$395,000: Garden Grove Police Motorcycle Officer Cut off by California Highway Patrol Motorcycle
June 8, 2010
A Garden Grove Police Officer was riding his motorcycle in the HOV lane of the southbound 55 Freeway when a CHP Motorcycle Officer, who was riding his CHP motorcycle, swerved in front of the Garden Grove Officer, forcing the Garden Grove Officer to brake hard and swerve left, resulting in his colliding with a car also traveling in the HOV lane. Both men were on duty at the time of this accident.
RESULT: $395,000 settlement
On June 26, 2006, on the southbound State Route 55 Freeway, north of the Collins Avenue overcrossing, Plaintiff, a Garden Grove Police Officer, was traveling southbound on SR 55 in the HOV lane of traffic on his motorcycle. According to the Officer’s deposition testimony, as well as an eyewitness statement and testimony, the Garden Grove Officer was traveling between 30 and 45 miles per hour when suddenly, and without warning, the Defendant CHP Motorcycle Officer, who was traveling on his CHP-issued motorcycle, pulled directly in front of the Garden Grove Officer while traveling at approximately 10 miles per hour. It bears noting that an independent eyewitness to the entire sequence of events definitively testified that he never saw the CHP Motorcycle Officer look over his left shoulder to check his “blind spot” before cutting off the Plaintiff.
In order to avoid colliding with the CHP Motorcycle Officer, Plaintiff immediately braked and swerved to the left. This movement forced Plaintiff into a red Pontiac Sunbird that was in the HOV lane. As described by both Plaintiff and an eyewitness, Plaintiff was thrown over the handlebars of his motorcycle and onto the asphalt in lanes of traffic.
As a result of this collision, the CHP initially determined that Plaintiff caused the collision for driving at an unsafe speed (Vehicle Code section 22350) and for driving in the buffer zone (Vehicle Code section 21651(a). The Defendant CHP Motorcycle Officer was found to be an associated factor in causing this collision for violating Vehicle Code section 22107 – unsafe turning movement, when he moved across double yellow lines into Plaintiff’s path of travel. The Defendant CHP Motorcycle Officer was also found to be in violation of Vehicle Code section 21651(a) for driving in the buffer zone.
Upon further reflection, the CHP issued a revised report that determined the most at-fault party to be “unknown,” based on the lack of any substantiating physical evidence or sufficient witness statements.
The deposition testimony of the Defendant CHP Motorcycle Officer and the investigating officer and supervising officers provided numerous admissions of liability on the part of the CHP with respect to the actions of the Defendant CHP Motorcycle Officer.
Both the reviewing officer and an investigating officer testified that they believed that the Defendant CHP Motorcycle Officer violated Vehicle Code sections 22107 and 21651 with respect to this incident. Similarly, the Defendant CHP Motorcycle Officer admitted that he violated the law by crossing the buffer zone.
TYPE OF CASE: motorcycle vs. motorcycle
PLAINTIFF’S CONTENTIONS: Plaintiff contended that the Defendant CHP Officer failed to check his blind spot, crossed double yellow lines (between the HOV and number one lanes of traffic) and pulled in front of Plaintiff at a low rate of speed, cutting Plaintiff off, and forcing Plaintiff to veer into an automobile in the HOV lane. Plaintiff contended that since the Defendant CHP Officer was operating his CHP-issued motorcycle, while in the course and scope of his employment, the California Highway Patrol/State of California were vicariously liable for his negligence.
DEFENDANTS’ CONTENTIONS: Defendant contended that Plaintiff caused the accident by driving at an excessive rate of speed for the conditions (more than 10 miles per hour faster than traffic in the HOV or number one lanes of traffic) and by driving in the buffer zone between the number one and HOV lanes.
INJURIES: Left knee grade 1 open Schatzker-6 fracture (fractures of tibial plateau, patella and tibia). The afternoon of the accident, Plaintiff underwent an open reduction and internal fixation of his left proximal tibia including the placement of screws and a plate, as well as irrigation and debridement of his left proximal tibia. Plaintiff underwent intensive physical therapy, and was returned to work on limited duty in October, 2006, and to full duty in February, 2007.
DATE AND LOCATION OF INCIDENT: June 26, 2006, on southbound 55 Freeway, just north of Collins Avenue overcrossing
PLAINTIFF’S AGE: 38 years old
OCCUPATION: Garden Grove Police Officer
FINAL RESULT: The entire case settled for $395,000, following a mediation with Hon. Robert Polis (ret.) of Judicate West, just before the exchange of expert designations. The City of Garden Grove recovered 100% of its claim for reimbursement for workers’ compensation payments (including medical bills and salary replacement), a total of $85,294.90.
PAST WAGE LOSS: $34,000
FUTURE WAGE LOSS: None
MEDICAL SPECIALS: Past: $130,000
PLAINTIFF’S ATTORNEYS: Casey R. Johnson, Esq.
AITKEN AITKEN & COHN
Attorney for Plaintiff
GARDEN GROVE POLICE OFFICER
DEFENDANTS’ ATTORNEYS: Terry A. Barak, Esq.
Attorney for Defendants,
CALIFORNIA HIGHWAY PATROL,
CHP MOTORCYCLE OFFICER
PLAINTIFF-IN-INTERVENTION: S. Henslee Smith, Esq.
Michael J. Menicucci, Esq.
LAW OFFICES OF S. HENSLEE SMITH
Attorneys for CITY OF GARDEN GROVE