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In February 2016, Sacramento & Elk Grove-based John M. O'Brien & Associates tried a case against a general contractor who installed a cement median on a busy city street in a commercial district without installing the required reflectors or warning signs and without ensuring that such temporary measures were in place for more than a week.
In this case, our client was a 63-year-old woman who immigrated to the United States from Vietnam more than 35 years ago. At least twice a month, she would drive to a local Vietnamese specialty foods store to stock up on her favorite foods. Unbeknownst to her, the defendant contractor built an 18-inch high concrete center median in the suicide lane where she was used to making a left turn into the market. The contractor ignored the plans for the project and common safety practices by neglecting to put up any temporary or permanent reflectors, cones or warning signs of any kind to alert the motoring public that an obstacle was now in the center turn lane.
Our client hit the center median at approximately 40 mph on a moonless night with no visibility. The impact destroyed her car, and she was taken to the hospital with a sternal fracture, multiple rib fractures and two burst fractures in her thoracic spine. She was admitted to the hospital and remained at U.C. Davis for five days. The contractor defended the case on the grounds that even without the required reflectors and warning signs our client should have seen it and taken evasive action. We countered with the fact that in the span of fewer than 36 hours 3 other vehicles struck the median, in the same manner, resulting in their total loss. At trial, we sought not only compensatory damages but punitive damages against the contractor for failing to take any precautions to protect the motoring public despite being contractually obligated to do so. The case settled during trial for $550K.