Case details

County, state failed to timely fix dangerous intersection: plaintiff





Result type

Not present

acetabulum, arm, brain, brain injury, cognition, concussion, depression, fracture, head, hip, hip replacement, impairment, leg, mental, nerve, neurological, psychological, shoulder, tibia, traumatic brain injury
On Jan. 20, 2009, plaintiff Anna Reznik, 65, a full-time caregiver, was driving her 1998 Toyota Corolla on southbound State Route 101, toward the intersection with San Juan Road in Prunedale, located in Monterey County, with Olga Tartcher, a woman in her 90s for whom Reznik provided full-time live-in homecare, in the passenger seat. As they entered the intersection, a vehicle operated by Yong Bowman pulled out in front of them from San Juan Road and tried to turn left onto northbound 101, resulting in a broadside crash. Reznik sustained multiple and Tartcher was airlifted from the scene, but later died in the emergency room. Tartcher’s daughter ultimately accepted the $100,000 policy limit payment from Bowman’s insurance company and declined to proceed further. Reznik sued Bowman and the maintainers of the intersection, the California Department of Transportation (Caltrans) and Monterey County. She alleged that Bowman was negligent in the operation of her vehicle, and that Caltrans and Monterey County were liable for the intersection’s dangerous condition. While the matter was pending, Bowman passed away from causes unrelated to the subject crash. She left behind The Bowman Family Trust, which had assets that included certain real property in San Jose. Thus, the lawsuit was amended to bring in the trust and its trustee, Helen Burke, as defendants, and discovery went forward. Plaintiff’s counsel noted that the original design of the highway in the area of the San Juan Road/SR-101 intersection dated back to the 1950s. Caltrans had planned to eliminate this intersection for many years by building the San Juan Road Interchange, which would make safety and operational improvements, including construction of an interchange at the Monterey/San Benito County line. As part of the San Juan Road Interchange Project, which was initiated by Caltrans and the Transportation Authority of Monterey County, San Juan Road would be realigned parallel to SR-101, heading north/south, and would continue over SR-101 on a new bridge structure. The project would also construct a barrier in the median on SR-101, closing the existing barrier gaps. Work on the environmental stage of the project was funded in July 2001, but it stopped from 2003 to 2006 due to a lack of funding. The San Juan Road Interchange Project is now on track to break ground in early 2013. Construction is expected to take 2.5 to three years and the overall cost of the project, including environmental work and right-of-way acquisition costs, is expected to be approximately $72 million. However, plaintiff’s counsel contended that at the time of the 2009 accident, nothing of significance had been done to make the San Juan Road/SR-101 intersection safe. Reznik’s counsel contended that left-turning drivers often misjudged gaps in the downhill 101 traffic, and vehicles proceeding downhill did not have enough warning or time to avoid collisions. The plaintiff’s experts would have testified that the cross traffic sign at the intersection was posted too late and did not give motorists reasonable warning. They also asserted that southbound motorists coming through the eucalyptus grove and heading downhill toward San Juan Road at 60 mph were faced with an inadequate sight distance, a flashing sign, and the visual distraction of the Red Barn flea market on the left and a gas station on the right. Thus, the plaintiff’s experts opined that drivers on San Juan Road did not have adequate opportunities to see traffic coming downhill from the left nor could the drivers judge the speed of those vehicles, and that timing traffic gaps under such conditions was very difficult. Additionally, the experts would have testified that motorists waiting at the San Juan Road stop sign would get frustrated, anxious and impatient, causing two or three cars to shoot across from San Juan Road in one pack at certain times. Plaintiff’s counsel asserted that on the date of the accident, Reznik and Bowman entered the intersection trap, which Caltrans had been monitoring for years, and crashed. Counsel contended that in the last 10 years, Caltrans was aware of 40 broadside crashes at the Highway 101 and San Juan Road intersection, where vehicles turning left from San Juan Road collided with southbound 101 vehicles. Reznik’s counsel contended that since the state of California owned, controlled and maintained the roadway, as well as some of the land directly adjacent to the intersection in question, Caltrans created a created a trap for unwary motorists at the intersection of Highway 101 and San Juan Road, and then failed to timely correct the dangerous condition. Counsel also contended that the county controlled the approaches to the San Juan Road/Highway 101 intersection, and had been involved in