As 2018 comes to a close, Kern County’s leading accident, injury and workers’ compensation law firm Chain | Cohn | Stiles takes a look back at noteworthy resolved cases, some of which you may have seen in local media.
Wrongful Death: $3.4 Million
In April, Chain | Cohn | Stiles reached a settlement with the County of Kern on behalf of the family of a motorcyclist who was killed in 2015 when a Kern County Sheriff’s patrol car abruptly made a turn against a red light directly into his path.
The crash involving 59-year-old Larry Maharrey garnered media attention as it was the fourth fatality in as many years involving a Sheriff’s Office patrol vehicle.
The parties agreed to a $3.8 million settlement in the wrongful death lawsuit.
“These are tragic cases where you have individuals who are completely innocent who were killed in traffic collisions. Those are the types of accidents that shouldn’t happen, especially involving officers who are trained to protect these very same people,” said Matt Clark, Chain | Cohn | Stiles attorney for the family.
On July 14, 2015, Maharrey was driving his motorcycle eastbound on Norris Road in Oildale, when the deputy abruptly made a left turn against a red light onto Airport Drive directly into Maharrey’s path. Maharrey was unable to avoid the collision with the patrol vehicle, and died as a result of the crash.
The California Highway Patrol determined that Sgt. Marvin Gomez and Maharrey did not become visible to each other until 0.87 seconds before the collision because other vehicles blocked their view. CHP had recommended a misdemeanor vehicular manslaughter charge against Gomez, but the District Attorney’s office declined to file a criminal charge. Chain | Cohn | Stiles contends that Deputy Gomez violated KCSO policies and procedures by failing to pre-clear the intersection before turning left against a red light.
Maharrey’s death came at the heels of another wrongful death lawsuit filed by Chain | Cohn | Stiles on behalf of the family of Nancy Garrett, who was struck and killed by KCSO deputy Nicholas Clerico in 2014, also in the Oildale area. This case is ongoing. Less than four years before Maharrey’s death, Daniel Hiler and Chrystal Jolley were killed when Kern County sheriff’s deputy John Swearengin struck and killed them as they pushed a motorcycle across Norris Road. Swearengin was traveling at more than 80 mph in a 45-mph zone, without activating his emergency lights or siren. The case, also represented by Chain | Cohn | Stiles, settled in March 2014 for $8.8 million.
For more than 20 years, Maharrey worked for Golden State Drilling as a diesel mechanic. At his vigil, friends and family described him as “a good man” who would do anything for anyone in need. He especially enjoyed fishing and, of course, riding his motorcycle.
In another case involving law enforcement, Chain | Cohn | Stiles resolved in 2018 a wrongful death case on behalf of the family of Donald Hill, a 30-year-old Central Valley man who died in December after being restrained by police officers.
Hill, a civilian employee at Naval Base San Diego, died on Dec. 31, 2016 while he was being restrained by Lemoore police officers near the 1100 block of Pine Court. A “spit hood” was placed over Hill’s head, he was restrained chest down with weight on his back, and he vomited and stopped breathing. After he became unresponsive, he was transported to Adventist Medical Center in Hanford, where he was pronounced dead.
Trucking Accidents: $3 Million
Jesus Garcia-Santana was travelling on Highway 101 just north of Paso Robles to his son’s home in Bakersfield when his car became inoperable. He pulled to the side of the road, exited his car, opened the hood, and called for assistance. He then sat in his car on the passenger side, and waited for help. As he waited, a Stevens Trucking tractor pulling two trailers full of carrots veered onto the shoulder and struck Garcia-Santana’s car. As a result, Garcia-Santana suffered significant life-threatening injuries.
Chain | Cohn | Stiles has filed negligence claim, alleging that the truck driver was not paying attention, not scanning the road ahead of him, when he overreacted to a car changing lanes in front of him. In November, the case settled for $3 million.
In another big-rig accident case that settled for $3 million in 2018 (Medeiros v. Triple T Trucking, Inc.), our plaintiffs were in a pickup truck on Highway 99 that slowed to a stop due to a lane closure, and was rear-ended.
Motorcycle Accident: $3.4 Million
Jason Travis Harvey, 42, was riding his motorcycle near Wible and Planz Roads in southwest Bakersfield when a California Water Service pulled out in front of Harvey, and the motorcycle his the side of the pickup. He was rushed to the hospital where he later died.
Chain | Cohn | Stiles resolved the motorcycle accident, wrongful death case for $2.4 million.
Premises Liability: $2.3 Million
Russell Lester and Bryan Walls were attending a party on Fourth of July 2014 in west Bakersfield, celebrating our nation’s independence and wedding reception. By the end of the night, they were in local hospitals.
The two arrived at the party where party-goers were allegedly setting off illegal fireworks and explosives. Lester and Walls were asked to hold the balloons while they were filled with acetylene gas, which is very unstable, highly flammable gas. The balloons were being taped to a pole when they exploded. It’s possible static electricity ignited them.
Four people were severely injured in the blast, including Lester and Walls. The two suffered burns to their face, chest and arms. Lester lost all the hearing in his right ear and partial hearing in his left ear, and lost peripheral vision in his left eye. Walls suffered hearing loss, too, and Lester’s burns were so severe that he was taken to a Fresno burn center.
In June 2018, Chain | Cohn | Stiles resolved the premises liability case for $2.3 million.
Elder Abuse / Neglect
Chain | Cohn | Stiles resolved several elder abuse and neglect cases, including one case that received media attention.
Chain | Cohn | Stiles filed a lawsuit against Valley Convalescent Hospital in Bakersfield on behalf of the family of an 80-year-old patient who died as a result of neglect at the facility. Robert Hopkins fell from his bed in February while housed at the facility after a nursing assistant failed to ensure a guard rail was properly set. He suffered a fracture in his vertebrae below the skull, spent a week in the hospital, returned to Valley Convalescent Hospital on Feb. 28, and died the following day.
The California Department of Public Health determined Hopkins’ death was a result of his fall. The Department fined the facility $100,000 and it received the most severe penalty under California law (Class AA Citation). Chain | Cohn | Stiles filed an elder neglect and wrongful death lawsuit on behalf of Hopkins’ family.
The case resolved in June for $450,000.