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Highway accident left worker paralyzed, ‘locked in.’ Caltrans will pay $37 million

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Caltrans new "Be Work Zone Alert Safety Campaign" features the real children and grandchildren of the department's employees.

Caltrans will pay $37 million to settle a lawsuit over a construction worker who was paralyzed after a driver struck him eight years ago.

The California Department of Transportation settled with lawyers representing Kyle Anderson, who was 20 at the time of the incident, after the department appealed a Humboldt County Superior Court jury decision two years ago awarding Anderson $57 million, according to a news release from Redding law firm Reiner, Slaughter & Frankel, which represents Anderson.

“This preventable incident irreparably changed the lives of Kyle and his parents, Matt and Robin Anderson,” attorney Russell Reiner said in a news release. “This settlement will help ensure that Kyle will receive the 24/7 medical care he requires.”

Anderson was working for All Phase Excavating on a Caltrans wiring project on Highway 101 in Eureka in 2011. While crouched in a trench about 1 a.m., a driver crossed onto the road shoulder and hit him.

Anderson is completely paralyzed and 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 with his eyes, Reiner said.

Caltrans had approved a lane closure request from the contractor, but a resident engineer denied the lane closure for the site, Reiner said.

When a contractor parked a back hoe near the site to close the lane, a Caltrans engineer ordered it moved, Reiner said. A traffic light was put up in its place, but the light was positioned so it shined into the eyes of oncoming drivers, he said.

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.

A jury assigned 100 percent of the fault for the incident to Caltrans in early 2017 and set amounts for medical expenses, lost earnings and nonfinancial suffering. Caltrans appealed the decision.

An appellate court affirmed most of the lower court’s verdict but scheduled a jury trial on whether the driver was partially at fault. On the first day of the jury trial, the case settled, Reiner said.

The settlement reduced the noneconomic damages to $17.5 million from the $35 million the jury awarded, Reiner said. He said Caltrans attorneys had indicated they would appeal again no matter the outcome of the appellate verdict.

“Kyle Anderson and his family needed care for their son,” Reiner said, explaining the decision to settle.

“This case has been actively litigated for years,” Caltrans spokesman Matt Rocco said in an emailed statement. “The Department is hopeful this settlement agreement will allow both parties to reach closure on this tragic event.”

The settlement money will pay for new technology that will allow Anderson to communicate through eye movements, Reiner said.

Reiner said he and Kyle Anderson’s parents decided to publicize the settlement in hopes of prompting Caltrans to make improvements.

There were no lessons learned,” he said. “That is why now that this has settled I’m reaching out, and for the parents, so that Caltrans follows its rules so that others aren’t injured and suffer these catastrophic injuries like Kyle suffered.”

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