Lawsuit Causes Caltrans To Correct Dangerous Roadway Conditions
On Aug. 6, 2012, Rosalina Dionisio was headed home to Sacramento from her shift at the West Sacramento United States Postal Service office. She was driving a 1990 BMW when it suddenly stopped functioning and she lost electrical power. As she attempted to determine what was going on with her car, she moved her car over into the No. 5 lane in that section of Highway 50 between Harbor Boulevard and Jefferson Boulevard. She attempted to find a shoulder to pull over, and she determined that she had no shoulder available to her because the oleanders had been allowed to overgrow the paved shoulder that had been designed and constructed on this section of the freeway. She attempted to pull her car over as far to the right as she could against the oleanders. When the vehicle stopped 3 feet of her vehicle was in the shoulder and 3 feet of her vehicle was in the No. 5 lane.
The defendant, Stephen Taylor was headed eastbound on Interstate 50 at this location. He passed eyewitnesses at approximately 70 miles per hour. He moved into the No. 5 lane intending to take the Jefferson Boulevard exit. He testified that he observed the Dionisio vehicle ahead but did not appreciate that a portion of the vehicle was in his lane. The eyewitnesses’ observation of the Dionisio vehicle was that it was pulled off to the side at about 1000 feet in front of them. They both testified that they observed the Dionisio vehicle half in the shoulder and half in the No. 5 lane. The defendant did not realize that the Dionisio vehicle was partly in his lane until it was too late and did not brake or swerve. As a result, he struck the rear of the Dionisio vehicle at 70 miles per hour.
As a result of the accident Ms. Dionisio suffered an injury to portions of her brain and to her spine that contributed to her partial paralysis. She also suffered multiple rib fractures, lung contusions, a lacerated kidney, pelvic and sacrum fractures as well as a fracture of her left humerus and injury to her left rotator cuff. She also suffered partial vocal cord paralysis that affected her speech. The matter was settled on the 8th day of trial for $9,850,000.
The testimony at trial demonstrated that the State of California has a responsibility for maintaining its shoulders. The evidence demonstrated that the oleanders had overtaken this portion of the subject shoulder such that there were only small pockets of shoulder or no shoulder available for an area of approximately .2 of a mile. The testimony elicited acknowledged Caltrans had admittedly failed in their responsibility. The superintendent of maintenance also admitted that he had called the superintendent of landscape to get the oleanders trimmed back over a year before the subject incident. Counsel for plaintiff was able to locate photographs, both from the Department of Transportation photo logs and from Google, that demonstrated this overgrowth of the shoulder existed since 2005. Counsel was also able to establish through records obtained from the Department of Transportation that the state had been to this location on hundreds of occasions doing a variety of different tasks but never trimmed back the oleanders.
The State of California took the position that she should have gotten off of the road west of this location, which Ms. Dionisio passed after going under the Harbor Boulevard overcrossing. The testimony at trial of Caltrans’ employees acknowledged it was their responsibility to make certain the paved shoulder was open and available to members of the public. Testimony was elicited that the State of California had an obligation to keep this shoulder open and available to the public and the both Superintendents acknowledged it was foreseeable that if they failed to do so an incident of this nature could happen. The State contended that this incident was entirely the fault of the defendant for failing to appreciate that the Dionisio vehicle was stopped partly in his lane. The evidence demonstrated she was stopped there for nine minutes and other vehicles would have successfully gone by her in that timeframe. The State attorneys also pointed to the testimony of the eyewitnesses that could see Ms. Dionisio’s vehicle 1000 feet back as support for their position the defendant was responsible and that this type of incident was not foreseeable.
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