Audrey Aguilar, Gerardo Aguilar, Irene Taffolla, Gail Romero and Nicanor Romero v. State of California, by and through the Department of Transportation; Tricor America, Inc. – $22M

Personal Injury & Wrongful Death

Case Summary:

A personal injury case involving the dangerous condition of public property and negligence resulting in wrongful death and catastrophic life changing injuries.

This case involved multiple plaintiffs represented by three law firms in a consolidated action. Partners Vincent J. Bartolotta, Jr. and Brett J. Schrieber represented plaintiffs Irene Taffeta, Gail Romero and Nicanor Romero. This case involved a head-on collision on Route 78 caused by a dangerous pavement edge drop resulting from a failure by CalTrans to “shoulder back” the roadway. A vehicle driven by an employee of Tricor America encountered the dangerous edge drop, and in his struggle to regain control of his vehicle at 60 mph swerved across the center line, and collided with the vehicle containing our clients. One client, a six-year old girl was rendered a paraplegic and the other children suffered severe to moderate life changing injuries. CalTrans offered $500,000.00 prior to the trial. The jury awarded the victims a total of $22.67 million.

Plaintiffs’ & Cross-Complainants’ Medical Expert Witnesses:
John Landerville, Momentum Engineering (Accident Recon)
Dale TenBrock (Maintenance)
Edward Ruzak (Traffic Engineering)
John O’Donnell (Civil/Paving Engineering)
Phillip Wang (Photogrammetry)
Dr. Richard Boehme (Biomechanics/Biomedical)
Dr. Rick Gill (Human Factors)
Dennis Carlson (Tire Forensics)

Dr. Mark McDonough (Neuropsych for Gail Romero)
Dr. Jeffrey Smith (Ortho Surgery for Gail Romero)
Dr. Walt Strausser (Rehab Medicine for Gail Romero)

Dr. Nancy Markel (Neuropsych for Audrey Aguilar)
Dr. Calvin Colarusso (Peds Psych for Audrey Aguilar)
Dr. Amy Magnusson (Adult Physiatry for Audrey Aguilar)
Dr. Andrew Skalsky (Peds Physiatry for Audrey Aguilar)
Dr. Sarah Framptom (Educational Psychologist for Audrey Aguilar)
Dr. Robert Hall (Vocational Rehab for Audrey Aguilar)
Doreen Casuto (Life Care Planner for Audrey Aguilar)

Dr. Maya Pring (Ortho Surgery for Irene Taffolla)

Liz Holakiewicz (Life Care Planner for Gail Romero and Audrey Aguilar)

Roberta Spoon, CPA (Economist for all plaintiffs

Defendants’ Expert Witnesses:
Merkel Weiss, Accident Recon
Ken Berner, Traffic Engineering
John Brault, Biomechanics
Dr. Timothy Rhoades, Human Factors
Geoffrey Rowe, Civil/Paving Engineering
Tom Giapponi, Tire Forensics

Dr. Dean Delis, Neuropsych
Stacey Helvin, Life Care Planner
Dr. Raymond Vance, Orthopedics
Dr. Saul Levine, Physiatry
Dr. Steve Molina, Voc Rehab
Laura Fuchs Dolan, Economist

Defendant Insurance: Self-insured

Date, Time and Place of Incident(s):
August 28, 2012; State Route 78 between Santa Ysabel and Julian in North San Diego County

Facts and Background:

In the summer of 2011 a paving resurfacing project was performed by Caltrans on State Route 78 between Santa Ysabel and Julian in North San Diego County. As a consequence of the paving overlay, a dangerous pavement edge drop measuring approximately 4” was left on the north edge of the roadway. Prior to the overlay, Caltrans had “shoulder backed” the south edge of the roadway such that a smooth transition existed between the edge of roadway and edge of shoulder but for reasons unknown Caltrans never performed shoulder backing on the north edge of the roadway. For fourteen months, the condition was ignored by Caltrans.

On August 28, 2012, a vehicle driven by an employee of Tricor America Inc., Francisco Perez, was performing his duties as a commercial courier when his vehicle left the travel way of the two lane road and encountered the dangerous edge drop. Mr. Perez attempted to remount but due to his speed of over 60 mph (on a road with posted limit of 55 mph) and the depth of the drop he struggled to remount for approximately 2 seconds. When the vehicle remounted it shot across the center line and collided head-on with plaintiffs’ vehicle which was carrying 8 occupants in seven seats.

