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Taxi Company Sued for Passenger’s Death

Simon Chavez’s Mother, Ana Quintanar, Goes After Absolute Cab


Tuesday, June 18, 2013
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The mother of Simon Chavez, a 22-year-old Santa Barbara City College student killed last January in a hit-and-run accident on Highway 101, is suing the cab driver she says was paid to take her son home from a bar, but then allegedly ditched him in a deliriously drunken state more than a mile from his house. Ana Quintanar, represented by Leila Noël of Cappello & Noël, is seeking an undisclosed amount of punitive damages, but Noël said it could run in the millions.

Named in the civil case is taxi driver Thomas Rhyne, his employer Absolute Cab Company, Absolute’s owner Joshua Klein, and Lau Van Huynh, already charged and sentenced in criminal court for Chavez’s death. The lawsuit accuses Rhyne, Klein, and Absolute Cab of negligence, claiming they had a legal duty to ensure Chavez safely arrived at his destination once they picked him up and accepted money for the ride. The legal filing also alleges that an inebriated and sleep-deprived Huynh was unfit to drive at the time of the accident, having “consumed multiple alcoholic beverages” during a 13-hour stint at the Chumash Casino before starting back for Murrieta.

Simon Chavez
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Simon Chavez

As previously reported by The Santa Barbara Independent, Chavez began drinking with friends early in the evening of January 14 to celebrate a buddy’s upcoming departure for school. They ended up at the Uptown Lounge on upper State Street, where Chavez “was noted as being heavily intoxicated by friends and bar staff,” according to a coroner’s report. “His eyes were rolling back in his head and he fell off of the bar stool he had been sitting on.”

Just after midnight, the lawsuit states, an Uptown Lounge bartender called Rhyne to pick up Chavez. Rhyne arrived about 30 minutes later and accepted $20 from one of Chavez’s friends to take him to 517 East Cota Street. They headed south on De la Vina Street, the filing goes on, when Chavez suddenly asked to get out at the intersection of De la Vina and Carrillo streets so he could throw up. Rhyne stopped at a red light at Carrillo Street and let Chavez out, watching him stumble backward before he stepped onto the curb on the north side of the street.

Rhyne initially turned on his hazard lights to wait for Chavez, according to Noël in the lawsuit, but then decided to move the taxi to a parking lot on the south side of Carrillo. Although Rhyne continued to watch Chavez, Noël alleges, he had no reason to believe Chavez could see him as Chavez began walking west, away from Rhyne, on the far side of Carrillo Street. “On information and belief,” Noël writes, “Chavez was attempting to locate Rhyne” but couldn’t because the taxi wasn’t where he expected it. Rhyne didn’t signal to Chavez where he was, the filing states, and instead left the area to pick up another fare. “He basically did nothing,” Noël said in a later interview.

“Although Rhyne recognized or should have recognized the danger to Chavez of walking along Carrillo Street in his condition, which danger was created by Rhyne’s conduct, Rhyne did not contact 911 or any other agency to assist Chavez, and made no attempt to assist Chavez himself,” Noël wrote. “Instead, Rhyne abandoned him over one mile from his destination of 517 East Cota Street, to which Rhyne was hired and had agreed to carry Chavez.” During all of this, Rhyne was allegedly in contact with Klein, who gave his driver direction and/or authorization on how to handle the situation. At some point later in the night, Rhyne reportedly returned to the Uptown Lounge and told the friend of Chavez who had paid the fare what had happened. “But he did not do so in a timely fashion so that immediate assistance could be rendered to Chavez,” Noël said.

Lau Van Huynh leaves the courtroom after he's sentenced to three years of probation and 365 days in jail
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Paul Wellman

Lau Van Huynh leaves the courtroom after he’s sentenced to three years of probation and 365 days in jail

At 1:04 a.m., the CHP’s 9-1-1 switchboard started lighting up with calls of a man walking along the number 2 and 3 lanes of southbound Highway 101. A few minutes later, Chavez was fatally struck just south of the Carrillo Street undercrossing by 78-year-old Huynh and declared dead at the scene due to “multiple blunt force trauma.” No illegal drugs were found in Chavez’s system, but his blood-alcohol level measured 0.25 at the time. Huynh would plead no contest to felony hit-and-run in March and was sentenced to three years of probation and 365 days in jail. He remains behind bars at Santa Barbara County Jail, said Sheriff’s spokesperson Kelly Hoover.

