Saakyan v. Modern Auto

Two trials, nine years of fighting, hundreds of thousands of dollars invested, all hinging on twelve wise jurors. As Garo Mardirossian and Charlie O’Reilly stood in the Norwalk courtroom in the middle of the hot summer of 2000 waiting for the jury verdict, outside, their clients Oganes Saakyan, in his wheelchair, paralyzed, and Garnik Paronyan, whose back had been broken in a dozen places, patiently relied on their lawyers. Garo, Charlie and Joe Barrett, three lawyers Garo had on the case for years, fought for justice. No case had ever been more personal to Garo.

In 1992, Oganes Saakyan had just picked up his Honda Accord from Modern Auto where he had purchased new rims and tires for his vehicle. He was accompanied by three friends who all waited while the wheels and tires were installed. Once the job was completed, all four loaded into the car and set off to drive toward home. As they drive the short distance to the 605 freeway, the car felt fine. However, after they got onto the freeway and attained freeway speed, about one mile down the road, the car jerked to the left and then veered sharply to the right.

Oganes struggled to control the vehicle, but it tumbled and flipped several times down an embankment. Oganes suffered a comminuted T4 and T5 fracture of the spine and was rendered a paraplegic. One of his passengers, Garnik Paronyan broke several ribs, and had a blowout fracture at L1.

This case went to trial initially in 1994 where the jury returned a verdict for the defense. But it was a crooked verdict, after an honest jury almost awarded $5,600,000. The forewoman had to go home for Christmas after four days of deliberations. They almost had a verdict. She was replaced by a biased juror who violate Court orders by reconstructing the accident and telling jurors that it was really the young men’s’ fault for buying fancy rims and tires that were ill suited for the 1986 Honda Accord. The owner of the Modern Auto, Dikran Sulahian, had encouraged Oganes to purchase a set of rims manufactured for BMWs when the specific rims, which Oganes had selected a few days earlier, were sold to another customer.

The defendant had hammered the lip of the rear fender wells to create clearance for the wider wheels and tires. They rubbed, causing the vehicle to rotate. The lug nuts were the wrong type. The wheels went out too far. Oganes was sent out of the shop with a dangerous vehicle.

This is a perfect example of how invaluable Garo’s many years of experience working in his father’s automotive repair shop are and how they have served his clients well. To explain these complex mechanical theories to the jury, Garo used specially selected expert witnesses, and the use of three-dimensional exhibits such as half of a 1986 Honda Accord, cut-aways of wheels, hubs tires, lug nuts, and studs, along with medical models of the spinal column.

The second trial was conducted in 22 days with the jury deliberating for 3 days ultimately rendering a unanimous verdict on all counts, including damages!

Verdict: $25,300,000.00



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