Injured Teen to Get $9 Million in Guardrail Crash
The Daily Journal
By Cortney Fielding – Staff Writer
March 17, 2008
LOS ANGELES – The state has agreed to pay $9 million to a teenage girl who lost both legs after crashing her car into a broken guardrail along Interstate 10 in 2006.
Priscilla Contreras was 16 when a jagged metal railing ripped through the driver’s-side door and rendered the high school senior a double amputee.
The protective barrier had been damaged in an accident the previous day and was awaiting repair.
The settlement, finalized last week, ends a two-year legal tug-of-war with the state over buried accident reports. That battle continued until the day the trial was set to begin. Contreras v. State of California, BC 365948 (L.A. Super. Ct., decided March 6, 2008).
Contreras was driving home on Interstate 10 in Los Angeles, just east of the junction with Interstate 710, when she lost control of her car and hit the railing. The cause of the car accident was never established.
Contreras’ lawyer, Kevin Boyle of Panish Shea and Boyle in Los Angeles, said that if the railing had been intact and smooth-sided, it would have stopped her car from propelling forward, as it was designed to do.
“Everything would have been fine,” he said. “Instead, it speared her.”
In February 2006, the Contreras family filed a lawsuit against the state and Caltrans, blaming the agency for creating a dangerous condition of public property and failing to repair it. The family also alleged the state failed to warn unsuspecting drivers of the dangerous situation. They sought unspecified damages.
Boyle said an ignored work order proved to be a key piece of evidence. The order was from a Caltrans manager who called for the immediate repair of the guardrail after the initial accident the day before. The lawyer said Caltrans’ lack of response to the order amounted to negligence.
Caltrans lawyer Ruth Yeager could not be reached for comment.
Boyle said another key piece of evidence was a batch of reports on 20 injury accidents that had occurred over two years at the location where Contreras was injured.
During the discovery process, Boyle said, the family sought reports but the state declined to cooperate.
Ultimately, the trial court ordered the state to produce the accident reports. The state appealed, but the motion was denied.
When Caltrans eventually turned over the reports, the case proceeded to trial.
A settlement was reached on the morning the trial was to begin. It is one of the largest payouts in an amputee case in the state.
Contreras, now 19, was recovering from surgery this week and declined comment.
Boyle said the settlement will allow her to purchase top-of-the-line prosthetic limbs.
“Now she’ll be able to get nice ones,” he said. “Before, she had the cheapest of the cheap.”
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