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A California Court of Appeal Upholds a $9.5M Judgment for the Family of a Man Killed in a Pedestrian Accident

Recently, the family of a 62-year-old man killed in a San Mateo County crash recovered a judgment of $9.5 million against a driver and the state Department of Transportation (Caltrans). Rather than relying solely on the past history of injuries at the exact intersection where their relative died, they used proof of a similar death at a similar intersection to persuade the jury that Caltrans should have known about the dangerousness of the intersection. The success of this technique, affirmed by the Court of Appeal, demonstrates that there may be more than one way to achieve a successful outcome in your intersection accident case against a governmental entity. Be sure to retain an experienced San Mateo pedestrian accident attorney who can help you explore all your options.

A 62-year-old bicyclist, C.C., was crossing El Camino Real in Atherton on foot when a southbound passenger sedan struck him. C.C. was walking with his bike inside a crosswalk at the time of the accident. The driver never saw C.C. and never hit his brakes. In fact, he was going an estimated 42 mph when he slammed into C.C. and thought a tree branch had fallen on his car. The collision was violent enough that it threw C.C. more than 50 feet and his bicycle more than 70 feet. He was pronounced dead at the scene.

The bicyclist’s wife and daughters sued the driver and Caltrans. The crosswalk where C.C. died was unreasonably unsafe, the department should have known it, but did nothing address the dangerous condition, they argued. A jury agreed. After a two-week trial, the jury found the driver 10% at fault and Caltrans 90% responsible. The jury assessed the total damages to be $9.5 million.

One of the keys to the family’s success was how it went about proving that Caltrans should have known that the area where C.C. died was unsafe. In 2007, a 17-year-old girl died after being hit in a crosswalk. That accident took place at another intersection along El Camino Real in San Mateo County. At the site of the girl’s death, the road was six lanes wide and heavily trafficked. Where C.C. died, the road was seven lanes wide and similarly heavily trafficked.

The family’s argument was that the 2007 accident and the girl’s death should have put Caltrans on notice that placing marked crosswalks on multi-lane, heavily trafficked roads was unreasonably dangerous, and should have the led them to make changes at the El Camino and Isabella intersection in Atherton where C.C. died.

This evidence proved to be very beneficial to the bicyclist’s family, as the jury decided both that (1) the two accidents were sufficiently similar and that (2) this similarity should have triggered action from Caltrans.

A crash at a different location may trigger notice if ‘sufficiently similar’

Caltrans appealed to argue that the jury never should have heard about the 2007 accident and the girl’s death. The appeals court was not persuaded. The appeals court said that “the two intersections and accidents were sufficiently similar in material ways” and that this similarity gave Caltrans “actual or constructive notice of the dangers of placing marked crosswalks with no safety enhancements at uncontrolled El Camino intersections.”

This ruling is an important one for injured people as it demonstrates that, contrary to common defense arguments used by Caltrans, there does not necessarily have to be numerous deaths or injury accidents at the specific intersection in question in order for the department to have actual or constructive knowledge of an unreasonably dangerous condition. There can be other avenues to success in your case against Caltrans.

While there potentially may be more than one road to success in your fatal crash case, you still need to know what is most likely to be the best way to proceed. For this and other essential pieces of advice, along with diligent advocacy upon which you can confidently rely, reach out to the skilled pedestrian accident attorneys at the Law Offices of Galine, Frye, Fitting & Frangos. Our attorneys have amassed many years of experience providing strong representation and achieving positive results. To set up a free consultation with one of our experienced attorneys, contact us at 650-345-8484 or through our website.