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Our Clients v. John N. Petersen, Inc., James DenBeste and Jim DenBeste Trucking
$2.265 million settlement in a wrongful death case in Sonoma County for the surviving wife and adult son of a 56-year-old Caltrans construction inspector who was backed over by a dump truck at a highway construction project just outside Willits. Caltrans contracted with defendant John N. Petersen, Inc. to widen and repave US-101 at the Willits Grade Project. During that project, John N. Petersen, Inc., the general contractor from Eureka in Humboldt County, instructed the dump truck drivers delivering asphalt concrete to back from a staging area to the paving equipment approximately ½ mile down the narrow shoulder of northbound US-101. Defendant John N. Petersen, Inc. also instructed the dump truck drivers to not drive over the freshly laid pavement in the two adjacent traffic lanes as they drove along the shoulder around several significant curves in the roadway. Defendant John N. Petersen, Inc. failed to provide a spotter for the dump truck drivers until the trucks got within 300 feet of the paving equipment. A nearby brush fire raised the concern of defendant John N. Petersen, Inc.’s superintendent and chief safety officer of the project, who walked down the shoulder of US-101 with the Caltrans inspector toward the fire to determine whether it presented a hazard to the crew of the project. As they walked down the shoulder side-by-side, defendant James DenBeste, truck driver from Sonoma County, backed his dump truck full of hot asphalt concrete down the same shoulder. The pedestrians never heard the functioning backup alarm on the dump truck due to significant ambient noise from the helicopter and other fire suppression aircraft circling above, the construction equipment, and the public traffic on US-101. Mr. DenBeste never saw the pedestrians and backed over them with his dump truck, instantly killing our clients’ decedent (the Caltrans inspector). Defendant John N. Petersen, Inc. failed to safely manage this US-101 construction project. This settlement appears to exceed the highest reported jury verdict for a wrongful death case in Sonoma County history.