$4 million verdict for wrongful death on dangerous roadway. San Diego County.

Summary

Active-duty marine, age 22, loses control on wet roadway and hits telephone pole. Ongoing problem of flooding on road as well as decedent's driving and state of mind (attentiveness) while driving are examined in trial against county.

The Case

  • Case Name: Keith Schultz, Tobie Deala v. County of San Diego, et al.
  • Court and Case Number: San Diego Superior/37-2010-00060181-CU-NP-NC
  • Date of Verdict or Judgment: Wednesday, March 28, 2012
  • Date Action was Filed: Tuesday, September 28, 2010
  • Type of Action: Dangerous Condition of Public Roads, Highways
  • Judge or Arbitrator(s): Hon. Earl H. Maas, III
  • Plaintiffs:
    Keith Schultz and Tobie Deala (parents of decedent, Samantha Schultz)
  • Defendants:
    County of San Diego, San Luis Rey Downs Enterprise LLC, San Diego Gas & Electric Company
  • Type of Result: Jury Verdict

The Result

  • Gross Verdict or Award: $4,000,000
  • Contributory/Comparative Negligence: The jury found 80 percent at fault against the county and 10 percent each against the decedent and defendant golf course (settled out).
  • Non-Economic Damages:

    $4,000,000 ($2,000,000 to each plaintiff)

  • Trial or Arbitration Time: 9 days
  • Jury Deliberation Time: 2 days
  • Post Trial Motions & Post-Verdict Settlements: San Luis Rey Downs Enterprise LLC (golf course) - Settlement: $200,000 prior to trial San Diego Gas & Electric Company (owner of the utility pole which decedent struck) - Settlement: $100,000 prior to trial

The Attorneys

  • Attorney for the Plaintiff:
    Booth & Koskoff by Roger E. Booth, Torrance
  • Attorney for the Defendant:
    Office of County Counsel by George W. Brewster, Jr., San Diego

The Experts

  • Plaintiff’s Medical Experts:
    None
  • Defendant's Medical Experts:
    Mark A. Kalish, M.D., psychiatry, San Diego
  • Plaintiff's Technical Experts:
    Charles Dickerson, accident reconstruction, Mesa, AZ
    Richard F. Ryan, highway design, Vancouver, WA
  • Defendant's Technical Experts:
    Glenn Follen, tire performance, Austin TX
    Arnold A. Johnson, traffic engineering, Fair Oaks
    Jene Lyle, hydrology, Irvine
    Arnold W. Siegel, accident reconstruction, Encino

Facts and Background

  • Facts and Background:

    Date and place of incident: April 22, 2010/Camino del Rey in Bonsall, San Diego County.

    Facts: When driving home from work at Camp Pendleton, 22 year-old Marine Corporal Samantha Schultz collided into a utility pole on Camino del Rey in Bonsall. She died the next day as a result of her injuries. There was approximately ¼-inch of water on the road at the time of the crash due to an overflow from nearby Moosa Creek as a result of a recent rainstorm.Please show claims, contentions and all disputed matters under contentions rather than facts. Facts stated here should be only those in evidence.

  • Plaintiff's Contentions:

    That the crash which caused the death of plaintiffs' daughter was due to a dangerous condition of public property, namely flooding on Camino del Rey, a road owned and maintained by Defendant County of San Diego.

    The county and the owner of an adjacent golf course (Defendant San Luis Rey Downs) had been in discussions for over four years about this flooding issue and how to solve it. As there was a history of at least 15-20 hydroplaning crashes at or near the location, plaintiffs contended that the county had notice of the foreseeable risk and hazard and should have remedied the situation.

  • Defendant's Contentions:

    That there existed no dangerous condition of the road, as the accident rate on Camino del Rey was reported to be less than the statewide average for similar roads; denied that the amount of water on the road was a risk for drivers exercising reasonable care. The number of crashes claimed by plaintiff is anecdotal and comes from the testimony of a county road crew member. Further, that those crashes involved a variety of circumstances including dry weather/dry road, and many were the result of driver error.

    Accident reconstructionist testified that decedent was traveling between 55 and 65 mph, accelerated into the curve and may have made a panic turn when she saw a large truck coming toward her in the curve.

    Defense psychiatrist testified that text messages sent by the decedent on the day of the crash, describing her emotional turmoil over a breakup with her boyfriend and mentioning a medical procedure for cervical cancer that she underwent earlier on the day of the crash, substantiated she was distracted emotionally and was inattentive in her driving. Further, that she had been seen for mental health on the day of the accident and went to the pharmacy to pick up medications.

    County contended that it had placed temporary "Flooded" signs on the roadway early on the morning of the crash (there was conflicting testimony on this contention during trial).

    County claimed that defendant golf course (settled out) bore substantial fault for having failed to maintain the creek or take significant action in response to watercourse violation notices from the county in 2006 and 2008. Golf course defendant had asserted in ongoing discussions with county that it was effectively prevented from performing the needed maintenance due to a myriad of environmental restrictions.

    County contended (based on Government Code section 835.4(b)) that its conduct with regard to addressing the flooding problem on Camino del Rey was reasonable in light of its budgetary constraints and the substantial cost involved in permanently solving the flooding problem.

Injuries and Other Damages

  • Physical Injuries claimed by Plaintiff:

    Loss of daughter's love, companionship, comfort, care, assistance, protection, affection, society and moral support.

Demands and Offers

  • Plaintiff §998 Demand: $1,300,000 ($650,000 to each plaintiff)
  • Defendant §998 Offer: $100,000 ($50,000 to each plaintiff)

Additional Notes

The Rest of the Story

According to plaintiffs' counsel, although the defense expert psychiatrist centered much testimony on the likely distracted mental state of the decedent and the resultant inattentiveness in driving, her commanding officer testified that decedent never let her personal life affect her ability to do her difficult job as a Marine.

Disclaimer

This is not an official court document. While the publisher believes the information to be accurate, the publisher does not guarantee it and the reader is advised not to rely upon it without consulting the official court documents or the attorneys of record in this matter who are listed above.

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