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Family of paralyzed worker settles Caltrans suit for $37 million

Men and women who work along our roads and freeways have some of the most dangerous jobs in the state. In addition to working with potentially dangerous equipment, they're often at the mercy of California drivers who are negligent or reckless. In one case that was just settled, however, the California Department of Transportation (Caltrans) was determined to be at fault for a tragic accident rather than the driver.

The case involved a 20-year-old man who was working on a Caltrans wiring project in Eureka in 2011. The young man was in a trench on the shoulder of Highway 101 around 1:00 a.m., when a driver struck him. He was left with what's known as "locked in" syndrome." He's completely paralyzed and unable to communicate, but he still retains consciousness and awareness of his surroundings.

After appealing a Humboldt County jury's decision to pay the victim $57 million two years ago, Caltrans recently agreed to settle the family's lawsuit against them for $37 million. The jury determined that while the driver was negligent, 100% of the blame for the accident belonged to Caltrans.

According to the attorneys representing the family, a Caltrans engineer on site refused to allow a backhoe to be parked where it would block the lane and prevent the kind of thing that happened. Instead, a traffic light was placed at the site. However, it was positioned in such a way that it blinded drivers.

The appellate court upheld most of the original jury's findings but ordered a new jury trial to determine whether the driver should bear any legal responsibility. It was at that point that Caltrans and the family reached the $37 million settlement.

The original jury award included compensation to cover medical expenses, lost wages and nonfinancial suffering. The settlement provides less for noneconomic damages. However, one of the family's attorneys said that it "will help ensure that [the young man] will receive the 24/7 medical care he requires." The money will also help pay for technology that will allow the young man to communicate through eye movements.

It can be challenging to determine who's at fault for workplace injuries -- particularly when there may be outside factors like negligent members of the public. Experienced attorneys can work to determine who can and should be held liable so that victims and their families get the financial support they need.

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