$2.515 million- Verdict Racing/Road Rage Death (2014)

On Friday, June 20, 2014 a Gwinnett County jury returned a $2.5 million verdict as a result of the death of 18 year old Emmanuel Marrero, who was killed during a racing or road rage incident in a residential neighborhood in Gwinnett County. Emmanuel died after being thrown out of the rear passenger seat of a Honda Civic driven by an acquaintance. The Civic had spun out of control in the middle of a curve on Hamilton Mill Parkway in Duluth, Georgia, ultimately colliding with a tree in the median. Just prior to the crash, eyewitnesses saw the Civic disappear around a bend in the Parkway while racing side-by-side with a Mercedes SUV, and one eyewitness saw the Mercedes attempt to swerve into the Honda’s lane of traffic at least twice. Private and police accident reconstructionists also agreed that the Civic lost control due to an irregular “sharp left steering input” made while the Civic was already navigating the Parkway’s curve. However, there was no direct evidence of what caused the crash: the driver of the Honda suffered from injury-related memory loss of the crash and no other witness admitted to seeing the Honda lose control. After considering witness testimony and physical evidence, the Gwinnett County District Attorney’s Office determined that the Honda lost control after being cut off by the Mercedes, and charged both drivers. Those charges are still pending.

Based on the DA’s conclusions, Plaintiffs Eunice Marrero and Judith Vazquez, the mother and sister of Emmanuel Marrero, filed suit in 2012 against Jason Polo, the driver of the Honda Civic, and Joseph Evancho, the driver of the Mercedes SUV. The Plaintiffs alleged the drivers had engaged in a joint enterprise of racing and reckless driving and were therefore both liable for Emmanuel’s death. Although Polo admitted to speeding and driving alongside the Mercedes shortly before the crash, Evancho maintained that he was “1000 feet” ahead of the Civic before changing from the right lane to the left lane on the Parkway, and denied having any involvement in racing, speeding or the collision. On June 16, 2014, Eunice Marrero finally laid eyes on the men who had caused her son’s death in a Gwinnett County courtroom. On June 20, 2014, after a five-day trial, Mrs. Marrero was finally given the truth. The jury found both Jason Polo and Jospeh Evancho liable for Emmanuel’s death and awarded $2.5 million in damages.

“We told the jury to honor Emmanuel’s life and to give meaning to his death,” explained Matthew Cook, lead counsel for the Plaintiffs, “State Farm [Evancho’s insurer] and its counsel Jay Eidex from Sharon Ware were exceedingly confident they would win simply because of what they perceived to be plausible deniability for Mr. Evancho. They never offered a dime to settle this case.”

“It was a case that could easily have been lost and hung in the balance because Evancho would not admit to what happened and no one else saw or remembered the crash. Although Evancho was well prepped for his testimony in the case [Evancho ultimately testified after first invoking his 5th Amendment rights], there was one key fact he had overlooked when developing his story which made his version of the events leading up to the crash impossible. We waited for the last live witness of the trial to bring out that fact, which was ultimately the death knell for Evancho,” Mr. Cook elaborated. “Trials are about one thing: credibility. We established ours. State Farm undermined theirs by stalwartly insisting on Mr. Evancho’s veracity even after portions of his testimony were impeached time and again. Ironically, Evancho’s own testimony ended up indisputably proving his involvement and responsibility for the death of Emmanuel.”

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