While Absolute Cab company representatives declined to comment for this story, their attorney Rob Bergsten said his clients “acted appropriately given the circumstances.” Bergsten claimed that it was Chavez’s choice to not get back into Rhyne’s taxi and that the last time Rhyne saw Chavez he “was safely standing on a public sidewalk on the safe streets of downtown Santa Barbara.” As a legal matter, Bergsten went on, Rhyne couldn’t force Chavez back into the cab. If he did, “some attorney could then subsequently sue my client for false imprisonment.”

“I understand that Mr. Chavez decided to walk onto southbound 101 after he got out of my client’s taxi,” Bergsten continued in an email. “To get to the point where he was ultimately struck was no easy feat. Mr. Chavez had to cross a bridge, walk down an onramp, and walk into traffic lanes on a busy highway, traveling almost a mile in the process.” Doing so put many passing motorists at risk of serious injury or death, Bergsten said. “Now, his mother is suing my client for her son’s own terrible decisions. It is sad that Mr. Chavez was killed, and anyone would be sympathetic to his mother, but my client is not legally responsible for his death.”

The case will be heard by a 12-member jury. A trial date has not yet been set.

Comments

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Abandoned him and took the money. This is the desperate greed Santa Barbara is inspiring.
As for the alleged "false imprisonment " fear of the cabbie; when has there ever been a case in which a person in an alcoholic blackout later sued the people who took them safely home.
Disgraceful, disgusting.

Ken_Volok (anonymous profile)
June 18, 2013 at 12:31 p.m. (Suggest removal)

When the two guys were attacked on Chapala awhile back, it's an Absolute Cab you see casually driving by without calling 911. That's the level of humans were dealing with.

Ken_Volok (anonymous profile)
June 18, 2013 at 12:33 p.m. (Suggest removal)

Frivolous claim by a saddened mother chasing money as revenge...

This is 100% the fault of the deceased. Perhaps if his mother had been a better mother, she would have taught him limits and made arrangements for his safety at all times. An adult child is an adult, and is fully responsible for his own actions and in this case, sheer stupidity.

I've been a drinker most of my adult life but have never been drunk enough to walk onto a freeway...even my friends who are black out drunks aren't this stupid. This was Darwin at work.

iamsomeguyinsb (anonymous profile)
June 18, 2013 at 12:50 p.m. (Suggest removal)

It's quite telling that the lawsuit seeks millions in punitive damages. Most likely because the mother of the adult son has not incurred any significant "actual damages" (eg, medical bills, loss of wages, etc).

sacjon (anonymous profile)
June 18, 2013 at 12:58 p.m. (Suggest removal)

When people are blacked pout they're neither stupid or smart, they're drugged beyond self control. Never happens with pot but hey drink up! You can't base almost the entire economy of a city/region on alcohol consumption and have zero safeguards in place for the alcohol-drugged and nonalcohol-drugged.

Ken_Volok (anonymous profile)
June 18, 2013 at 1:11 p.m. (Suggest removal)

I may agree the that cab company should not be responsible, but there may be a case here. They were prepaid and agreed to take him there, under the knowledge that he was intoxicated. Also even though they have no control over someone wanting to get out of the cab to puke, they may have made better choices. Bergstein will have a hard time trying to explain why the cab was even at De La Vina & Carrillo if the destination was 517 E Cota (talk about taking the long route; State to Constance to Anacapa to Cota is the logical way) Furthermore, the freeway is obviously dangerous, but leaving a client to his own drunken defenses at the intersection that is ranked in the top ten for the highest crashes city-wide, may not have been the smartest either; granted out of the way. De La Vina is well known for it's crash record, so Bergstein can not claim "..on the safe streets of downtown Santa Barbara.” in this case, but to his comparison credit, walking on the freeway for sober people is not safe. Who knows, maybe the real story is that he convinced the driver to stop by Mel's Lounge first for some reason, and they are just backpeddling on their negligence (by agreeing instead to drive to another bar)

skaterspoint (anonymous profile)
June 18, 2013 at 1:14 p.m. (Suggest removal)

