On July 15, 2014, after a six week trial, a Humboldt County jury found CalTrans and State Parks liable for maintaining a dangerous condition of public property. Three years prior to that verdict a Humboldt County woman attempted to turn left from Grizzly Creek Redwoods State Park on to Highway 36 and was struck by an eastbound truck. Her husband, the passenger, died as a result of the collision. Janssen Malloy was retained by the widow because the CHP officer found her at fault for failing to yield the right of way.
Janssen Malloy retained accident reconstruction and highway design experts to inspect the intersection and found it was designed poorly, providing less than half of the sight distance required on a 55 MPH highway.
Janssen Malloy also discovered that State Park employees had been complaining to CalTrans about the intersection since 1985 and had witnessed multiple prior accidents at the intersection. The Park employees developed a trick to help themselves exit by looking to the right behind a tree prior to the stop limit line and then dashing up to the limit line, looking left, and punching it. State Park employees told many visitors about this trick but forgot to tell the driver and her husband before they exited.
Through discovery Janssen Malloy learned that citizens had complained to both State Parks and CalTrans about the exit but neither agency made any efforts to protect the public. CalTrans had promised one citizen it would conduct a speed survey about a year prior to the accident but never followed through on its commitment.
CalTrans refused to take any responsibility or offer any compensation and turned down reasonable settlement offers prior to trial.
Plaintiff was represented at trial by Janssen Malloy partners Patrik Griego and Amelia Burroughs.
The jury award against CalTrans exceeded plaintiff's settlement offers. Therefore, CalTrans will be responsible for the costs the trial and plaintiff's expert fees.
CalTrans now claims it is looking into ways to improve the intersection. Janssen Malloy will continue pressing CalTrans and State Parks to improve this intersection so that the accidents stop and future tragedies can be avoided.
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