A jury awarded $6.72 million last month in a case arising out of a 2008 multi-vehicle crash in Orange County, Calif. The state was found to be partially at fault in the case. One driver was severely injured and a young father was killed in the crash. The estate of Modesto Palafox-Munoz, then 26, was awarded $4 million. The jurors found William Clifford, the driver of the tractor-trailer that rear-ended a vehicle, causing a chain reaction collision, 70% liable. The state Department of Transportation was found to be 30% at fault.
The crash occurred during rush hour traffic at about 7:00 a.m. on an interstate highway on September 4, 2008. David Tremper, a Texas resident, was severely injured when his car was forced off the highway and into a bridge abutment. He was awarded $2.7 million by the jury. Trial testimony revealed that a service patrol operator for the state DOT, whose job was to spot debris and keep the highway clear of obstructions, had parked his vehicle partially on the shoulder and partially in the right lane of the highway. Debris, which was described as a four-foot muffler and tailpipe or a drive shaft, was scattered across the center and left lanes of the highway. The DOT truck had positioned itself in the only open lane of traffic.
As the traffic moved to avoid hitting the DOT truck, as well as the debris, the tractor-trailer driven by Clifford, first hit Tremper’s car, then hit the car in which Palafox-Munoz was a back-seat passenger, pushing that vehicle into a Bobcat truck engine. The jury found the DOT driver to be unfamiliar with the Department’s training manual. He was also found to have “re-routed traffic in an unsafe way.” The public was given inadequate advance warning of the need to switch lanes. Marisa Bellair of the New Haven, Conn. law firm of Lynch, Traub, Keefe and Errante represented the Palafox-Munoz family. Timothy Pothin, a lawyer with Stratton Faxon, also located in New Haven, represented David Tremper. Each of these lawyers did a very good job for their respective clients. The state has said it will appeal.
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