Valley Press – Crash Victim to Get $10 Million

By Lisa Wahla – Valley Press Palmdale

The family of a girl critically injured in a Highway 138 accident two years ago has settled a lawsuit against Caltrans for approximately $10 Million‚ her lawyer said Friday.

Shankia Lister of Rialto was left a quadriplegic after the July 4‚ 1998‚ crash that caused her mother’s car to careen into the California Aqueduct. Shanika‚ now 11‚ was trapped under water in the car for about 40 minutes while rescuers worked to free her.

The crash occurred when the Listers’ car swerved out of the westbound lane to avoid hitting a man driving toward them in their lane while passing slower cars.

The car‚ driven by Shanika’s mother‚ Vicki Lister‚ hit a dirt berm close to the road‚ causing the car to flip into the aqueduct. In June 1999‚ the Listers sued Caltrans and the driver of the other car‚ Lancaster resident Dennis Bymes.

Attorney Allan Davis said Caltrans was responsible for three factors that contributed to the crash.

Davis’s firm‚ which made headlines with several landmark legal victories‚ joined the case last year after the firm beat Caltrans is a separate dangerous road case.

Davis was prepared to argue that the stretch of road where the crash took place was inappropriately marked as a passing zone‚ because slight hills and valleys limit visibility for drivers attempting to pass.

In addition‚ the berm that caused the car to flip was about eight feet from the road‚ much closer than the required 20-foot “clear-recovery zone‚” Davis said. That zone is supposed to be a flat area next to the traffic lane—20 feet wide along rural roads—that allows drivers who end up outside the lane to correct themselves‚ Davis said.

The third contributing factor‚ he said‚ is that Caltrans had installed the wrong type of guardrail along the bridge spanning the aqueduct. The appropriate guardrail would flare out about 20 feet from the bridge‚ but this guardrail flares out about 6 feet‚ he said.

Since the crash‚ Caltrans has re-striped the section of road to make it a no-passing zone. It also has removed the berm‚ and engineers are studying possible guardrail alterations.

Striping Said Unrelated

Attorney Christopher Hiddleson‚ representing Caltrans‚ said Friday that the re-striping was unrelated to the incident and placed the blame on Byrnes and Lister.

Hiddleson said Byrnes began his lane-change maneuver in a no-passing zone and was driving too fast. Additionally‚ he said‚ Lister was driving too fast and following the car in front of her too closely.

“There were two things‚ the reckless driving of Mr. Byrnes and his illegal passing maneuver‚ and the excessive speed and inattentiveness of Mrs. Lister‚” Hiddleson said. If the guardrail had the longer flare‚ he added‚ Lister’s car would likely have bounced off it and back into oncoming traffic.

“No matter what …there was go to be a bad accident with horrific results‚” Hiddleson said.

Caltrans settled the suit‚ Hiddleson said‚ because “the amount of sympathy and the amount of damages involved were huge.”

Davis estimated the case would have taken several months in court and damages could have reached $20 million to $25 million.

“We felt very confident and predicted our chances for success—and the damage potential—to be very high‚” Davis said in an interview Friday.

Davis’ law firm‚ Robinson Calcagnie‚ Inc. of Newport Beach‚ has won numerous high-profile cases involving catastrophic injury.

In July 1999‚ the firm won what was believed to be the biggest product liability award in history‚ a $4.9 billion award against General Motors.

In that case‚ the jury believed the company was aware of a potentially deadly problem with the plaintiffs’ GM car.

The car had a poorly designed gas tank that burst into flames in a rear-end collision. In that type of collision‚ six passengers were severely burned. The case is being appealed.

Attorneys Best Caltrans

And last March‚ Davis and partner Jeoffrey Robinson won a $10.6 million verdict against Caltrans when a jury agreed that Caltrans was aware that a section of Interstate 15 was hazardous and did not remedy it.

A soft shoulder on the so-called Baker Grade caused the plaintiffs’ car to flip‚ seriously injuring one of the occupants‚ Davis said.

In September‚ the firefighter who saved Shanika’s life was awarded the medal of valor‚ the LA. County Fire Department’s highest honor. Firefighter Specialist Ron McFadden dove into the murky‚ cold‚ 18-foot-deep waters of the aqueduct‚ using a breathing device used when fighting fires.

Shanika‚ who was 9 at the time of the crash‚ is undergoing physical therapy and uses a wheelchair. She can’t speak well and her motor skills were affected by the crash‚ but much of her mental capacity has returned‚ Davis said.

“Her perfect smile won’t quit.” Davis said.

“Her mother is convinced there were angels there that day.”