Settlement Amount: $650,000
Fernandez and Giron v Yakima County is an example of what a diligent lawyer can do to build a successful negligent highway design claim.
Arnoldo Ramirez, Jesus Giron and Octaviano Olguin, were dispatched by a Yakima fruit company to haul a load of garbage to a local dump. As Ramirez drove up a road in rural Yakima County, the right front wheel slipped off the paved portion of the road. Ramirez was unable to control the truck, which hit a tree, killing the two passengers, Jesus and Octaviano.
The Washington State Patrol investigated the accident and issued a 33-page report that concluded: “The cause of the collision was driver inattention.” Yakima County produced a report by their expert, Larry J. Stadler, concluding that “…the only logical causation for this accident was driver inattention.”
Jesus Giron’s wife Maria sought legal assistance from four separate lawyers in Yakima. Each told her there was nothing they could do for her.
Because she was destitute and desperate for help, Maria contacted attorney Glenn Carpenter, Jr., who associated with Brett McCandlis Brown & Conner attorney Dean Brett, who had extensive prior experience in wrongful death and highway design cases.
After surveying the site, the attorneys realized that Yakima County had misplaced the original centerline so that rather than two 10-foot lanes, they had created one 12-foot lane and one 8-foot lane. The 8-foot wide truck, in an effort to maneuver the 8-foot lane, had slipped off the side of the pavement. In addition to the extraordinarily narrow lane, the engineering firm also concluded that the shoulder was substandard, the slope was substandard, and that the tree was in violation of a clear zone requirement.
Due to the narrow lane, tilted shoulder, steep embankment, and tree in the clear zone of a 50 mph highway, two passengers died when the truck hit the tree. This was not just a case of “driver inattention.”
After four law firms refused to represent the Fernandez and Giron families, diligent work showing the negligently designed roadway led to an out-of-court settlement of $650,000, the largest settlement against Yakima County at the time. The result was particularly rewarding in light of the fact that decedents were low wage earners, one of whom was an undocumented alien, bringing a successful claim against “city hall.”