Court Upholds $25 Million Award to Simi Man Paralyzed in Collision

Earlier in life, Simi Valley resident Sukhsagar Pannu was a star player for Hong Kong’s national field hockey team.

Today, the Indian-born Pannu, 54, is a partial quadriplegic because of a 2003 traffic collision on Highway 118. In that collision, his 1998 Land Rover Discovery sport utility vehicle rolled over several times, leaving him paralyzed.

Pannu sued automaker Jaguar Land Rover and in 2009, at the conclusion of a nonjury trial, Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Robert O’Brien ordered the manufacturer to pay $21.1 million in economic damages, finding the vehicle’s design to be defective.

The automaker appealed, but last month, after nearly two years, a California Court of Appeal upheld the judgment, which because of accrued interest, has grown to more than $25 million, said Pannu’s attorney, Garo Mardirossian.

“Pannu introduced compelling evidence of the devastating impact of his injury on his ability to work,” the appellate court stated in upholding the economic damages award.

Mardirossian said that because Pannu, who owns a number of Subway and 7-Eleven franchises, was already “fairly financially comfortable,” the multimillion-dollar judgment “will do absolutely very little to make him any happier than he already was.”

“Money will only mean that his children will be better taken care of and that he can do more for others,” the Los Angeles attorney said. “Vindication is of course critical to him. And this particular vehicle has been declared by this judge to be defective in design.”

Pannu, who lives in Simi Valley with his three adult children, his mother and his pet beagle, declined to comment. Mardirossian described his client as a very private person whose marriage collapsed in the wake of the accident.

Los Angeles attorney William Thomson, one of the lawyers who handled the appeal of the judgment on behalf of the automaker, said the manufacturer will not appeal it further.

Mardirossian said Indian automaker Tata Motors, which acquired Jaguar Land Rover in 2008 from Ford Motor Co., would be the corporation paying the award.

The Dec. 13, 2003, collision near Reseda occurred when a 16-year-old driver, Bret Lusis, speeding at about 75 mph, sideswiped Pannu’s vehicle, causing Pannu to lose control, collide with a third vehicle and roll over several times, Madirossian said. Pannu’s vehicle came to a stop on its crushed roof.

In finding the automaker 95 percent liable for Pannu’s injuries, O’Brien concluded that the Land Rover’s roof collapsed too readily, causing Pannu to suffer a severe spinal cord injury and the resulting loss of the use of his legs and much of the use of his arms. The trial judge also found that the vehicle’s high center of gravity made it prone to rolling.

Mardirossian said that when Pannu bought the vehicle, he believed because of the automaker’s reputation “it was a fortress. He didn’t realize that it was really a tin can with a roof that would collapse under its own weight.”

O’Brien assigned 5 percent of the liability to Lusis, who earlier in the case paid about $100,000 in damages, Mardirossian said.

The attorney said the automaker has corrected most of the defects in newer models of the utility vehicle. And that, he said, is of supreme importance to Pannu.

“He can’t turn back the clock and begin to walk again,” Mardirossian said. “But at least if (the case) saves a few other people’s lives, then that was his main goal.”

Despite his ordeal, Mardirossian said Pannu, who uses a wheelchair, is “doing amazingly well. He is a very intelligent, well-educated gentleman who has many interests in life besides just the physical.

“He’s very computer savvy and he can still use a computer. He loves his kids. So even though the huge physical part of his life has been somewhat limited, other parts of his life that are just as important are flourishing.”

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