7/14/2017 – Blog Post #14

Highway 299 Multiple Fatality Case 

The Zwerdling Law Firm has been retained to represent Kevin Orcutt, husband of the late Janine Orcutt, in a personal injury and wrongful death action arising out of a tragic motor vehicle incident that occurred on April 17, 2017, on Highway 299, two and half miles east of Blue Lake.  The Zwerdling Law Firm will also represent Stephanie Capoeman and Thomas Perry, who were passengers in Mr. Orcutt’s vehicle.  Details regarding this incident are set forth in the Lost Coast Outpost, Kym Kemp’s “Redheaded Blackbelt,” and John Chiv’s “Words Worth.”

According to the CHP report, the driver of the other vehicle in this incident, Ms. Yecenia Wood, “for unknown reasons….allowed her vehicle to veer to the right of the roadway onto the shoulder.”  Ms. Wood, who was traveling westbound, turned hard to her left, lost control of her vehicle, crossed over the westbound lane into the eastbound lane, and subsequently collided with Mr. Orcutt’s vehicle.  There was nothing our client, Mr. Orcutt, who was traveling eastbound, could have done to avoid the collision.  As a result, Mr. Orcutt’s vehicle veered off the roadway, traveled down an embankment, and ultimately collided with a tree.  Janine Orcutt passed away from injuries caused by the collision.

Mr. Orcutt, and the two other passengers in his vehicle, Stephanie Capoeman and Thomas Perry, all sustained serious bodily injuries.  Ms. Wood was traveling with her five children and we sympathize with the tragic losses suffered by the Wood family.

As reported in yesterday’s Times-Standard, the CHP has forwarded the matter to the District Attorney’s office to investigate whether to file potential criminal manslaughter charges against Ms. Wood.

If anybody reading this post either witnessed the incident or has experienced problems maintaining control of their vehicles at or near this section of the roadway, please call us at 707.798.6211 or send us an email to office@zwerdlinglaw.com to discuss.

6/14/2017 –  Blog Post #13

Zane Middle School Bullying Victim

The Zwerdling Law Firm is investigating the circumstances surrounding a school bullying incident that occurred on May 19, 2017 at Zane Middle School.  Here is our client/victim, a 6th grade student, being interviewed on KCRW New Channel 7.  A video of the assault was posted many times on social media and went viral locally.

California has very strict laws that require schools to protect students from bullying.  Some of the statutes that could possibly apply include the following: (1) “The Safe Place to Learn Act (Seth’s Law),” Cal. Ed. Code Secs. 234-234.5, and (2) Cal. Education Code Section 220 (which prohibits discrimination against anyone protected by Penal Code Sec. 422.55).

The Zwerdling Law Firm intends to conduct a thorough investigation to determine whether those laws have been violated.  If they have, we will take appropriate legal action on behalf of our client.

School bullying is a major problem and it is very important that schools do everything within their power to protect students from bullies.

5/9/2017 – Blog Post #12

Preliminary Hearings in the Kitchen Case

The Zwerdling Law Firm is honored to represent Joe and Jevin Kitchen for the wrongful death of Kiya Kitchen.  Here is some coverage of the preliminary hearings currently underway in the criminal case against Marci Kitchen:


5/4/2017 – Blog Post #11

Throwback Thursday: Protesting Vietnam in Humboldt County featuring Zach Zwerdling

As highlighted in today’s Times-Standard, Zachary Zwerdling has deep roots in Humboldt County.  Forty-five years after his involvement as a Humboldt County resident in anti-Vietnam War protests, Mr. Zwerdling continues to be dedicated to both social justice and zealous legal advocacy for his clients:

Peaceful protests in May 1970 were a life turning point for one local resident.

As for Zachary Zwerdling, who now owns Zwerdling Law Firm in Eureka, he was out lobbying and peacefully protesting the Vietnam War. According to a May 11, 1970, report from the Times-Standard, “Pickets March at HSC,” Zwerdling was an active member of the College of the Redwood’s student council. At 19 years old , he was one of 25 student leaders chosen from campuses across the nation to lobby and met privately with former Sen. J William Fulbright, who was chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee at the time.

