Hugh Brand, 58, of Palos Verdes Estates.

"I think the jury wanted to send a message that a fine was not enough punishment," said Jerry Jackson, a Beverly Hills attorney who represented the injured man, Jon Paul Casella, 31, a flight attendant now living in Alameda.

Brand had previously pleaded no contest to the criminal charges and was fined $400, according to Jackson.

Neither Brand nor his attorney Mark Rutter could be reached for comment.

Jackson said the $87,500 in punitive damages is the largest such award since the state Supreme Court in 1980 allowed victims to file civil suits against drunk drivers for punitive damages. He said the most that had been awarded was $17,000.

Witnesses at the trial testified that on July 9, 1981, Brand was seen weaving his car along Pacific Coast Highway in Redondo Beach, tossing out empty cans of pre-mixed alcoholic drinks. His car sideswiped several vehicles parked along the curb, the witnesses said, and nearly struck a woman who was pushing a baby stroller. Brand's car then crossed over two lanes and hit Casella's car head on.

Casella's chin struck the steering wheel, slamming his jaws together and crushing nearly all his teeth. He also suffered a concussion and his left wrist was crushed. Casella has had two major oral surgeries and plastic surgery, according to Jackson, who said Casella faces a lifetime of dental treatment.

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