I may agree the that cab company should not be responsible, but there may be a case here. They were prepaid and agreed to take him there, under the knowledge that he was intoxicated. Also even though they have no control over someone wanting to get out of the cab to puke, they may have made better choices. Bergstein will have a hard time trying to explain why the cab was even at De La Vina & Carrillo if the destination was 517 E Cota (talk about taking the long route; State to Constance to Anacapa to Cota is the logical way) Furthermore, the freeway is obviously dangerous, but leaving a client to his own drunken defenses at the intersection that is ranked #1 city-wide for pedestrian related crashes, may not have been the smartest either; granted out of the way. De La Vina is well known for it's crash record, so Bergstein can not claim "..on the safe streets of downtown Santa Barbara.” in this case, but to his comparison credit, walking on the freeway for sober people is not safe. Who knows, maybe the real story is that he convinced the driver to stop by Mel's Lounge first for some reason, and they are just backpeddling on their negligence (by agreeing instead to drive to another bar)

skaterspoint (anonymous profile)
June 18, 2013 at 1:21 p.m. (Suggest removal)

skaterspoint nails it. Absolute Cab/cabbie entered into a contract to get Simon Chavez safely home, which can even just mean the perimeter of the property. If the cabbie needed assistance, I've seen the police in the past happily assist and not arrest .

Ken_Volok (anonymous profile)
June 18, 2013 at 1:24 p.m. (Suggest removal)

driver was already paid...so adios bro, time for the next fare...and why go after the bloke who happens to be the poster boy for wrong place at the wrong time..

lawdy (anonymous profile)
June 18, 2013 at 1:30 p.m. (Suggest removal)

Part of me wonders who approached who to take this case. Truly sad that no one intervened in time to change the course of events.

bimboteskie (anonymous profile)
June 18, 2013 at 1:49 p.m. (Suggest removal)

Could've been you Lawdy.

Ken_Volok (anonymous profile)
June 18, 2013 at 1:49 p.m. (Suggest removal)

Even if there WAS a "breach of contract" between the cab driver and Simon's friends, the only amount that could be recovered in this case would be $20. The law does not allow for "millions" (or even a penny for that matter) of punitive damages for a breach of contract case.

Sadly, this was one person's fault and it had horrific consequences. I feel terrible for the family, but this is not the way to achieve closure.

sacjon (anonymous profile)
June 18, 2013 at 1:57 p.m. (Suggest removal)

I concede.

Ken_Volok (anonymous profile)
June 18, 2013 at 2:02 p.m. (Suggest removal)

i hear that kv. driver is 78, no record, leaves the scene, gets 3 years...and is now being sued.

isn't that wonderful.

lawdy (anonymous profile)
June 18, 2013 at 2:02 p.m. (Suggest removal)

Can we all at least agree, this doesn't happen with coffee, marijuana or sugar?

Ken_Volok (anonymous profile)
June 18, 2013 at 2:06 p.m. (Suggest removal)

Santa Barbara's reputation is becoming so alcohol soaked it soon will need to hire actors to play drunks on the street, just to satisfy the tourists.

Ken_Volok (anonymous profile)
June 18, 2013 at 2:20 p.m. (Suggest removal)

Taxi drivers are not babysitters. There is no case. Shame on the mother for trying to profit from her son's stupid behavior.

taz (anonymous profile)
June 18, 2013 at 2:43 p.m. (Suggest removal)

At the very least it's stimulating discussion on what the community's responsibilities are going to be if they're going to promote alcohol consumption as a primary driver of the local economy.
Has anyone suggested limiting the number of bars within the city limits to three?

Ken_Volok (anonymous profile)
June 18, 2013 at 3:04 p.m. (Suggest removal)

Ken, I agree about stimulating discussion about this. How many deaths and serious injuries have occurred in the past few months alone in SB due to alcohol? Now, how many due to marijuana?

I rest my case.

sacjon (anonymous profile)
June 18, 2013 at 3:13 p.m. (Suggest removal)

Simple question: Why didn't the cab driver call 9-1-1?

billclausen (anonymous profile)
June 18, 2013 at 3:40 p.m. (Suggest removal)

Ken, thanks someone agrees with me. you are right, come to think of it, i would hate to see this create precedents, whereas future cabs would lock people in and make people sign release forms if they prepay. I think the number of bars would not make a difference. and BTW, my stance on pot is that it should be legal, but for arguments sake, my buddy was high off his arse and backed over my roommates foot (broke 2 toes) and backed into our garage door causing extensive damage.. I am for personal responsibility and stricter limits for tort litigation.

skaterspoint (anonymous profile)
June 18, 2013 at 3:53 p.m. (Suggest removal)

There is no contract, no assumption of risk or any requirement that a driver provide any service other than drive until he felt like stopping... in fact, the driver could have easily driven $20 of time, realized that this drunk wasnt going to pay him and left... he could have felt threatened or simply didnt like the kid... he was under no obligation to keep the guy safe.