“I was pretty active in the anti-war group in Humboldt County. I remember I wasn’t allowed to speak at the Arcata City Council — if you can believe it, the council used to be very conservative back then,” Zwerdling said with a laugh. “Afterwards, the city attorney came up to me and said it was very cool that I tried to speak at the meeting.”

Zwerdling, who later attended Stanford University and the University of Santa Clara to study law, said he went to law school specifically because of the Vietnam War.

“I thought if I became a lawyer I could help from the inside,” he said. “Now I’m still very committed to social justice and feel that those days really guided me to who I wanted to be.”

In May 1970, about 200 Humboldt State College — the name of the school from 1935 to 1972 — students were protesting the expansion of the Vietnam War into Cambodia. The report said about 50 percent of students attended class, while the others were out on Arcata Plaza participating in “college community peace activities.” The report said 60 faculty members had also pledged to strike leaving some classrooms completely empty.

4/20/2017 – Blog Post #10  –

$4,541,632.15 Judgment for a Crime Victim

The Zwerdling Law Firm recently obtained a judgment in a case where we represented a young woman who was shot in the face by her then boyfriend.  Currently, the defendant is incarcerated in a California prison serving a sentence for attempted murder.

We took this case pro bono because we felt strongly that the victim needed as much support as possible to help her cope with the horrible injuries she suffered in this incident. We realized that it was unlikely that the defendant had sufficient assets to pay a Judgment and the victim was unable to hire counsel.

Our client was awarded the sum of $4,541,632.15 against the defendant.  If the defendant ever comes into any assets, we will aggressively seek to enforce the Judgment against him.

Representing this victim was very important to the Zwerdling Law Firm because we strongly believe that we have an obligation to the public to take on cases where justice needs to be done even when there may be no compensation for our work in the matter.

4/13/2017 – Blog Post #9

The Zwerdling Law Firm just received this testimonial after Mr. Zwerdling appeared this morning in Humboldt County Superior Court and obtained an important win for our client, Savanah McCarty:

“Today, after two months of court, my stay away order against my biological mother was granted to hopefully stop the stalking and harassment of myself and the Wild Souls Ranch Organization that has been happening since the production of the Wild Souls Documentary last year. Thank you to Zachary Zwerdling and Zwerdling Law Firm for all of the amazing work that was done to help me on my case. When you go through the court system with a biological parent as a small child, it is hard to re-visit those feelings and events as an adult and terrifying to go through the court system again against them. Thank you Zach for not letting me go through this process alone, providing guidance, and the most wonderful support. Because of you, me and the Wild Souls Ranch Organization now have safety, and peace of mind.”

4/5/2017 – Blog Post #8 

The Zwerdling Law Firm just settled a case against the State of California for $1.95 million.  The case involved our client, a 44-year-old male, who sustained major orthopedic injuries when he was struck by a California Highway Patrol vehicle that had lost control and crossed the center line on U.S. Highway 101.  The officer had been texting prior to losing control of his vehicle.

4/4/2017 – Blog Post #7

Mr. Zwerdling just received another anonymous testimonial. Whoever you are, thanks!

3/17/2017 – Blog Post #6


The Zwerdling Law Firm is investigating a case where a Good Samaritan stopped at an accident scene, then proceeded to turn his vehicle around so his headlights would illuminate the accident. Unfortunately, the lights blinded an oncoming vehicle driven by our client.  Because of the blinding light, our client struck accident-related debris on the roadway, lost control of his vehicle, and suffered serious injuries.  Our office is faced with the legal question of whether we can file suit against the well-intentioned good Samaritan for causing injury to our client.  It should be noted that our client was a totally innocent bystander in this situation.

