Case details

Plaintiff knowingly put himself in front of truck’s tires: defense





Result type

Not present

brain, brain damage, brain injury, dental, face, facial, fracture, fractured teeth, jaw, nose, subdural hematoma
On Oct. 27, 2010, plaintiff Thomas Gutzwiller, 52, a construction supervisor for Riverside Construction, was engaged in a major flood control repair program for the Riverside County Flood Control and Water Conservation District and the water district for the city of Moreno Valley. The traffic control plan for the project called for some encroachment into the eastbound lanes of Ironwood Avenue. As a result, concrete K-rails were put in place between the parcel of land and active traffic lanes, blocking the two outermost lanes on eastbound Ironwood Avenue. On this day, Gutzwiller, his coworker and the inspector for the city of Moreno Valley, Moe Almasri, were taking measurements to mark the boundary lines for some concrete cutting in the southern lanes of the roadway within the K-rails. However, in order to mark the line for the cut, measurements had to be taken from survey marks that had been placed in the middle of Ironwood Avenue. Thus, in order to obtain access to the survey marks, Gutzwiller had to climb over the K-rail, cross the sole remaining eastbound lane of Ironwood Avenue, which remained open to traffic, and take the measurement from the left-hand turn pocket. As Gutzwiller attempted to take the measurement from the survey marks, Cesar Rosales pulled his tractor-trailer from the adjacent parcel of land into the left-hand turn pocket and stopped at a traffic signal in the left-hand turn pocket, waiting for the light to change. Gutzwiller then positioned himself in front of, or immediately adjacent to, the rear wheels of Rosales’ empty trailer in order to take the measurement, but about the same time, the light turned green and Rosales proceeded forward to execute his left-hand turn. As a result, the rear wheels of the trailer caught Gutzwiller’s right foot as he attempted to step away, throwing him to the ground. As he fell, Gutzwiller put out his left hand, but ended up slamming face first into the roadway. Gutzwiller sued Rosales; Rosales’ employer, Pipeline Carriers Inc.; Almasri; and the city of Moreno Valley. Gutzwiller alleged that Rosales was negligent in the operation of the tractor-trailer and that Pipeline Carriers was vicariously liable for Rosales’ actions. He also alleged that Almasri and the city failed to provide him with a safe working environment. Almasri and the city were ultimately removed from the case via the granting of a summary judgment, which was not opposed by Gutzwiller. Thus, the matter continued against Almasri and the city only. Gutzwiller’s counsel contended that Rosales failed to notice Gutzwiller prior to moving the tractor-trailer forward, causing the accident. The plaintiffs’ trucking expert testified that a truck driver has a duty, not only to look forward at an intersection while waiting at a red light, but to look in his side view mirrors before moving his rig from a stopped position. Rosales’ counsel disputed the testimony of the plaintiffs’ trucking expert, and argued that there was no evidence to support the claim that Rosales failed the alleged duty to notice Gutzwiller. Counsel added that not a single published regulation, ordinance or law imposes such a duty on a driver–commercial or otherwise. Furthermore, Rosales’ counsel argued that because most trucks have trailers built with “vans” to hold cargo, it would be impossible for a truck driver to look between the axles of his/her truck without looking through the van. Rosales’ counsel further argued that Gutzwiller was at fault for the accident, contending that Gutzwiller knowingly entered active traffic lanes and intentionally placed himself directly in front of the rear wheels of the tractor-trailer with the knowledge that the trailer would be rolling forward within seconds. In addition, counsel contended that Gutzwiller did nothing to warn Rosales of his presence., Gutzwiller sustained a severe nasal fracture and bilateral fractures of the orbits of both eyes. He also sustained a fractured jaw with extensive broken teeth and probable dislocation of the jaw, a right foot fracture, and a fracture involving the proximal metacarpal phalanx in his left, non-dominant hand. Also, significantly, the head trauma caused a subdural hematoma and hemorrhage to the brain, resulting in permanent brain damage. As a result, Gutzwiller was taken to the emergency room at Riverside Community Hospital in Riverside for treatment. He later went to Casa Colina Hospital’s Acute Care Rehabilitation Center in Pomona, a reputable rehabilitation facility, where he underwent extensive in-house rehabilitation. Gutzwiller has since made a good recovery from his . However, he claimed he was left with profound, life-altering, residual problems. His medical bills had all been paid by his worker’s compensation carrier, and it was stipulated that the medical bills paid up to the date of trial amounted to approximately $500,000. Gutzwiller also sought recovery of damages for his future medical costs, lost earnings, and past and future pain and suffering. In addition, his wife, LaVonne Gutzwiller, sought recovery of damages for her loss of consortium. Thus, plaintiffs’ counsel asked the jury to award the Gutzwillers $15 million to $20 million in total damages. It was agreed that Mr. Gutzwiller’s were extensive, and his and treatment were largely undisputed.
Superior Court of San Bernardino County, San Bernardino, CA

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