Thomas Gutzwiller Vs. Cesar Rosales and Pipeline Carriers, Inc.
Christopher Faenza and Peter Felchlin obtained a defense verdict in a three-week trial construction site/vehicular accident involving catastrophic injuries.
On October 27, 2010, plaintiff Thomas Gutzwiller, 52, a construction supervisor for Riverside Construction, was engaged in a major flood control repair program for the County Flood Control District and the Water District for the City of Moreno Valley. The traffic control plan for the project called for some encroachment into the eastbound lanes of Ironwood Avenue. Concrete K-rails had been put in place between the parcel of land and active traffic lanes. The K-rails blocked the outermost of two lanes on eastbound Ironwood. Gutzwiller, a co-worker and an inspector for the City of Moreno Valley, was taking measurements to mark the boundary lines for some concrete cutting within the K-rails. In order to mark the line for the cut, measurements had to be taken from survey marks that had been placed in the middle of Ironwood Avenue. The survey marks Gutzwiller was attempting to reach were in the middle of the left-hand turn pocket. In order to obtain access to the survey marks, Gutzwiller had to climb over the K-rail, cross the sole remaining eastbound lane of Ironwood, which remained open to traffic, and take the measurement from the middle of the left-hand turn pocket.
Before Gutzwiller could make his last measurement, Cesar Rosales pulled his tractor-trailer into the left-hand turn pocket. Rosales was stopped at a traffic signal in the left-hand turn pocket, waiting for the light to change, when Gutzwiller attempted to take the measurement. Gutzwiller positioned himself in front of or immediately adjacent to the rear wheels of Rosales' empty trailer. While Gutzwiller was crouched, taking the measurement, the light turned green for Rosales, who proceeded forward to execute his left-hand turn. The rear wheels of the trailer caught Gutzwiller's left foot, slamming him face first into the roadway, causing significant injuries, including facial fractures and brain damage.
Gutzwiller brought suit against Rosales and his employer Pipeline Carriers, Inc.
Plaintiff contended that Rosales was negligent because he failed to notice Gutzwiller. Plaintiff's trucking expert claimed that a truck driver had a duty, not only to look forward at an intersection while waiting at a red light, but to look back behind his cab and between the axles of his truck before to moving forward.
The defense contended that Gutzwiller knowingly entered active traffic lanes and intentionally placed himself directly in front of the rear wheels of a tractor-trailer with knowledge that the trailer would be rolling forward within seconds, yet Gutzwiller did nothing to warn Rosales of his presence in front of the wheels. Defendants disputed the testimony of plaintiff's trucking expert and argued that there was no evidence to support the contention that Rosales failed the alleged duty to notice Gutzwiller. Defense added that not a single published regulation, ordinance or law imposes such a duty on a driver — commercial or otherwise. Furthermore, defense contended that because most trucks have trailers built with "vans" to hold cargo, it would be impossible for a truck driver to look between the axles of his truck without looking through the van.
Gutzwiller suffered catastrophic injuries, including a closed head brain injury, severe orthopedic and neurological injuries, and was permanently disabled. His attorneys asked for an award of $50 million from the jury.
The jury found unanimously that Rosales was not negligent after less than one hour of deliberation and entered a verdict for the defense.