The Statute

For public policy purposes, California’s Good Samaritan laws encourage bystanders to provide free emergency or non-emergency assistance at the scene of emergencies without fear of legal repercussions if they actually end up harming the person(s) they are helping.   These laws are designed to shield the Good Samaritans who act out of the goodness of their own hearts and offer care for an injured fellow citizen from legal liability in emergency situations.   In fact, the relevant statute, California Health & Safety Code Section 1799.102, states that “it is the intent of the Legislature to encourage other individuals to…assist others in need during emergency, while ensuring that those volunteers who provide care or assistance act responsibly.”

Section 1799.102 provides that “No person who in good faith, and not for compensation, renders emergency medical or nonmedical care at the scene of an emergency shall be liable for any civil damages resulting from any act or omission.” In 2009, the Legislature amended the code section to include protection for Good Samaritans who provide both medical and non-medical emergency assistance.  Notably, the law specifically explains that a person cannot be held liable for civil damages unless their actions or omissions qualify as “gross negligence or willful or wanton misconduct.”

Gross Negligence

One interesting aspect in the Good Samaritan law’s language is ascertaining what in fact constitutes “gross negligence.”  According to the California Civil Jury Instruction #450B, gross negligence is defined as “the lack of any care or an extreme departure from what a reasonably careful person would do in the same situation.”  As such, in order to find that a Good Samaritan-Defendant acted with gross negligence, a jury would need to determine that the Good Samaritan’s actions in attempting to offer emergency care substantially deviated from how the normal, ordinarily prudent person would act.  This extreme lack of care is a high burden to meet, but not quite as extreme as “willful or wanton misconduct.”

Willful or Wanton Misconduct

“Willful or wanton misconduct,” on the other hand, is defined as a “conduct by a person who may have no intent to cause harm, but who intentionally performs an act so unreasonable and dangerous that he or she knows or should know it is highly probable that harm will result.”  As such, an irresponsible Good Samaritan who acts with willful or wanton misconduct must have had reason to know that their rescue attempt was dangerous and would most likely cause further harm to the person in need of emergency assistance.   This is a rare situation.  Gross negligence is by far a more common and probable occurrence in Good Samaritan situations.

With this law in mind, well-intentioned, non-professional rescuers should always be aware that they could be legally liable for injuries if a jury finds they acted with gross negligence or willful or wanton misconduct.


2/28/2017 — Blog Post #5


We just received this nice “5.0 star” testimonial from Mr./Ms. Anonymous on our Avvo page. Whoever you are, thanks for the kind words:

Zach is an incredible lawyer to consult with. He brings to the table a wealth of professional knowledge and years of experience. He is kind and considerate, truly investing in your case and loves nothing more than to help in anyway he he can. I recommend him all the time. As well as in his work, he is constantly supporting the community and has made a reputable name for himself that citizens aspire too. We are all lucky to have a man of such character available to us.”

Posted by anonymous


1/26/2017 — Blog Post #4

The Zwerdling Law Firm Aggressively Protects Victims of Sexual Harassment and Other Forms of Discrimination 

In March 2011, Mr. Zwerdling had the honor to represent a young woman in a lawsuit arising out of alleged repeated sexual harassment from an assistant manager at the Ingomar Club.

The Zwerdling Law Firm strongly believes that all employees have the right to be protected from any form of sexual harassment while on the job. Employers legally and ethically have to take all steps possible to protect employees from sexual harassment and to firmly discipline employees who are found guilty of sexual harassment against other employees.

This case took a number of years to achieve justice for the plaintiff in the form of a significant confidential settlement.  Unfortunately, as a condition of settlement, the Ingomar Club required that the amount not be disclosed. However, plaintiff felt that justice had been served with the final settlement offer.

The Zwerdling Law Firm would be happy to offer free consultation to anybody who feels they have been the victim of harassment based on gender, race, religion, disability, sexual orientation and other forms of discrimination.

1/11/2017 — Blog Post #3 


The Zwerdling Law Firm is proud to represent James and Norma Gund in a personal injury case arising out of a horrific event that occurred on March 13, 2011 in Kettenpom, CA – a remote area of Trinity County.  A deranged individual named Thomas Gouverneur attacked and murdered two neighbors of the Gunds.  These neighbors lived in a house approximately a quarter-mile away from the Gund residence.  In the late afternoon, a 911 dispatcher received a distress call originating from the residence of the two neighbors.  On the tape a voice is heard whispering “help.”

