Case details

Failure to balance truck load caused accident, driver alleged





Result type

Not present

having many bodily fractures
On Sept. 20, 2009, plaintiff Rigoberto Gutierrez, 52, a truck driver, was driving a 53-foot 18-wheeler, hauling 44,000 pounds of flour, on southbound Interstate 5 in Redding. At approximately 11 a.m., while negotiating a right-hand curve, Gutierrez allegedly lost control his vehicle and had to jump out of his driver side door as the truck careened off of a cliff. He subsequently fell 30 feet and was later discovered by paramedics to be propped up against a tree, having suffered many bodily fractures. Gutierrez sued Grain Millers Inc., the shipping company responsible for loading the flour. Gutierrez alleged that Grain Millers negligently loaded the flour, causing his truck to be unmaneuverable. Gutierrez also sued the county of Los Angeles, doing business as Harbor-UCLA Medical Center, the hospital that initially treated him after the accident; and Catholic Healthcare West, doing business as Mercy Medical Center, the medical center that treated him until he was stable enough to be discharged home. Gutierrez alleged the hospitals were negligent in his care and treatment, causing a delay in his recovery. Catholic Healthcare West ultimately settled for a nominal amount. Thus, the matter proceeded to trial roughly a year later against Grain Millers and the county only. Gutierrez claimed Grain Millers allowed an inexperienced and unsupervised employee to load the pallets of flour, and that this employee failed to properly configure and secure down the load inside the truck. Gutierrez, who picked up the load roughly 300 miles before the accident, claimed that as a result of Grain Millers failing to make sure the pallets were adequately loaded, balanced and secured, the load to shifted and made the 18-wheeler unmaneuverable. Gutierrez further claimed that the county was negligent his care at Harbor-UCLA Medical Center following the accident. He alleged the hospital’s unsanitary conditions, combined with the failure to use appropriate antibiotics, resulted in subsequent infections and delayed his recovery. Grain Millers claimed the load was adequately balanced and secured inside the truck based on the weight of the pallets. It also claimed that it did not need to provide additional securing, such as shoring the load down, or filling the voids with air bags or filler. Counsel for Grain Millers argued that the accident was likely caused by a problem with the truck’s steering and not caused by an alleged load shift. The county’s counsel contended that Gutierrez was provided safe and appropriate care at Harbor-UCLA Medical Center following the accident and that all of Gutierrez’s doctors and nurses acted within the standard of care. Thus, counsel argued that any infections incurred by Gutierrez were not the result of any negligence., Gutierrez sustained fractures to his right ankle and heel, left tibia and fibula, and left knee. He was subsequently taken by ambulance to the emergency room at Harbor-UCLA Medical Center, in Los Angeles, and underwent surgery on his right ankle and left tibia/fibula on the date of the accident. Gutierrez later underwent surgery on his right heel on Oct. 10, 2009. Gutierrez claimed he still experiences pain and discomfort in his lower extremities, and is left with a severe limp. He alleged his physical restrictions have prevented him from walking, hiking, and dancing with his wife, among other activities. He also claimed he attempted work for two years following the accident, but ultimately found he could not continue in his current condition. As a result, Gutierrez has been out of work since 2013. In addition, Gutierrez claimed he will require additional surgeries, consisting of a right ankle fusion and a left knee replacement. Gutierrez sought recovery of $4 million in total economic damages and $26 million in non-economic damages. Defense counsel argued that Gutierrez was able to work as a truck driver for two years following the accident and that Gutierrez should be able to return to work in his current condition. Counsel further argued that the alleged future surgeries are unnecessary.
Superior Court of Los Angeles County, Long Beach, CA

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