CalTrans Found Liable for Dangerous Highway

Janssen Malloy LLP is currently involved in a case against CalTrans, who along with Department of Parks and Recreation, has refused to make Highway 36 safe for drivers trying to exit Grizzly Creek State Park.  As a result, there have been multiple accidents at this location and near accidents occur every week according to at least one park employee.  In 2011 an elderly woman lost her husband in one such accident attempting to leave the park.

This month a Fairfield jury just found CalTrans 75% liable for a car accident injuring an elderly couple who hit a tree on I-80 and awarded the couple two million dollars for their injuries.  The lawsuit filed against the California Department of Transportation by Wayne Patch, 78, and his wife Maria Patch, 77.   At the start of the trial, a lawyer for CalTrans urged jurors not to let their sympathies be swayed by the frail, disabled couple. The lawyer told jurors the tree had never been involved in an accident and that if it had been it would have been inspected.  The lawyer blamed local political leaders for forcing CalTrans to speed up a 2010 resurfacing project, which meant not taking the time to cut down the old tree. The lawyer told jurors that CalTrans was not required to clear the side of highways and said the public does not want a desolate swath of land alongside its roadways.

The retired couple were getting onto the freeway from Travis Boulevard after a doctor’s appointment on the morning of April 11, 2012, when their Lexus was bumped by a car in the slow lane. The driver of the other car had been briefly distracted by mistakenly shifting her car into second gear instead of fourth gear and her Honda drifted into the adjacent lane.

The elderly couple's lawyer told jurors that CalTrans was negligent because it had multiple opportunities to remove the tree, creating a 30-foot wide shoulder that he labeled a “clear recovery zone.” One engineer “just forgot” to include removing trees close to the side of the highway. With studies showing there were nearly 1,000 crashes annually along Interstate 80 in the Fairfield area and with 10 percent of those crashes going off the highway, CalTrans should have removed the tree years before the Patches’ crash.

Jurors were unswayed by the CalTrans lawyer’s argument that it was the errant woman in the Honda who was solely responsible for the Patches’ injuries. The jury verdict declared CalTrans failed to take sufficient steps to protect the public from the possible dangers created by the tree.  After two days of deliberations, jurors divvied  the responsibility for the Patches’ injuries, holding Caltrans 75 percent liable.

If you have information regarding Grizzly Creek State Park's dangerous exit or other dangerous road conditions created by CalTrans please contact us to share your concerns.