New trial sought in wrongful death case against county

February 17, 2001|By MARCY MISNER and KELLY RAUSCH, Staff Writers

Attorneys representing Imperial County in a recent wrongful death trial have asked a judge to grant a new trial, based on alleged juror misconduct.

Superior Court Judge Jeffrey Jones is considering the motion after a hearing Friday.

Jurors awarded $3.15 million in damages Dec. 14 in the case concerning the December 1999 death of Ignacio Alvarez, 32, of El Centro.

Alvarez was killed when Harold Butcher, 48, of Imperial was driving a county rig south on Highline Road near Keystone Road around 10:30 a.m. on that December date when it veered off the road and struck a parked vehicle.

When Butcher exited his truck, he realized he'd struck a man, who later was identified as Alvarez, who had been detaching a rear trailer from the tractor-trailer rig parked on the east side of Highline.


Jurors awarded $600,000 in economic damages, based on Alvarez's potential lifetime earnings and $2.55 million in non-economic damages to Alvarez's wife, Irma, and their three children.

The attorneys representing the county are asserting jurors wrongfully discussed adding future college costs to the non-economic damages awarded to Alvarez's three children, ages 3, 9 and 12.

"There was no evidence presented that they ever thought about going to college," said Charles Viviano, the attorney representing the county.

The jurors were instructed that sympathy was not to be a part of their deliberations.

San Diego attorney Dennis Schoville, one of the attorneys representing Alvarez's wife, argued though the jury did discuss the issue, it was clear the jury never reached an agreement regarding compensation for future education for the children.

After Friday's hearing, Schoville said he thinks the court will deny the motion for a new trial.

According to the declaration of one juror, a majority of the jurors felt $50,000 a year for four years was necessary for each of the children. That figure would include tuition, plus money for housing and a car.

Because the county had admitted liability, jurors only considered damages at trial.

At Friday's hearing, Jones initially indicated he was inclined to grant the motion for a new trial.

However, he took the matter under submission, which means he will return with a decision at a later date.

Attorneys for Alvarez's family argued if the jury did discuss funding for the children's education it was part of the thought process of reaching a final decision on damages.

Jones said his concern was that the discussion on college funding could have created juror prejudice in reaching a final decision on damages.

He said while the discussion likely was not a matter of intentional misconduct, it still is misconduct and a new trial could be warranted.

Attorneys for the family and Jones did agree a new hearing would be difficult for the family.

Staff Writer Darren Simon contributed to this story.

Staff Writer Kelly Raush can be reached at 337-3442.

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