An elderly couple was awarded $11.6 million recently by a jury that found a lack of safety measures on a remote highway had caused the husband to crash into an embankment. Seventy-nine year old Cletus Schmidt was left a paraplegic and is ventilator-dependent as a result of the 2006 accident. The jury found the State Department of Transportation to be at fault and awarded damages to Mr. Schmidt and his seventy-seven year old wife, Marlene Schmidt. The jury found the state agency 90% responsible for the crash and Mr. Schmidt, a retired lawyer, 10% responsible. Mr. Schmidt was on his way to Lake Havasu, Ariz., where he often went to spend time with his four children and ten grandchildren. He was driving his Ford Crown Victoria along Highway 62 when he crashed where that highway intersects with another highway. It was very dark and that road is an isolated road with no traffic lights or overhead lights at the intersection.
Mr. Schmidt was left in a coma for more than two months. He suffered several broken bones, including some in his neck and back. He also suffered significant neurological damage. Evidence was presented during the three-week trial to show missing safety features, such as a sign warning of the end of the road or rumble strips on the pavement, created a dangerous condition. Caltrans’ records show those features were in place at one time, but the agency failed to maintain or replace them.
There had been eight crashes at that very intersection in the 21 months prior to this accident. Five months after this lawsuit was filed, some of the safety mechanisms were replaced – including a larger stop sign and a two-way arrow warning drivers they have to turn. Also, the intersection is now a three-way stop. Significantly, there have been no incidents at the intersection since the safety measures were installed.
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