Cyclist veers into path of car and is hit; later run over by truck. Wrongful death. Santa Cruz County.

Summary

A farmworker is struck by a car at dawn while riding his bike to work.  Alive and lying in the road, he is run over by a truck.

The Case

  • Case Name: Martinez-Sanchez v. Ahlem
  • Court and Case Number: Santa Cruz County Superior Court / CV178658
  • Date of Verdict or Judgment: Friday, April 08, 2016
  • Date Action was Filed: Tuesday, February 11, 2014
  • Type of Action: Wrongful Death
  • Judge or Arbitrator(s): Hon. Paul Burdick
  • Plaintiffs:
    Maria Lucila Suarez Ramirez, et al.
  • Defendants:
    James Lars Ahlem
  • Type of Result: Jury Verdict

The Result

  • Gross Verdict or Award: $3,600,000
  • Settlement Amount: $2,500,000 (agreed upon during jury deliberations.)
  • Award as to each Defendant:

    $1,500,000 for the wife of 40 years of the decedent.

    $300,000 each for the seven adult children of the decedent.

  • Contributory/Comparative Negligence: 30% defendant, 70% decedent.
  • Economic Damages:

    None claimed.

  • Non-Economic Damages:

    The plaintiffs maintained wrongful death injuries for the loss of love, affection, care, comfort, society, etc., of the decedent, their father and husband.

  • Punitive Damages:

    N/A

  • Trial or Arbitration Time: 2 weeks.
  • Jury Deliberation Time: 1 1/2 days.
  • Post Trial Motions & Post-Verdict Settlements: $2.5 million post-verdict global settlement agreed for the family, with defendant to pay plaintiffs' costs (approx. $200,000).

The Attorneys

  • Attorney for the Plaintiff:

    The Simon Law Group by Robert T. Simon and Thomas J. Conroy, Hermosa Beach.

    Southwest Legal Group by Benjamin Swanson, Westlake Village.

  • Attorney for the Defendant:

    Borton Petrini, LLP by Samuel Phillips, San Jose.

    Borton Petrini, LLP by Michelle Gildea, San Rafael.

The Experts

  • Plaintiff’s Medical Expert(s):

    Marvin Pietruzka, M.D., forensic pathology, Reseda.

  • Defendant's Medical Expert(s):

    Hugh Wilson, M.D., forensic pathology, Salinas.

  • Plaintiff's Technical Expert(s):

    Ted Kobayashi, accident reconstruction, Livermore.

    Carl Beels, human factors, Escondido.

  • Defendant's Technical Expert(s):

    Raymond Merala, accident reconstruction,Hayward.

    Jason Droll, human factors, San Francisco.

Facts and Background

  • Facts and Background:

    The decedent, Jose Martinez-Sanchez, aged 65 and a field worker, had been riding his bicycle to work in the early morning hours of July 24, 2013, along SR-129 outside of Watsonville.

    The sun was about to rise over the horizon; it was not dark but not fully light and the weather was overcast and misty. As Jose Martinez-Sanchez rode eastbound on the shoulder of SR-129, he was struck by a Ford Mustang traveling around 50 mph in the same direction and was thrown from the bicycle into the opposite, westbound lane of travel.

    The driver of the Mustang stated that Mr. Martinez-Sanchez suddenly veered or moved left in front of him and the collision was unavoidable. Mr. Martinez-Sanchez was likely injured in this collision, but did not appear fatally so – the Mustang driver and another witness who arrived moments later both exited their vehicles and went into the middle of the road  to attempt to divert traffic around Mr. Martinez-Sanchez as he lay in the roadway.

    Both described Mr. Martinez-Sanchez as lying on his side or sitting, moving his head around, grabbing his legs, moaning and possibly talking. There was testimony offered that the two men assisting Mr. Martinez-Sanchez were in fact able to signal and divert some traffic around the injured bicyclist. However, after about 60 seconds of their efforts in the road, defendant Ahlem approached westbound at approximately 50-55 mph in his Ford F-150 and directly ran over Mr. Martinez’s skull and chest.

    Mr. Ahlem testified that he did not see anything in the roadway, nor any vehicles which had pulled over nor people in the road warning oncoming motorists, until the last possible second. There was some dispute over this contention -- Mr. Ahlem told the investigating CHP officers that he saw a bicycle and a “black object” in the roadway approximately 50-60 feet ahead of him. Mr. Ahlem did not brake, but attempted to straddle the object, ultimately running it over.

  • Plaintiff's Contentions:

    Plaintiffs contended that Mr. Ahlem was at fault for the death of Mr. Martinez-Sanchez, and that this was a collision which should have been avoided had defendant not been inattentive and traveling too fast for conditions.

    Plaintiffs acknowledged a degree of fault on their decedent in causing the first collision with the Mustang, but disputed the nature and extent of the injuries sustained in that collision.

    Plaintiffs contended that Mr. Martinez-Sanchez should have survived the first collision, and it was the crush injuries sustained in the second collision from defendant's F-150 which caused decedent’s fatal blunt force trauma injuries.

  • Defendant's Contentions:

    Defendant disputed liability for the death of Mr. Martinez Sanchez, contending that the second collision was unavoidable.

    Defendant contended that Mr. Ahlem could not have seen nor reacted in time to Mr. Martinez Sanchez being in the roadway, and therefore could do nothing to avoid the second accident, invoking the “imminent peril” defense.

    Defendant further contended that though the nature and extent of injuries from the first Mustang collision were mostly unknown, the nature of the collision with the Mustang at 50 mph likely resulted in a severe and/or fatal injury and thus defendant Ahlem should not be liable for the blunt force trauma crush injuries under the wheels of his F-150.

Injuries and Other Damages

  • Physical Injuries claimed by Plaintiff:

    Extensive blunt force trauma causing the death of Jose Martinez-Sanchez..

Demands and Offers

  • Plaintiff §998 Demand: $1,500,000
  • Defendant §998 Offer: $1,300,000

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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