various safety and funding issues related to that intersection, specifically, and had been involved in the Prunedale Improvement Project for Highway 101, generally. Thus, plaintiff’s counsel asserted that since county employees attended Caltrans’ planning meetings and should have had direct input into the planning and implementation of safety upgrades at San Juan Road, it should have also timely addressed the trap at the intersection in question. During the course of discovery, plaintiff’s counsel objected to Caltrans asserting the privilege of 23 USC § 409 to prevent production of adverse accident history, including listings of accidents reflected in printouts from the Statewide Integrated Reporting System and the Traffic Accident and Surveillance Analysis System. Counsel for the Bowman Family Trust sided with Reznik and contended that Caltrans created a dangerous trap at the intersection of Highway 101 and San Juan Road, which trapped both Reznik and Bowman and caused their accident. Counsel also asserted that Reznik was inattentive and driving too fast at the time of the collision. Caltrans claimed that there was not dangerous condition at the location of the accident and that the roadway possessed good line of sight. It also claimed that road striping and signage changes had been made to make the area safer, and pointed out that millions of motorists had traveled through the intersection in question uneventfully over many years. In addition, Caltrans’ experts would have testified that it would have been unreasonable to close off the left turn from San Jose Road because closure would force motorists to travel over rural back roads to interchanges several miles north or south of the San Juan Road/SR-101 intersection. Caltrans’ counsel contended that if drivers exercised due care and took the time to pick an adequate opening in traffic while traveling from eastbound San Juan Road to northbound SR-101, they should easily be able to avoid conflict with southbound traffic. Thus, counsel asserted that Reznik was comparatively negligent because she had sufficient time to react to the Bowman vehicle and avoid the accident. The county claimed that it did not own, control or maintain the intersection of Highway 101 and San Juan Road. It also claimed that it had no authority to make any changes or improvements to the intersection, even if it were warranted., Reznik was evacuated from the scene as paramedics tried to save her life and was rushed to Santa Clara Valley Medical Center for emergency treatment. At the hospital, physicians found that Reznik had fractures of both feet, ankles, left leg, pelvis and forearm. Reznik went through 10 surgical procedures on five different days during the first two weeks in the hospital. The first surgical session addressed multiple fracture sites and lasted over 10 hours. Reznik remained hospitalized for a month. Once her condition stabilized, she was transferred to acute care convalescent facilities, where she remained for the following five months. She eventually required a left hip replacement. By the time Reznik’s lawsuit was filed, she claimed she had made some progress, and was able to walk with a cane and drive. She has since returned home, but was living with some in-home assistance. Her condition continues to improve and, at the time of publication, Reznik has been able to walk without the use of a cane. Plaintiff’s counsel asserted that Reznik had past medical specials of $452,111, which was paid through workers’ compensation, future medical specials of $543,600 and future life care costs of $1,036,672. Counsel also asserted that Reznik suffered a loss of earnings in the amount of $132,810.65, which was paid by workers’ compensation, and a loss of earning capacity in the amount of $500,000. The defense’s orthopedic expert diagnosed Reznik with a right scapular fracture that healed without surgery; a left ulnar fracture with minimal deformity following open reduction and internal fixation, and the eventual removal of the intramedullary rod; a comminuted fracture of the calcaneus; a left talar dome fracture; a left acetabular fracture with posterior dislocation of the left hip, which required a total hip replacement; a right open tibia fracture secured with an intramedullary rod; bilateral knee contusions; left sciatic neuropathy with signs of complex regional pain syndrome; a concussion; and depression. However, the expert denied there were any to Reznik’s spine. The orthopedist also testified in his deposition that Reznik would not need any future surgeries for her alleged residual medical issues, and denied the need for future in-home support and ADA home modifications. The defense’s expert life care planner opined that Reznik’s life care projections were a “Cadillac plan” and that Reznik’s life care needs, including medical treatment, could be covered for under $1 million dollars. Thus, defense counsel disputed the amount of future medical costs alleged by the plaintiff.
Superior Court of Monterey County, Monterey, CA

Recommended Experts


Get a FREE consultation for your case