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Wawona Packing settles with injured former employee for $4.5 million

The car driven by Jose Salvador Garza in 2017 when he crashed with another vehicle on his way to work at Wawona Packing in Cutler.
The car driven by Jose Salvador Garza in 2017 when he crashed with another vehicle on his way to work at Wawona Packing in Cutler. Special to the Bee

Wawona Packing Company has agreed to pay one of its former employees $4.5 million to settle a lawsuit over serious injuries he received from a car crash.

The employee, Jose Salvador Garza, 53, was on his way to work on May 1, 2017 when his 2004 Pontiac Grand Prix collided with a passenger van at the intersection of Road 96 and Avenue 416, just east of Dinuba. Garza suffered major injuries and sued Wawona Packing in Cutler and the driver of the van, Aurelio Castro Patino, for general negligence and motor vehicle negligence.

The case was scheduled to go to trial on Nov. 13 in Tulare County, but both sides were ordered to mediation. A settlement was reached last week for $4.5 million, said Garza’s attorney, Douglas Rochen with ACTS Law Firm in Los Angeles.

Rochen said it is likely that the amount of damages could have been much higher had the case gone to trial. Wawona Packing officials could not be reached for comment Monday.

“We are talking about possibly tens of millions of dollars,” Rochen said. “Mr. Garza will be in need of a lot of help.”

Garza suffered several serious injuries to his neck, back and brain. He has undergone neck and back surgeries and is still recovering from a traumatic brain injury.

Rochen said Garza requires physical therapy and it’s doubtful he will be able to return to work. Before the accident, Garza worked in Wawona’s warehouse for almost 20 years.

On the morning of the accident, Garza was about 15 minutes away from the packing house when he came across a van driven by Patino, a fellow Wawona Company employee. Patino was hauling a trailer loaded with ladders and portable toilets when he failed to come to a complete stop, colliding with Garza’s vehicle, according to the lawsuit.

“The driver jumps off the stop sign and assumes he can beat the oncoming traffic but he can’t,” Rochen said. “Garza attempted to swerve to the right, only to realize the van was hauling a trailer.”

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