In brief: Young motorist catastrophically injured due to improper vehicle modifications made to his car by a customization shop
In June 1992, Oganes Saakyan experienced improper auto repair in the worst possible way. After picking up his 1986 Honda Accord from Modern Auto—an automobile customization shop where it had just been fitted with new aftermarket rims and tires—he and three friends headed for the 605 Freeway to return home. They traveled for about a mile before disaster struck. The vehicle suddenly lurched to the left and then swerved to the right, tumbling down an embankment several times. Oganes suffered catastrophic injuries that rendered him paraplegic.
It was then that Garo stepped in. Over the next 12 years, Garo helped Oganes navigate an ordeal that included two separate trials, ultimately securing more than $25 million in damages for Oganes.
Oganes was 16 at the time and was gearing up for his Hollywood High School graduation party. Having recently had his 1986 Honda Accord lowered, Oganes contacted Modern Auto, in Whittier, to inquire about the availability of new rims and tires for his Honda.
On June 29, 1992, he arrived at Modern Auto, with three friends, only to discover that the “Aerofin” wheels he had purchased a few days earlier had been given to another customer. Instead, at the suggestion of Modern Auto’s owner, Oganes agreed to instead take a new set of BMW six-spoke, 15-inch rims and tires, which were wider than those normally found on a Honda Accord.
After Modern Auto installed the new rims on the Honda, the four teens got in the car and traveled a mile or two on the San Gabriel River Freeway (I-605). Without any warning, his Honda suddenly lurched to the left, then sharply to the right and went off the road.
Oganes suffered catastrophic injuries that included an irreversible comminuted T4 and T5 spinal fracture, leaving him paraplegic, wheelchair-bound, and with a shortened work-life expectancy.
In the aftermath of the collision, our office discovered that in order for Modern Auto to install the aftermarket rims and tires made for a different vehicle on Oganes’ Honda Accord, Modern Auto tried to widen the wheel wells by rolling the fenders. In other words, they placed a baseball bat between the wheel and fender and rolled the bat back and forth to make the wheel well larger, in an attempt to make the wider BMW rims fit. Additionally, Modern Auto had to use the wrong type of lug nuts, causing the wheels to protrude out too far.
Unbeknownst to Oganes and despite Modern Auto’s attempt to make the rims fit, the wheels still would rub against the inside of the wheel well when the suspension of the vehicle was compressed. Modern Auto had sent Oganes away from the shop with a dangerous vehicle with improper modifications.
While Oganes drove the Honda on the 605 with the new rims, he went over a bump. This caused the suspension to compress and one of the BMW rims to get caught within the wheel well. The tragic result was that the Honda rotated around the trapped wheel and caused Oganes to crash.
This became a deeply personal case for Garo, whose years of experience working in his father’s auto repair shop proved to be invaluable for his client. Garo’s background, education, training, and experience in the automotive field allowed him to present the jurors with the mechanical and logical facts which led to the conclusion that no reasonable mechanic would have done what Modern Auto did.
In addition to his own knowledge, Garo relied on the testimony of selected expert witnesses and on three-dimensional exhibits, including bringing to the courtroom the back half of a 1986 Honda Accord to demonstrate how the aftermarket rims and tires installed on the Honda by Modern Auto became trapped during the crash.
The second trial (the first had resulted in a mistrial due to juror misconduct) concluded with the jury deliberating for three days and returning a unanimous verdict on all counts. They found Modern Auto negligent, concluded that its negligence caused Oganes’ injuries, and awarded $25.3 million in damages.
This victory, among others, earned Garo a congressional citation in 2001, when U.S. Representative George Radanovich addressed the House of Representatives in recognition of Garo’s achievements, including the successful verdict for Oganes. He noted that “Garo has established himself and his firm as defenders of the U.S. Constitution.”
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Admitted to practice in 2006, Armen has arbitrated, tried, and settled several cases which have resulted in multi-million dollar verdicts and settlements.
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