The CHP dispatcher thereafter made a call to the Trinity County Sheriff’s Office to report the distress call that had just been received.  A Trinity County Sheriff Deputy allegedly requested that Mr. and Ms. Gund go “check on Kristine,” the neighbor who resided at the home from where the distress call originated.  The Gunds allege that the Deputy asked the Gunds to check on the 911 call since it was “likely a phone malfunction due to the recent inclement weather.”  The Gunds allege that the Deputy relayed nothing to them regarding the whispered distress call.  The Gunds, acting as good neighbors, drove to Kristine’s residence.   They entered the house and discovered two slain bodies.  Gouverneur then attempted to murder the Gunds.  Gouverneur slashed both Norma and Jim’s throats, and tasered them multiple times.  The Gunds fought back as hard as they could and were able to escape.  Later that day, Gouverneur drove his vehicle into a tree at a high rate of speed and died while being chased by law enforcement near Willits, CA.

In December of 2011, Mr. Zwerdling filed a lawsuit on behalf of the Gunds in Trinity County Superior Court.  In the complaint, the Gunds allege that Trinity County and the Trinity County Sheriff’s Department were negligent for sending the couple without any warning to their neighbor’s residence where it was obvious something was seriously wrong.  The case proceeded through litigation. Unfortunately, a visiting Superior Court Judge granted a summary judgment motion in favor of Trinity County that forced the Gunds to file an appeal in California’s Third District Court on June 24, 2014.

This matter has been sitting at the Court of Appeal for 30 months while the Gunds wait for an opportunity to argue the legal issue involved.  Needless to say, this has been a very difficult time for the clients.  They need closure in this matter.  We strongly believe that we will win on the legal issue involved and then proceed to trial as soon as possible against Trinity County.

The Gunds lawsuit is based on the theory that the Sheriff’s Department violated law enforcement standards by negligently sending private citizens into a known dangerous situation.  Police can be held liable for sending citizens into a dangerous situation.  When police send citizens into a dangerous situation where those citizens are injured, the law clearly allows those injured persons to recover for personal injury.

The legal question centers around whether the Sheriff’s Department owed a duty to the Gunds not to send them into danger, and whether the danger of sending unarmed citizens into the home of someone who made a 911 distress call for help is foreseeable.  There are immunity laws that protect the government from being sued in some situations; however, exceptions to these rules exist.  If the jury accepts the Gunds version of what occurred, we believe that the Sheriff’s Department and the County of Trinity will be held liable for the personal injury they caused.


12/27/2016 — Blog Post #2


These words from Thomas Jefferson remind us that our unique civil justice system, in which all individuals and organizations, regardless of how powerful they are, can be held accountable for misconduct. There are constant efforts to “reform” the tort system, led by those who wish to deprive individuals of their right to a jury trial and instead require the use of Arbitration.

Arbitration is conducted usually by one person who may do lots of work for insurance companies or large businesses. Arbitrators often do not fairly balance the rights of injured individuals with these large businesses or the government. The Zwerdling Law Firm strongly recommends that individuals who are asked to waive their right to a jury trial only do so if absolutely necessary. It has been shown time and time again that jurors are more impartial and fairer to litigants than Arbitrators.


12/13/2016 – Blog Post #1

Hello.  This is my first Zwerdling Law Firm blog post.  I am not sure where to begin but it does seem like a good time to let everyone know that this law practice is off and running.  It is exciting and challenging at the same time to start a new law firm after practicing for 40 years but I am enjoying every minute of it.  Working with Nate and my great staff makes the job even more rewarding.

I plan to periodically post blogs about interesting cases, advice on handling personal injury cases, observations about the legal system, and random pearls of wisdom from a seasoned courtroom warrior.

Stay tuned.