Case details

Truck’s crash into store caused emotional distress: plaintiffs





Result type

Not present

killed, shoulder
On April 1, 2009, at approximately 5:48 p.m., plaintiffs Dana Poag and Melissa Watkins were inside the Flintridge Bookstore and Coffeehouse, located on Foothill Boulevard at the end of Angeles Crest Highway that made up the T-intersection in La Canada Flintridge, when a commercial big rig truck pulling a trailer (carrying three vehicles) and operated Marcos Barbosa Costa crashed into the bookstore. Costa was previously traveling on Angeles Crest Highway, which has a long downgrade as it descends from the San Gabriel Mountains into the city of La Canada Flintridge. However, as the truck descended the grade, its brakes failed and Costa lost control when he found he did not have the ability to slow or stop while traveling at a speed of approximately 55 mph. As the truck reached the roadway’s intersection with the on- and off-ramps for the 210 Freeway, it struck a car exiting the freeway and killed its two occupants, Angel and Angelina Posca, father and daughter. Costa’s truck then continued down the hill. As the truck approached the T-intersection of Angeles Crest Highway and Foothill Boulevard, it struck three other vehicles before crashing into the Flintridge Bookstore and Coffeehouse, causing the truck and trailer to ultimately come to rest inside the bookstore. In addition to the deaths, occupants of the other three vehicles and two people in the bookstore claimed physical and/or psychological . The injured parties and the families of the decedents brought separate suits against Costa; the company that contracted Costa to drive the truck, Adonai & Associates LLC; the believed maintainers of the roadway, the state of California/Department of Transportation (Caltrans) and the county of Los Angeles; and the manufacturer of the GPS system inside Costa’s truck, Garmin International Socal. The parties alleged that Costa was negligent for losing control of his truck and causing the accident that resulted in two people’s wrongful death, and that Adonai & Associates were vicariously liable for Costa’s actions. The parties also alleged that Garmin was negligent in the design and/or manufacturing of the GPS product inside Costa’s vehicle. They claimed that an error with Costa’s Garmin GPS led him to Angeles Crest Highway, since Costa was provided with directions that included a mountainous route that was very dangerous for a truck and trailer of that magnitude. In addition, the parties alleged that the county and Caltrans had negligently designed and/or maintained the roadway, creating a dangerous condition of public property. The separate actions were to be consolidated for trial, but several of the plaintiff parties settled out. Garmin and the county were also ultimately dropped from the case. Thus, the matter continued with the claims of Poag and Watkins, who were in the bookstore at the time of the crash, against Costa, Adonai & Associates, and Caltrans. Counsel for Poag and Watkins asserted that Caltrans did not maintain the safety of the subject highway and intersection, creating a dangerous condition. Counsel contended that there were no escape routes for out-of-control trucks that had lost their brakes, which is why Costa could not stop — his brakes failed because his heavy load prohibited him from being on the very steep road. Plaintiffs’ counsel also contended that similar accidents had happened in La Canada some 10 times before over the last 50 years, the most recent being an onion truck that lost its brakes and drove through a restaurant parking lot adjacent to Flintridge Bookstore. Counsel asserted that CalTrans knew of the dangerous condition, but did nothing about it. Thus, counsel accused the state of never enforcing the restrictions or putting up proper signs to warn truckers of the steep road. CalTrans contended that the brakes on Costa’s truck were defective and unsafe, and that the truck should not have been driven on any road, particularly a mountain road. It claimed that after Costa began driving on the mountain road, his brakes began smoking and he was warned by another motorist to turn around before climbing to a higher elevation. However, CalTrans claimed Costa ignored the warning and poured water on his brakes to cool them down, setting the stage for massive brake failure as he descended down from the mountains on Angeles Crest Highway. In addition, CalTrans contended that the highway was safe when used with due care and that it was open and obvious that the roadway was mountainous and required a motorist to check his brakes before continuing on the roadway., Poag claimed she was knocked down from the impact of Costa crashing into the store, but that she was not seriously injured in the crash. However, she claimed she injured her shoulder while attempting to rescue a person trapped in a room of the building that was hit by the truck. Thus, she sought recovery of roughly $270,000 in medical costs. Watkins claimed she suffered some loss of hearing as a result of the impact and sought recovery of her medical expenses. In addition, both Poag and Watkins claimed they suffered post-traumatic stress disorder and psychological disorders as a result of the accident. Thus, they sought recovery of general damages for their respective mental anguish and emotional distress. CalTrans’ counsel contended that Poag had pre-existing mental issues. However, Poag countered that although it was true that she had a pre-existing mental condition, her issues were exacerbated by the accident.
Superior Court of Los Angeles County, Los Angeles, CA

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