The State Worker

Jury awards $56 million to worker paralyzed in Caltrans incident

Kyle Anderson was working in a roadside ditch on Highway 101 in Eureka on Aug. 30, 2011, when he was struck by a driver. This week, a jury awarded him more than $56 million in damages, finding that Caltrans was at fault for the incident.
Kyle Anderson was working in a roadside ditch on Highway 101 in Eureka on Aug. 30, 2011, when he was struck by a driver. This week, a jury awarded him more than $56 million in damages, finding that Caltrans was at fault for the incident. Reiner, Slaughter and McCartney

A young man left paralyzed and unable to speak from injuries he suffered while working on a Caltrans road project will receive more than $56.5 million in damages from the state, according to a verdict a Humboldt County jury reached this week.

It’s the second expensive lawsuit Caltrans has lost in the past four weeks. In January, the department was ordered to pay $35 million to a former UCLA football player who was injured in an intersection that he argued was designed poorly.

The latest judgment will benefit Kyle Anderson of Redding and his parents, who are his caregivers.

“I just hope this family gets the help for Kyle that he needs now,” said his attorney, Russell Reiner.

In 2011, Anderson at age 20 was working for All Phase Excavating on a Caltrans wiring project on Highway 101 in Eureka. While crouched in a trench in the early morning, a car drifted onto the road shoulder and struck him.

Reiner argued that Caltrans engineers overseeing the project rejected basic safety precautions, such as closing a lane or parking a large vehicle in the shoulder to protect the workers. Reiner said the Caltrans team also positioned a light in such a way that it became a hazard to passing drivers.

On the morning of the incident, one of the Caltrans workers had Anderson’s crew remove a backhoe it had parked on the road shoulder for protection, Reiner said.

“There’s no reason not to give a lane closure,” he said.

After a trial lasting more than two months, a jury assigned “100 percent” of the fault for the incident to Caltrans.

The jury found that driver Selena Ranney was negligent, but that her error in drifting onto the road shoulder was not a substantial factor in causing the harm Anderson suffered.

Anderson has been diagnosed with “locked in” syndrome, a condition in which a person is conscious but unable to communicate. His family knows he’s aware of his surroundings because he has responded to movies and to the presence of friends.

“He’s imprisoned in his mind,” Reiner said.

His family is looking forward to using technology that may allow him to communicate with a robotic device, Reiner said. They also are renting a home because the one they own is not compatible with the care they provide to Kyle Anderson.

The award includes about $20 million for past and future medical expenses, $1.6 million in lost earnings and $35 million for nonfinancial suffering.

The verdict also awards about $2.7 million to Shannon Moore, another worker from Anderson’s company who was traumatized by the incident.

Caltrans released a statement that suggested the department may appeal the decision.

“On the night of Aug. 30, 2011, an errant driver entered a Caltrans work zone and struck a construction worker, seriously injuring him,” the Caltrans statement reads. “The event changed the lives of many people, including the Caltrans employees who dealt with the immediate aftermath of this event. We are disappointed by the recent jury decision to assign 100 percent liability to Caltrans for this unfortunate event, and we are reviewing all of our options going forward.”

Adam Ashton: 916-321-1063, @Adam_Ashton. Sign up for state worker news alerts at sacbee.com/newsletters.

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