RED BLUFF, Calif.--(EON: Enhanced Online News)--A Tehama County Superior Court jury has found the Department of Transportation for the State of California (Caltrans) liable for creating a dangerous condition that took the life of truck driver Chad Walker and seriously injured his driving partner Jerry Kline. The jury also exonerated Mr. Walker by determining he was not at fault for the fatal collision between his truck and a bridge support column on northbound I-5 at the Sunset Hills overcrossing. Mr. Walker’s heirs were represented at trial by Jason Sigel of Dreyer Babich Buccola Wood Campora, LLP. Mr. Kline was represented by Leland Aiken of Aiken & Jacobsen.
In the early morning hours of June 28, 2012, 47-year-old Chad Walker was driving a fully loaded tractor trailer northbound on I-5 in Tehama County, just north of Red Bluff, through a Caltrans construction zone. As he approached the Sunset Hills overcrossing, Mr. Walker allowed his truck to drift to the right and strike the overpass’s support structure. Mr. Walker was killed in the collision and Mr. Kline suffered injuries to his neck, shoulder, and arm.
At trial, Plaintiff contended that the roadway was in a dangerous condition due to the elimination of all recovery space to the right of the number two lane. Caltrans defended on the grounds that 120,000 trucks passed under the overcrossing without colliding with it in the 30 days prior to the Walker collision.
Caltrans never made a pre-trial offer and the case went to trial against Caltrans and Tullis, Inc. – the contractor who won the bid to build the project. Plaintiff discovered before trial that Tullis’s vice president had voiced concerns to Caltrans of the danger of running truck traffic on what had previously been the road’s shoulder. The normal travel lanes on I-5 are sloped at 2%. However, the shoulders are sloped at 5% to facilitate drainage. The effect of using what was previously the shoulder for a travel lane was to lean the truck traffic in towards the overcrossing support structures.
Approximately 11 hours before the Walker crash, there was another collision between a tractor trailer and the bridge support structure at the same location. Within two hours of the first collision Caltrans made the decision, based on safety concerns that another similar collision could occur, to bring the shoulder up to 2%. Between the time that decision was made at 5 p.m. and Mr. Walker’s collision at 2 a.m. the following morning, Caltrans did nothing to warn truck drivers of the danger.
Caltrans maintained its position that the collision was entirely Mr. Walker’s fault and argued that if Tullis had believed that there was a dangerous condition, they should have taken the actions necessary to remediate it when Caltrans refused to do so. Tullis, Inc. was found as a matter of law not to be responsible for the collision and the case went to the jury solely on the question of Caltrans’ liability and the comparative fault of Mr. Walker.
After a two week trial the jury returned a verdict finding Caltrans 100% at fault and exonerating Mr. Walker. “It has taken more than four years for Chad’s widow and his four children to get closure. The family is proud of this Tehama County jury for having the courage to hold the state responsible for what it did and to let the world know that Chad Walker didn’t do anything wrong,” said the Walker’s attorney Jason Sigel after the verdict. “The engineer who designed this construction zone testified that he’d do it the same way tomorrow. I hope Caltrans listens to this verdict and makes sure that never happens again in Tehama County or anywhere else in California,” Sigel said.
Caltrans was represented by Bruce McGagin from its legal department and John Haluck from Roseville. Tim Nisson from Redding represented Tullis, Inc.
Walker, et al. v. Department of Transportation for the State of
California, et al.
Superior Court of California, County of Tehama
Case No.: 68341 Lead (Consolidated with 68356; 68423)
Hon. Richard Scheuler, Dept. 4