The driver of the Plainitiffs’ vehicle, Mary Helen Aguilar was instantly killed. The front seat passenger Gail Romero was seriously injured. The rear occupants – Jennifer and Camryn Aguilar (two of Mary Helen’s children in the vehicle) were instantly killed. Plaintiffs Audrey Aguilar, 6 years old, and her sister, Irene Taffolla, 13 years old, were belted together in the same seat and suffered serious injuries. Audrey was rendered a paraplegic in the collision. Two other occupants of the van – young cousins of the family – suffered mild to moderate injuries. The driver of the Tricor vehicle was also killed in the impact.

In a consolidated action, Plaintiffs sued Caltrans for a dangerous condition of public property, and Tricor America Inc. for the negligence of its driver. Initially, Plaintiffs also sued the paving contractor Granite Construction Company but they were dismissed from the lawsuit after entry of summary judgment in their favor on the basis that Caltrans had completed and accepted Granite’s work.

After extensive discovery, including over 120 depositions, Plaintiffs entered into a settlement with Tricor America, Inc. for payment of its insurance policy proceeds of $5 million in consideration for Tricor staying in the case through trial to seek indemnity/contribution from Caltrans.

A seven week trial commenced on August 11, 2014 and a verdict was returned on September 30, 2014.

Plaintiff’s Contentions, Allegations:
Caltrans created and maintained a dangerous condition of public property that was a substantial factor in causing all of the injuries and losses suffered by the Plaintiffs.

Injuries and/or Damages:
Plaintiff Audrey Aguilar presented past and future medical expenses in excess of $10 million, along with the wrongful death claims for the loss of her mother, Mary Helen Aguilar. Plaintiff Gerardo Aguilar sought wrongful death damages for the death of his children, Jennifer and Camryn Aguilar.

Gail Romero presented past and future medical expenses totaling approximately $660,000. Her husband Nic Romero sought recovery for his loss of consortium

Plantiff Irene Taffolla presented medical expenses of approximately $70,000 along with wrongful death claims for the loss of her mother Mary Helen Aguilar.

Plaintiff Mercedes Perez, the mother of the deceased Tricor driver, sought damages for the wrongful death of her adult son.

Caltrans denied that the roadway was in a dangerous condition at the time of the collision. Caltrans argued that it acted reasonably in not repairing the dangerous pavement edge drop off until 55 days post-collision and contended the collision was solely caused by the negligence of Tricor’s driver Mr. Perez. Caltrans further vigorously disputed the nature and extent of all of plaintiffs’ damages. Caltrans further contended that decedent Mary Helen Aguilar was negligent with respect to the seat belting of her children, Audrey Aguilar and Irene Taffolla, as well as the belting of Jennifer and Camryn Aguilar in the rear of the vehicle.

Plaintiff Audrey Aguilar sent Caltrans a CCP 998 demand for $9,999,999.00 prior to trial. Plaintiffs Gail Romero and Irene Taffolla each sent CCP 998 demands to Caltrans for $1 million each prior to trial.

For Audrey Aguilar:
Past and future medical expenses and earnings losses: $7.78 million
Past and future pain and suffering: $4 million
Wrongful Death: $3 million

For Gerardo Aguilar:
Wrongful Death: $1.5 million

For Irene Taffolla:
For past and future medical expenses: $72,000
For past and future pain and suffering: $800,000
Wrongful Death: $3 million

For Gail Romero:
For past and future medical expenses: $667,000
For past and future pain and suffering: $1.5 million

For Nic Romero:
For loss of consortium: $350,000

For Mercedes Perez (mother of deceased Tricor Driver)
Wrongful Death: $850,000

Total verdicton behalf of all Plaintiffs was over $22.67 million.

After offsets/credits for prior settlements and for the 50/50 comparative fault the jury found between Caltrans and the Tricor driver, the total judgment will be in excess of $15 million.

Caltrans best and final pre-trial offer to all plaintiffs was $500,000.

The jury also found that there was no negligence on behalf of Mary Helen Aguilar with respect to seat belting of minors in the vehicle.

Attorney for client:
Vincent J. Bartolotta Jr. and Brett J. Schreiber for Plaintiffs Irene Taffolla, Gail Romero and Nicanor Romero
Dennis Schoville of Law Offices of Dennis Schoville and Juan Ordaz of Ordaz Law for Plaintiffs Audrey Aguilar and Gerardo Aguilar
Richard Bisetti of Magana Cathcart &McCarthy for Mercedes Perez

Attorney for defendant: Karen Bilotti & Lindsay Van Housen of Caltrans Legal for Caltrans.

Attorney for cross-complainant:
Nelse Miller and Ian Schuler of Lorber Greenfield and Polito for Tricor America, Inc.

Civil Trial Lawyers