While working on his Rancho Santa Margarita route, U.S. Postal Service carrier Adam Rojas exchanged pleasantries with resident Mary Honda on at least 40 occasions, so you can image his shock when he accelerated away from curbside mailboxes on Oct. 28, 2013, and ran over the 85-year-old grandmother, a retired bank teller.
For more than two years inside Orange County’s Ronald Reagan Federal Courthouse, the legal question awaiting an answer in a $20 million wrongful death lawsuit has been simple: Was Rojas or Honda to blame?
Government lawyers trying to protect federal coffers argued Honda caused her own death because she failed to yield the right of way to the mail truck, wore dark clothing minutes after sunset, stood just 4-foot-10 and didn’t yell or wave her arms as she walked in front of Rojas from her Teaberry Lane home.
“Ms. Honda placed herself in a position to be in danger from the immediate hazard of crossing in front of a [truck with the engine running],” reasoned Julie Katz, an assistant United States attorney in Los Angeles.
Rojas reported he rushed to the battered Honda when he realized what he’d done, sobbed, told her he was sorry and screamed for help.
According to court records, he also claimed that she told him he was not at fault, though there were no witnesses to the alleged exchange.
James DeSimone and Scott Schutzman, lawyers for Honda’s distraught surviving relatives, countered the government’s stance, stating, “[The victim] had no reason to believe that Mr. Rojas would move a stopped vehicle when a pedestrian was in its path.”
DeSimone and Schultzman also didn’t buy the mailman’s story about why he accelerated and then backed up after feeling a significant bump, moves that caused additional severe injuries by dragging the elderly woman down the street.
“Mr. Rojas’ excuse for moving forward with a body under his truck is that he though [the object] was a [traffic] cone or a [discarded] box, a feeble excuse given that he saw no cones or debris prior to his pulling his vehicle to the curb side mailboxes,” they advised U.S. District Court Judge Andrew J. Guilford. “Mr. Rojas’ conduct constituted negligence because he failed to use reasonable care while operating a motor vehicle.”
Honda—an award-winning gardener, who loved to cook, read, walk and spend time with her family—suffered horrific injuries and died two hours after the accident at Mission Hospital in Mission Viejo.
In late December following a bench trial, Guilford sided with the plaintiffs, awarding them $100,000 in economic damages and $150,000 in non-economic compensation.
R. Scott Moxley has won Journalist of the Year honors at the Los Angeles Press Club; been named Distinguished Journalist of the Year by the LA Society of Professional Journalists; and hailed by two New York Times Magazine writers for his “herculean job” exposing Southern California law enforcement corruption.