January 18, 2022, Humboldt County, California - - Baum Hedlund accident attorneys filed a wrongful death lawsuit today alleging the State of California was negligent and created a dangerous condition prior to a fatal 2021 crash on U.S. Highway 101 near Redcrest, California.
The lawsuit (Case No. CV2200080) accuses the State of California—specifically the Department of Parks and Recreation and the Department of Transportation (CALTRANS)—of failing to prevent a “decayed and diseased” tree from falling across the width of U.S. Highway 101. Multiple vehicles collided with the downed tree.
Baum Hedlund senior shareholder and attorney Timothy A. Loranger filed the complaint in California Superior Court for the County of Humboldt on behalf of plaintiff Rachelle Sepulveda, whose father, Ruben Anthony Sepulveda, was fatally injured after his vehicle collided with the downed tree.
According to Loranger, the State of California was on notice of the danger posed by diseased and decaying trees. “State agencies should have taken protective measures to stop the tree from falling,” Loranger says. “They also should have warned motorists of the potential for danger in the area. We do not believe the State’s failure was the result of budget cuts or lack of resources; this was negligence, and it caused unspeakable harm to our client.”
Fatal Accident on U.S. Highway 101
On May 10, 2021, Ruben Sepulveda was driving on U.S. 101 when a Douglas fir tree located within the Humboldt Redwood State Park fell across the entire width of the highway. Multiple vehicles, including Mr. Sepulveda’s, collided with the downed tree. Mr. Sepulveda sustained numerous severe injuries, including (but not limited to):
- Laceration of the spleen
- Acute kidney injury
- Multiple rib fractures
- Left humeral neck fracture
- Right tibial plateau fracture
- Fracture of the radius and ulna of the left forearm
Following the crash, Mr. Sepulveda was forced to endure multiple orthopedic surgeries. As a result of the trauma, he suffered a heart attack and a stroke. Mr. Sepulveda ultimately fell into a persistent vegetative state and passed away from his injuries weeks after the crash.
The wrongful death lawsuit filed today alleges the State of California negligently created a dangerous condition and failed to protect the motoring public from a tree that was “decayed and diseased.” According to the complaint, the State could have prevented, remedied, or guarded against the foreseeable hazard posed by the large tree and warned drivers of the substantial risk of injury but failed to do so.
Lawsuit Over Unsafe Road Conditions Seeks Damages for Pre-Death Pain and Suffering
The federal government, states, cities, or municipalities are generally responsible for keeping public roadways safe. If a government entity allows unsafe road conditions to proximately cause an accident (as alleged in the Sepulveda complaint), that government entity can be held liable for damages, including medical bills, loss of income, and pain and suffering.
Last year, California Governor Gavin Newsom signed Senate Bill (S.B.) 447 into law, which made some changes to recoverable damages for pain and suffering in accident cases. Under the law (which recently took effect at the start of 2022), a decedent’s next of kin is now eligible to pursue non-economic damages for a decedent’s pain, suffering, and disfigurement.
Before S.B. 447, lawsuits brought by a decedent’s next of kin for death following injury did not allow for non-economic damages for their pain, suffering and disfigurement suffered before death. Claimants were limited to pursuing economic monetary losses the decedent suffered after the injury but before death. Examples of economic damages that could be recovered included medical bills, lost wages, and punitive damages that the decedent would have been entitled to recover had they survived their injuries.
S.B. 447 changed the law to reflect that: “in an action or proceeding by a decedent’s personal representative or successor in interest on the decedent’s cause of action, the damages recoverable may include damages for pain, suffering, or disfigurement…”
About Baum Hedlund
Baum Hedlund senior shareholder and transportation accident attorney Timothy A. Loranger represents the Sepulveda family in this case. In 2020, Best Lawyers® selected Loranger as the “Lawyer of the Year” for Personal Injury Litigation in Los Angeles, an award that can only be earned by one lawyer who receives the highest overall peer feedback in one legal practice area in one metropolitan region. This distinction exemplifies an exceptional level of trust and respect from fellow attorneys.
Since 1973, lawyers from the Baum Hedlund law firm have won more than $4 billion in verdicts and settlements across all practice areas. The firm has earned a reputation for holding corporations accountable, influencing public policy, and breaking new legal ground.