Man Paralyzed in Accident Awarded $1.7 Million by Jury : Verdict: Israel Echevarria asked for $17 million, but the city of Oxnard and makers of the Subaru Brat were found only partially responsible for his injuries.


A young man paralyzed three years ago in an automobile accident should receive $880,000 from the city of Oxnard and $850,000 from the makers of the Subaru Brat, a Ventura County jury decided Wednesday.

The award disappointed lawyers representing Oxnard resident Israel Echevarria, who had asked the jury for more than $17 million. Attorney Edward Steinbrecher vowed to appeal.

“Juries do absurd things. This is absurd,” Steinbrecher said immediately after the verdict was read. “I can’t explain it. The verdict is ridiculous.”


Echevarria, 21, sued the makers of the Subaru Brat after he was tossed from the back of the open-air vehicle on an Oxnard road and left paralyzed three years ago. Echevarria blamed the Brat’s trademark rear-facing seats as well as the design of the road for the accident.

The jury fixed Echevarria’s medical costs at $2.3 million and allowed $500,000 for pain and suffering. But Subaru and Oxnard only owe a combined $1.7 million of the award because the jury found the two only partly responsible for the accident.

Those figures will increase once Superior Court Judge Joe D. Hadden awards court costs to Echevarria’s attorneys.

Jurors said they limited the award because they found earlier in the trial that Echevarria and the uninsured driver, Nathan Stevens, were 80% responsible for the accident. Stevens, a family friend, was not named in the lawsuit. But because of California’s “deep pockets” law, Oxnard and Subaru are required to cover the uninsured driver’s share of the medical costs.

“We felt that since the majority of the blame belonged to Israel and the driver, they should be responsible for most of the damages,” juror Ken Jaeger said. “But by law, we had to award him something.”

Lawyers for Oxnard and Subaru said they were pleased by the judgment in a case closely watched by the Japanese media and industry analysts.


“We sure can live with this verdict,” said Richard Bowman, Subaru’s lead attorney on the case.

Oxnard attorney Korman Ellis said while he was happy that Wednesday’s judgment was not higher, he remained disappointed that the city had to pay anything at all. Ellis said he will recommend that the city ask a judge to throw out the jury’s original verdict finding Oxnard and Subaru partly responsible for the accident.

“We should all have to be responsible for our own actions,” Ellis said.

Witnesses testified during the trial that Echevarria distracted the driver moments before he lost control of the Brat, which left Teal Club Road and rolled over in a ditch near Oxnard Airport.

That ditch, the jurors said, was too close to Teal Club Road and is the reason they said the city was 11% responsible for the accident. They also said the Brat’s rear-facing plastic seats in the bed were placed too high and contributed 9% to the injuries Echevarria received.

“If you place seats in the bed of a truck, [the passenger’s] head should not be put above the roof,” Jaeger said.

The jurors rejected Steinbrecher’s claim that Subaru was running a “tariff scam” by installing the rear-facing seats and thus should be hit with millions of dollars worth of punitive damages.


Because of those seats, U. S. Customs officials classified the Brat as a passenger vehicle instead of a truck. Importers pay higher tariffs for trucks than for passenger vehicles.

“We talked a lot about that,” juror Julio Gallegos said. “But we decided they were just doing business.”

Steinbrecher said he will file a motion asking the judge to grant a new trial. If Hadden refuses, Steinbrecher said he will appeal.

“I want this overturned and I want to come back and try this case again,” Steinbrecher said.

He said he spent more than $850,000 on the trial, which included testimony from a bevy of expensive expert witnesses, high-tech animated re-creations of the accident and the courtroom use of a Subaru Brat.