Kids dead because he was an idiot. Plain and simple. Sue the friend, sue the city, sue the bar, sue the shoe manufacture for not tripping him, sue the sun for being on the other side of the planet at midnight... nothing will bring back the kid and trying to collect a few million from a broke cab driver and a small company is beyond sad, its pathetic.

iamsomeguyinsb (anonymous profile)
June 18, 2013 at 3:56 p.m. (Suggest removal)

Well, well, well. A similar case arose in Queensland, Australia:

http://cgw.com.au/legal-alerts/july-2...

There, the taxi company escaped liability, but, here, the allegation is that the driver was getting his instructions from the company dispatcher.

zauche (anonymous profile)
June 18, 2013 at 4:10 p.m. (Suggest removal)

Do ya think that being way DRUNK had anything to do with this? Just a thought.

John_Adams (anonymous profile)
June 18, 2013 at 4:26 p.m. (Suggest removal)

The cab company, Absolute, is named after a popular brand of vodka. Sort of says it all, doesn't it?

emptynewsroom (anonymous profile)
June 18, 2013 at 10:36 p.m. (Suggest removal)

Kid was stupid he got in an Absolute cab.

Byrd (anonymous profile)
June 19, 2013 at 6:25 a.m. (Suggest removal)

i can't believe now she's trying to profit off the death of her son. a cab company is in no way responsible for your shortcomings as a parent. he voluntarily got out of the cab and walked away, it's no one's responsibility other than his own.

StockiestCastle (anonymous profile)
June 19, 2013 at 11:32 a.m. (Suggest removal)

I feel there is an additional burden of responsibility when a cab driver accepts money, to take an obviously incapacitated drunk home. It seems it was clear to everyone around that Chavez was in no shape to be left to his own devices. That is WHY they called and prepaid the cab service, to assure that Chavez made it safely home.

Someone THAT drunk, is not in possession of his faculties either for self-perservation, or judgment in general. He lacks legal capacity. That includes deciding that he does or doesn't need the continued services of a cab ride, intended to take him right to his door. If someone attempts to kill himself while extremely inebriated, and he happens to be in such a situation, the cab driver would absolutely be held liable to have at least called 911, and waited with the drunk party for the arrival of the Police and/or EMT's.

Sorry Cab driver and Cab company. You were negligent, and exercised extremely poor judgment over an inapacitated human being, for whose safe arrival at his destination, you had accepted payment and responsibility. Either handle inebriated passengers appropriately, or simply refuse to take them on in the first place.

SB4EVER (anonymous profile)
June 19, 2013 at 3:42 p.m. (Suggest removal)

So a DRUNK is absolved of ALL responsibility because his DRUNKEN ACTIONS led to his own death and these losers want to sue everyone? Good luck on that, you morons. Your DRUNK relative is DEAD. Darwin again moves his mighty hand.

I find for the defendants . . . unless Darrell "Sharkfin" Genius does another court jester dance and diddles the judge-king.

Draxor (anonymous profile)
June 19, 2013 at 8:13 p.m. (Suggest removal)

SB4EVER - A couple points:

1. Being drunk only affects your "legal capacity" to enter into contracts, make legal decisions (writing a will, deciding to "pull the plug" etc). It does NOT give you the freedom to do whatever you want with no liability or legal consequences.

2. No one (other than an off-duty EMT, Dr., etc) has a legal duty to "rescue" or, in this case, call 911 or run onto the freeway after Mr. Chavez to save him.

Aside from that, it will be interesting to see how comparative fault will play out in this case. That is, when BOTH parties are negligent. In this case, plaintiff (Mr. Chavez) acts negligently (getting blacked out drunk and wandering onto the freeway) and is injured due to another's alleged negligence (I suppose it would be the cab driver actions here). Now, the amount of recovery due to the plaintiff is reduced in proportion to the percentage of negligence the jury finds on the part of the plaintiff in the accident.

Should be an interesting trial to watch indeed, that is, if it actually survives the barrage pre-trial motions.

sacjon (anonymous profile)
June 20, 2013 at 9:48 a.m. (Suggest removal)

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