Desert Dispatch – Caltrans at Fault -$10.6 Million

Tuesday‚ March 14‚ 2000
The Desert Dispatch

By Silvio J. Panta – Desert Dispatch Staff Writer

"It’s really a statement by the jury as to the road conditions…(The verdict) is going to‚ benefit the motorists who use this road."

BARSTOW — A jury has determined Caltrans should pay $10.6 million to a couple after a dangerous road condition on the Baker Grade caused an accident which left the man a paraplegic.

The motorist sued the state agency for failing to improve an 18-mile stretch of Interstate 15 where his car rolled over after the tire hit a vertical drop-off between the pavement and soft shoulder.

Caltrans officials are looking No whether an appeal should be filed in the case‚ Caltrans spokesman Jim Drago said.

"We believe the (Baker Grade) is a safe section of road‚" Drago‚ attributed the cause of most accidents to drivers who become inattentive or fatigued‚" he said.

"That’s a pretty good stretch of road‚" he said. The verdict was handed down Thursday in Barstow Superior Court after a two-month trial about the Dec. 25‚ 1996‚ accident involving San Diego resident Paul Lu and his wife Yu You.

The jury found the department knew the road was in a dangerous condition as far back as the early 1980s and had never taken measures to improve it‚ said Karin Caves‚ plaintiff attorney spokeswoman‚ in a prepared statement.

During the trial‚ plaintiff attorneys Jeoffrey Robinson and Allan Davis said the Baker Grade has 12 times the fatal accident rate of the average road of its type in California. This information was based on Caltrans safety records‚ Caves said.

"When the road was first built in the 1960s‚ the daily traffic volume was approximately 5‚500 cars a day in each direction‚" she said. "Today‚ with Las Vegas booming as a vacation Mecca‚ the road is traveled by‚ more than 30‚000 cars a day."

Lu‚ a research botanist at the University of California‚ Davis‚ was traveling with friends on his way home from the Grand Canyon when the car rolled over. Lu was flung out of the car; Caves said.

The award includes $9.2 million for Lu’s injuries and $1.4 million for his wife‚ who suffered minor injuries‚ in compensatory damages.

"It’s really a statement by the jury as to the road conditions‚" Davis said Monday. "(Caltrans) had known about this for so long. (The verdict) is going to benefit the motorists who use this road."