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Accident Victim OKs $4-Million Settlement

Times Staff Writer

A Canadian trucking company has agreed to a $4.2-million settlement in the case of a 29-year-old San Diego man who was left a quadriplegic when a beer truck slammed into his parked car in 1986.

Mark Carnahan was driving home June 9, 1986, after a visit to Sacramento when he pulled off on the shoulder of Interstate 5 west of Bakersfield to sleep. It was 4 a.m. Carnahan’s 3-year-old daughter was asleep in the back seat and a male friend, Chris Lawton, was asleep in the passenger’s seat, said Craig Higgs, Carnahan’s attorney.

Minutes after Carnahan parked his car about three feet off the freeway, a truck carrying 1,800 cases of Labatt beer slammed into Carnahan’s car. “The facts of the accident were not in dispute,” Higgs said.

The impact threw Carnahan’s daughter out of the car and she suffered a concussion. Lawton was thrown to the floorboard and escaped injury. Carnahan, however, was pinned in the wreckage behind the steering wheel, and as a result was paralyzed from the neck down. According to Higgs, Carnahan has some feeling in his arms but no motor control of his fingers.

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Contributed to Accident

California Highway Patrol investigators cited the driver, who is Canadian, for drifting off the highway. Carnahan was not cited, but CHP investigators said that he contributed to the accident by making a non-emergency stop on the freeway.

The truck was traveling from British Columbia to Los Angeles, where the driver was to unload the beer. Labatt was not a defendant in the lawsuit, which was filed against the driver and Zenith Transportation, a Canadian trucking company that was hired to transport the beer.

Normally, litigation in personal injury cases can drag on for years, said Higgs. “But in this case the only real issue was what is the value of the case,” he said. “Since the facts were known, it was only a question of agreeing on the value of the case.”

Attorneys for both sides met on two occasions to reach a settlement. The first time the attorneys met alone for five hours. Both sides met again with two retired Superior Court judges for four hours on Sept. 10 and agreed on a settlement, said Higgs.

Zenith’s insurance company, which also represented the driver, agreed to compensate Carnahan with $4.2 million in cash. Carnahan will receive an immediate cash settlement of $1.8 million, and the agreement calls for additional monthly payments of $12,500, compounded at 3% annually. He will receive additional lump sum payments over the next 20 years that will total $650,000, Higgs said.

Doctors determined that Carnahan will have a normal life expectancy, said Higgs, and the settlement is expected to be worth $17 million before he dies. Under the agreement, the name of the insurance company was not to be disclosed.

The settlement is tax free, and Carnahan’s attorneys will be paid $1.2 million for negotiating the settlement, said Higgs. Carnahan is expected to receive the $1.8 million initial payment next week. His yearly medical expenses are expected to average between $50,000 and $100,000, Higgs said.

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