Family of Paralyzed Toddler Awarded $55 Million in Punitive Damages

Image by K.C. Alfred for San-Diego Union-Tribune.

A judge awarded $55 million to the family of Izaiah Wallis, a Vista toddler who was struck by a teenage drunk-driver in October 18th, 2010. The accident left the toddler brain-damaged, blind, and paralyzed from the chest down.

Noe Hernandez was driving down Lake Boulevard in Oceanside on Oct. 18, 2010, when he careened into Izaiah and his grandfather, who were on the sidewalk. Hernandez, now 19, was criminally prosecuted as a minor and sentenced to 480 days in custody, the maximum for a juvenile.

He was 17 at the time and driving without a license. He had a blood-alcohol level 0.21 percent. The legal limit for drivers in California is 0.08 percent, but anything 0.01 percent or above is illegal for drivers under age 21.

The crash injured the infant’s grandfather, Abraham Verde, and left Izaiah, who was 18 months old at the time, brain damaged and permanently disabled.

Vista Superior Court Judge Jacqueline Stern ordered Hernandez and his father to pay $25 million for the care of Izaiah, $25 million for pain and suffering, and $5 million in punitive damages. The court held Hernandez’s father liable because he allowed his son to use the family SUV despite knowing he did not have a license.

The decision came at a hearing in which attorney Donald Hiney, representing Izaiah and his family, argued the case to the judge without the defendant or opposing counsel present.

Though Hernandez and his father were served with the lawsuit, they did not respond to it, leading to the one-sided hearing.

Hiney acknowledged that with a bankruptcy filing Hernandez and his father could wipe out all but the $5 million in punitive damages.

Spencer S. Busby, a San Diego personal injury lawyer not involved in this case, said the eye-catching $55 million judgment is “largely symbolic,” with the likelihood of seeing even a fraction of that money low.

Izaiah’s parents could try to garnish Hernandez’s wages going forward, but that is a long shot, Busby said. The work is usually handled by collections firms.

“This comes down to insurance,” Busby said, “and whether there is any kind of insurance policy to collect against.” San Diego Union Tribune, 22 June 2012.

Friends and family members are asking for donations to cover the cost of recovery and care for Izaiah. You can find more information on Izaiahwallis.com and Passion 4 Kids.