$24 Million for Child Paralyzed by Police Officer During Game of Cops and Robbers

Britney Buscaglia

The night of December 16, 2010 took a tragic turn for 13-year-old Rohayent Gomez Eriza when Police Officer Victor Abarca and his partner came across Eriza and his friends playing a game of cops and robbers with toy guns.

Abarca was on routine patrol when he saw Eriza standing behind a parked van holding a toy gun, which he assumed to be real. Eriza claimed that Abarca approached the van and ordered him not to move. When a frightened Eriza took a step away from the van, Abarca shot him. That single shot tore through Eriza’s upper left shoulder, his left clavicle, the top of his left lung, and his T-3 and T-4 vertebrae, severing his spinal cord and causing paralysis from the chest down. Eriza spent three months in rehab after being released from the hospital. He will be permanently confined to a wheelchair and will require ongoing respiratory monitoring.

Abarca claimed that Eriza repeatedly ignored his orders to step out from behind the van. When Eriza finally complied, Officer Abarca spotted the toy gun. Assuming it was real and allegedly fearing for his life, Abarca fired at the boy, causing devastating injuries.

Eriza’s mother sued Abarca for negligence and excessive force and the Los Angeles Police Department for vicarious liability on behalf of her son. Plaintiff’s experts testified that the trajectory of the bullet was inconsistent with Abarca’s statement, but did match the account given by Eriza. The defense claimed that the toy gun was indistinguishable from a Beretta 9-mm handgun in the dark, arguing that Eriza’s mother was comparatively negligent for purchasing the toy for her son.

The jury determined that Abarca was negligent in his decision to shoot and used excessive force, apportioning liability to Abarca at 80%, Eriza’s mother at 15% and Eriza at 5%. The jury awarded Plaintiff $24 million, which was reduced to $19.2 million based upon comparative negligence.
VERDICT: $24,000,000
ACTUAL: $19,200,000
COURT: Superior Court of Los Angeles County, Los Angeles, CA

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