$9.85 Million Settlement Reached During Jury Trial for Catastrophic Injuries in Car Crash on Highway Shoulder

Rosalina Dionisio, 62, was driving home from work on the highway when her car suddenly lost electrical power. She was able to drive the car to the far right lane, but as she attempted to pull her car off the road, she discovered that the overgrown bushes took up most of the shoulder. That left her very little room on the shoulder and off the highway. Although she pulled off the road as far as she could, half of her car still was on the highway.

About 9 minutes after she stopped her car, another motorist, Stephen Taylor, moved into the right lane to exit the highway. Allegedly he saw her car ahead of him but failed to realize that part of the car was in his lane. Taylor’s car struck Dionisio’s car while travelling at 70 mph.

As a result of the crash, she suffered multiple injuries, including brain hemorrhaging, a spinal fracture at T2, fractures to her pelvis, sacrum, ribs and left humorous of her arm. She also had pulmonary contusions, a lacerated kidney and a torn left rotator cuff. Dionisio underwent open reduction internal fixation of the spine, pelvis and arm.

As a result of the brain injury and spinal fracture, she suffered partial paralysis, including some paralysis of her vocal cords, which has affected her speech.

Dionisio incurred about $1.8 million in medical expenses. Her future medical expenses and life-care costs are estimated at between $3-$4 million. At the time of the crash, she was working for the U.S. Postal Service. Dionisio is now permanently disabled.

Along with her husband, she filed a lawsuit against the State of California alleging that Caltrans, the state agency responsible for highway maintenance, chose not to properly maintain the shoulder where she was seriously injured. It is alleged that the state had the duty to trim back the bushes but because of the overgrowth it made her ability to park her disabled vehicle on the shoulder impossible.

The lawsuit also asserted that the shoulder was designed in the 1960s to include bushes and an irrigation system, but that the bushes had been allowed to be overgrown, leaving insufficient space for a motorist to pull safely onto the shoulder.

The plaintiffs presented Google Earth photographs and Caltrans photo logs showing that the overgrowth had existed since at least 2005; seven years before this incident.

State highway maintenance records showed that the Caltrans workers had been at the location where this crash took place hundreds of times in the 7 years leading up to the collision, but had never trimmed the overgrown bushes.

The Caltrans maintenance superintendent testified at trial that he called the landscape supervisor more than a year before the incident to request that the bushes be trimmed. Nothing was done.

The plaintiffs also claimed in their lawsuit against Taylor that he was negligent for choosing not to notice that her car was partly in his lane and he was also negligent by failing to avoid crashing into her vehicle.

The state maintained that Taylor was solely at fault for the collision, referring to eyewitness testimony by other motorists that Dionisio’s car was visible from 1,000 feet back before Taylor’s car hit it. The state also argued that because her car was on the side of the road for 9 minutes before the collision, other motorists passed her vehicle and avoided hitting it.

During the trial, the parties settled for a total of $9.85 million of which the State of California paid $9.75 million, and $100,000 was paid as the policy limits from Stephen Taylor’s insurance policy.

The attorneys representing Rosalina Dionisio and her husband were Roger A. Dreyer and Daniel G. Schneiderman.

Dionisio v. State, No. PM13-356 (Cal. Super. Ct. Yolo County, Feb. 5, 2015).

Kreisman Law Offices has been handling car accident cases, truck crash cases, bicycle accident cases, motorcycle accident cases, premises liability cases, pharmaceutical product defect cases, dietary supplement injury cases and pedestrian accident cases for individuals and families who have been injured or killed by the negligence of another for more than 40 years, in and around Chicago, Cook County and its surrounding areas including, Tinley Park, Skokie, Evanston, Wilmette, Chicago (Lakeview, Lincoln Park, Lincoln Square), University Park and Calumet City, Ill.

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