Case details

Defense alleged steering issue did not cause crash with plaintiff





Result type

Not present

back, fusion, head, headaches knee, herniated disc, left arm, left knee, lumbar, neck
On Sept. 8, 2011, at approximately 5 p.m., plaintiff Christopher Sisto, 44, a contractor, was driving his pickup truck on westbound Greenback Lane, in an unincorporated part of Sacramento, when he was involved in a collision with a sport utility vehicle operated by Patrick Hauth. Prior to the crash with Sisto’s vehicle, Hauth had collided with an SUV operated by James Banks. Banks was previously attempting to pull out of a parking lot at 8143 Greenback Lane by making a left turn into the eastbound center turn lane of Greenback Lane. However, as Banks exited the parking lot, he accelerated toward the turn lane, but his steering failed to respond, causing him to lose control. Banks then applied the brakes in an attempt to avoid Hauth, but failed to stop in time and collided with Hauth’s vehicle. As a result of the initial impact between Hauth and Banks, Hauth lost control of his vehicle and turned toward oncoming traffic, causing a collision with Sisto’s westbound vehicle. The impact subsequently caused Sisto to spin out of control and hit a lamppost. During the collision, Sisto’s camper shell was ejected, and he claimed he sustained to his head, neck, back, left arm, and left knee. Sisto, individually and doing business as CGC Construction, sued Hauth; Banks; and the service center where Banks had his vehicle serviced earlier on the day of the accident, Les Schwab Tire Centers of California Inc., doing business as Les Schwab Tire Centers. Sisto alleged that Hauth and Banks were negligent in their operation of their respective vehicles and that Les Schwab’s negligent servicing of Banks’ vehicle caused the steering to fail. Hauth and his insurance carrier, Liberty Mutual Insurance Co. (which was intervening on behalf of Hauth), filed a cross-complaint against Les Schwab. Banks also filed a separate cross-complaint against Les Schwab. Hauth (along with Liberty Mutual) and Banks sought reimbursement of $205,000 in damages against Les Schwab. Banks ultimately settled with Sisto for a waiver of costs and agreed to testify against Les Schwab at trial. Hauth also settled with Sisto for $10,000. In addition, just before trial, Les Schwab agreed to a $7,500 settlement with Hauth’s carrier, Liberty Mutual, based on the carrier’s $205,000 subrogation claim. Thus, the matter proceeded to trial against Les Schwab only. Sisto’s counsel contended that Les Schwab negligently serviced Banks’ pickup truck when he took it to Les Schwab Tire Centers of California in Citrus Heights at approximately 8:30 a.m. on the morning of the accident. Counsel noted that Banks had a suspension check and a front-end alignment performed. Sisto’s counsel argued that as a result of Les Schwab’s negligence, steering wheel linkage on Banks’ SUV was not fixed, or it was left disconnected to the engine compartment, so that Banks had no control of his steering. Counsel contended that a disconnection of the steering linkage of Banks’ SUV was confirmed by the investigating officer. According to the officer, when he arrived on the scene, the subject SUV was facing in a northeasterly direction and was blocking the two-way center lane. The officer also reported that as he was preparing to move the vehicle out of the roadway, he noticed that the steering wheel would spin but that the front tires would not turn. Thus, the investigating officer opined that the disconnected steering wheel linkage caused the accident and that it was not caused by any sort of driver error on the part of Banks. Banks testified that as he attempted to turn his vehicle before the accident, his steering would not work and it caused his crash into Hauth’s vehicle. He claimed that after his vehicle was moved to a nearby parking lot, he looked under the hood and noticed that the steering wheel linkage in front of the firewall in the engine compartment was disconnected. Les Schwab’s counsel argued that Les Schwab was not responsible for the accident. Counsel contended that it was documented that Les Schwab told Banks, and put in writing, its recommendation that Banks take his car to a collision shop on the ground that Les Schwab does not work on cars that have been involved in an accident that resulted in major structural damage. Counsel contended that Les Schwab did a temporary alignment in order for Banks to safely drive his vehicle to a collision shop, but that Les Schwab did not work on Banks’ steering linkage or anything under the hood. The defense’s mechanical expert demonstrated with an exemplar of the steering linkage that the force of the accident likely caused the steering linkage to break and that the steering linkage was likely not broken before the accident. Thus, Les Schwab’s counsel argued that the SUV’s steering was not a cause of the accident, but a result of the accident, and that Banks was responsible for the accident, without any contribution from a defect in the vehicle., Sisto claimed he suffered herniated discs at C3-4 and L4-5, as well as contusions and muscle strains and sprains to his left arm and shoulder. He was subsequently taken by ambulance to an emergency room. Sisto then treated with a neurosurgeon for more than a year. However, after all conservative measures were exhausted, he underwent a lumbar fusion. Sisto claimed that from the time of the accident to the time of trial, he lost jobs as a result of his . He alleged that he can no longer do the work he had previously performed and that he had to take himself off of jobs that required significant labor. Sisto also claimed that he can no longer go boating or exercise due to his condition, nor can he participate in activities with his two adolescent daughters. Thus, Sisto sought recovery of approximately $20,000 in past medical costs, approximately $10,000 in property damage, $20,000 for the loss of goodwill to his contractor business, and $100,000 in future medical costs for another lumbar surgery. He also sought recovery of general damages for his past and future pain and suffering. Counsel for Les Schwab argued, on cross-examination of the plaintiff’s medical experts, that Sisto had no complaints of lumbar pain for eight months following the accident and that Sisto’s only had complaints of significant neck pain. As such, defense counsel argued that Sisto’s lower back injury and need for fusion surgery was not likely caused by the accident, but was caused by some event after the incident.
Superior Court of Sacramento County, Sacramento, CA

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