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Family Settles With Caltrans For Almost $1 Million

This personal injury case settled for $950,000 one week before trial, “on the courthouse steps.” A family of four from Sonoma County was driving south on highway 101 when a large Acacia tree fell on their moving SUV. The tree crushed the roof and injured the families’ dad who was driving, and mom who was the front seat passenger. Two small children were in the rear seat area and were not injured.

Through expert witness analysis we were able to determine that the 30 foot tall tree, a mere 8 feet from the edge of the highway on the Caltrans right-of-way, was really one of four stalks that grew from a single root system. Extensive discovery, including document reviews and depositions, established that approximately 8 years before the incident a Caltrans crew cut and removed one of the stalks that had decay, but allowed the subject stalk or tree to remain. Over time, the decay spread and killed most of the interior of the subject tree thereby weakening it. A gust of wind caused the decayed tree to fall onto the highway at just the wrong time for the traveling family.

The case was prosecuted pursuant to California’s Government Code section 835 – Dangerous Condition of Public Property – which was alleged to have been created by the acts and omissions of Caltrans employees. Simply put, when the decayed tree or stalk was removed 8 years prior, the other trees with the common root system should have been removed, and if this had occurred, the accident would not have happened. It was negligent management of public property.

A large medical lien was reduced through negotiation by 80%, which was instrumental in achieving the good settlement.