The state court of appeals for the Fourth District on October 17 settled a conflict between two drivers in Bernardo Heights.
Dr. Richard Lee Austin and his wife Karen Mazzocco in 2008 lived in the gated community of Bernardo Heights named Fairway Pointe. On October 17, 2008, Cheryl Johns, a nurse, was sitting in her car at the entrance to the community. Dr. Austin drove up and Johns said she was waiting to be let through the gate.
The court states, "Johns followed Austin through the gate. When Austin noticed that Johns had followed him, he stopped short, apparently in an effort to prevent her from entering through the gate.
Johns rear-ended him at a speed of two or three miles per hour. The only damage was to Johns's front bumper cover. Continues the court, "After the cars made contact, Austin backed his car toward Johns, who had been backing up, and then got out of his car. Austin was admittedly angry. He kicked the driver's side of John's car" and caused damage.
"Austin repeatedly yelled at Johns, telling her to back up and saying that she was trespassing." Then, "Austin reached into Johns's car to grab a notebook that Johns was holding…. He threw the notebook to the ground. When Johns got out of her car to retrieve her notebook, Austin got into Johns's car and backed it up...he threw her keys to the ground." She called the cops, who "arrested Austin at the entrance gate."
The court notes that at the time of the incident, Mazzocco was married to Austin. Austin "ultimately pled guilty to felony vandalism," says the court.
In October of 2009, Johns filed suit against Austin and Mazzocco. Farmers Insurance Exchange represented Mazzocco and Austin, who, after three years of litigation, eventually agreed to pay Johns $250,000, settling Johns's criminal restitution claims against Austin.
"By this time, Johns was claiming $553,975 in criminal restitution," notes the court. Farmers didn't contribute to the settlement. Farmers sued the couple seeking reimbursement for money it had paid that it didn't believe was covered by the policy. Austin and Mazzocco filed a cross-complaint.
Farmers spent $319,981,83 defending Mazzocco and Austin; a jury found that $45,390 of that sum was spent on claims not covered under the policy. Mazzocco, filing on her own behalf, appealed the decision on a number of grounds, such as that there was't sufficient evidence to show she had reimbursement obligations. She lost at the trial level and the appellate court affirmed the opinion, saying "Mazzocco's contentions are without merit."