Driver is killed when he crashes into an already collapsed crash cushion. Family sues Caltrans. $21M.

Summary

In single-vehicle accident on a wet road at 2 a.m., decedent's alcohol consumption is said to contribute to his death.

The Case

  • Case Name: The Estate of Kevin Walsh v. California Department of Transportation
  • Court and Case Number: Los Angeles Superior Court / BC652502
  • Date of Verdict or Judgment: Wednesday, July 28, 2021
  • Date Action was Filed: Thursday, March 02, 2017
  • Type of Action: Dangerous Condition Public Property, Wrongful Death
  • Judge or Arbitrator(s): Hon. William D. Stewart
  • Plaintiffs:
    Eryn Walsh, widow of Kevin Walsh, current age 38
    Lauren Walsh, daughter of Kevin Walsh, current age 6
  • Defendants:
    Caltrans - State of California, Department of Transportation
  • Type of Result: Jury Verdict

The Result

  • Gross Verdict or Award: $21,167,685
  • Net Verdict or Award: $14,605,003 net after contributory negligence, plus costs, interest, and CCP 998 penalties
  • Contributory/Comparative Negligence: 31% against decedent, Kevin Walsh.
  • Economic Damages:

    $3,169,685

  • Non-Economic Damages:

    $18,000,000

  • Trial or Arbitration Time: 9 days
  • Jury Deliberation Time: 2 days
  • Jury Polls: 12-0 on liability, 12-0 on design immunity, 9-3 on damages, 9-3 on comparative fault.

The Attorneys

  • Attorney for the Plaintiff:

    Gammill Law, APC by David Gammill, Manhattan Beach.

    The X-Law Group P.C. by Filippo Marchino, Thomas E. Gray and Carlos Colorado, South Pasadena.

  • Attorney for the Defendant:

    California Department of Transportation by  Alexander Prieto and Desiri Schele, Los Angeles.

The Experts

  • Plaintiff's Technical Expert(s):

    Beau LeBlanc, accident reconstructionist.

    Stephanie Rizzardi, economics.

    John Brault, biomechanics.

  • Defendant's Technical Expert(s):

    Cleve Bare, Exponent - Accident Recon,

    Nevin Sams, standard of care.

    James Middleton, engineering.

    Vina Spiehler, toxicology.

    Victoria Wilkerson, economics.

Facts and Background

  • Facts and Background:

    Plaintiff's 33-year-old decedent, after watching a friend's band play, drove on the 134 Freeway from  a venue in Pasadena to Burbank. It was around 2 a.m. on a Sunday morning and raining when he lost control of the vehicle. As he departed the roadway, his vehicle impacted an already fully collapsed crash cushion (SCI100GM). Decedent Walsh died on impact. Blood drawn 19 days after his death had a BAC of .082.

  • Plaintiff's Contentions:

    Plaintiffs contended that Caltrans permitted a dangerous condition to exist on the 134 freeway causing Decedent’s death.

    Also, that plaintiff lost control of his car for unknown reasons, and collided into a completely collapsed crash cushion. The crash cushion decedent impacted had been previously impacted on February 18, 2016 and should have been discovered and reset by Caltrans within their own one-week standard. That had the crash cushion been reset, it would have prevented decedent's death.

  • Defendant's Contentions:

    Defendant State contended that no records or eyewitnesses indicated the crash cushion was impacted and fully compacted before the subject accident of March 6, 2016.

    Defendant’s expert on traffic engineering and maintenance used a Google Street View photograph for an exhibit to show the general layout of the roadway, created in 2019. The exhibit mistakenly had the wrong date of creation, but Defendant argued that it was not offered as an exhibit of the condition of the roadway at any specific time.

    Evidence at trial indicated the decedent was traveling at a speed too fast for the wet conditions of the roadway, had drunk multiple beers within two hours prior to the subject accident, and smelled of alcohol at the crash scene.   

    No witnesses testified to ever having seen the crash cushion collapsed prior to the subject accident of March 6, 2016.

Special Damages

  • Special Damages Claimed - Past Lost Earnings: $500,000
  • Special Damages Claimed - Future Lost Earnings: $3,600,000

Demands and Offers

  • Plaintiff §998 Demand: $500,000
  • Defendant §998 Offer: $10,000

Additional Notes

Defendant's standard of care expert tried introducing a map with a fabricated date that would have absolved defendants. He was impeached. This matter was highly contested during discovery. The defense expert's alleged deception was uncovered thanks to a Google street view picture, authenticated via a subpoena to Google.

Additionally, plaintiffs identified an occasion, in December of 2016, approximately eight months after the subject accident, where Caltrans left the same exact crash cushion partially collapsed for a period of at least eight days.

 

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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