Nick Rowley gets $60.8M Verdict against Tesla in Zero-Offer Case

Trial Guides extends our heartiest congratulations to author Nick Rowley for his recent $60.8 million verdict in Christopher Dugan v. Tesla Inc., brought before the Marion County Superior Court. Nick is author or co-author on several of Trial Guides titles, including Running with the Bulls, Damages Evolving, and Trial by Human.

See the original complaint for damages here.

Running With The Bulls by Nicholas Rowley


Running with the Bulls by Nicholas Rowley and Courtney Rowley is available in paperback and ebook.

On Wednesday, March 14, 2024, a Marion County, Indiana jury ruled in favor of a motorcyclist who had suffered a severe traumatic brain injury in 2017 after a Tesla employee broadsided him in a truck. The accident left plaintiff Chris Dugan, then 37 years old, with a severely limited mental capacity, as well as a partial foot amputation. Tesla technician Kyle Kaszuba was found 70 percent liable for the accident and the plaintiff 30 percent responsible. According to The Indiana Lawyer, the plaintiff’s collectible verdict is $42.38 million.

Running late to work and hoping to avoid the long line at a gas station’s designated turn lane, Tesla employee Kyle Kaszuba attempted to make a left turn across a double yellow line. In what Rowley called a  “blind turn”, Kazsuba collided with motorcyclist Chris Dugan, who was riding in the opposite direction on his motorcycle. Dugan was not wearing a helmet.

Tesla fully denied liability, arguing that it was Dugan’s following too closely and sudden acceleration that made it impossible for Kaszuba to see him. The defense argued that Dugan was more able than his attorneys were making him out to be, and suggested a stipulated award of $4.7 in economic damages, with an undefined percentage of that sum to go to non-economic damages. Nick Rowley reported that Tesla never attempted to settle the case, even for an offer of $20 million. 


Trial By Human by Nicholas Rowley
Trial by Human by Nicholas Rowley is available in paperback and ebook.


Pre-Trial Work

Rowley’s pre-trial focus-group work revealed a liability split roughly in keeping with what the jury eventually found: roughly 30 percent of the liability fell to Dugan, while the remaining liability rested with Kaszuba. “That was a tough fact to deal with,” Rowley said, as reported in CVN. “I had to show that period of time was a half-a-second of invisibility out of eight other seconds where Chris Dugan was visible.” 

Had the jury succumbed to Tesla’s compelling “Accidents just happen” defense, Dugan would have been found at least 50 percent at fault, rendering him ineligible for damages under Indiana law.

Bifurcated Trial, Contested Liability

In a move that many plaintiff lawyers oppose, Rowley agreed to Tesla’s motion for a bifurcated trial. “I advocate for bifurcation whenever there’s a question on liability,” Rowley said. “You get to focus on who is responsible without having large amounts of money fire people up to dig their heels in the ground.” In this case, the trial structure worked to his client’s advantage, as it separated liability from damages. In the second trial the jury had to talk about money: something that generally gets excluded from discussions of liability.



Nicholas Rowley generously offered a FREE webinar on trial bifurcation on March 20, 2024. Watch the replay by purchasing the Trial Guides Digital Archive.


A Dramatic End to a Jury Trial

The jury wound up deadlocked, even though their only task was to determine damages; the Judge nearly granted a mistrial because they could not come to an agreement. At one point, the deliberating jurors requested a different calculator: a request Rowley attributed to some jurors’ desire for a damages award in excess of $100 million. The supplied calculator did not supply enough digits.

With a $60.8 million verdict in hand, Rowley said that he hopes this verdict, and others like it, will compel Tesla to be quicker to resolve cases where their employees bear some  responsibility for a person’s lifelong pain and suffering.

Tesla’s ethos can be defined by utter disregard for accountability,” Rowley said in written statement. “Refusing to accept responsibility can result in big consequences. Tesla’s employee was in a rush that morning trying to shave off time to get to the service center and refused to wait in line with other vehicles who were appropriately making a left hand turn. He cut out of line and did something very dangerous showing a complete disregard for the safety of others on the road. A young father’s life was permanently destroyed. This verdict cannot repair the harm caused, but it will help provide Chris Dugan with the lifetime of care and support he needs.” 

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