Funds will help fund technology to help victim communicate
The family of a Redding man who was working for a Caltrans contractor when he was struck by a vehicle and left paralyzed in 2011 has agreed to $37.35 million settlement from the state transportation agency.
Kyle Anderson was 20 years old and working for All Phase Excavating when he was was struck by a driver who had drifted into a Caltrans work site on the shoulder of Broadway in Eureka on the night of Aug. 30, 2011. The incident left him quadriplegic with “locked-in syndrome”; Anderson is aware of what is happening around him, but cannot communicate with anyone.
According to the family attorney, Russell Reiner of Reiner, Slaughter & Frankel in Redding, who has represented the family for more than eight years, the settlement is believed to be the largest settlement for an individual by Caltrans.
“They’re a wonderful family and what they’d like to get across is that 10 hours after Kyle was injured, (Caltrans) attempted to cover up the incident,” Reiner said Monday. “Normally after an incident like this, Caltrans holds the meetings about lessons learned, safety meetings, but that did not happen in this case. The people that caused this did not tell Caltrans safety officers what really happened. The tried to argue Kyle was in the parking lot next to the shoulder. When I took a safety officer’s deposition four years later, he was still unaware Kyle had been hit on the shoulder, they tried to argue he had been hit in the parking lot.”
Caltrans appealed an earlier verdict in the case. In 2017, a Humboldt County jury found Caltrans was responsible for the injuries Anderson suffered and awarded $56 million in damages to the victim.
“This was an unprecedented award because we were found 100 percent liable,” said Caltrans District 1 spokesperson Phil Frisbie. “Our contractors assume full liability for safety and under normal circumstances, Caltrans is just assigned a portion of the liability.”
Following the verdict, Caltrans issued a statement arguing the jury erred when it held Caltrans solely responsible for Anderson’s injury.
“On the night of Aug. 30, 2011, an errant driver entered a Caltrans work zone and struck a construction worker, seriously injuring him,” read the release. “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.”
Reiner said the family has nothing but thanks to offer the jurors who took a good chunk of time from their lives to hear the case in 2017.
“Caltrans violated its own rules and when you sue Caltrans, you’re suing the state of California,” Reiner said. “They put up huge roadblocks to either settle or try the case. The first trial was two and a half months long and Caltrans denied they did anything wrong. However, the jury by 12-0 found they did create a dangerous condition.”
According to Reiner, Anderson was working in a trench along the west side of Broadway updating the wiring to a signal light when the driver entered the work site and struck Anderson.
“After the verdict, Caltrans appealed and the appellate court upheld the ruling that Caltrans had created a dangerous situation by denying a lane closure and order a safety barrier established by a backhoe to be moved,” Reiner said. “It was also found that Caltrans ordered the contractor to erect a light tower which shined into the eyes of the driver. An hour after the backhoe is removed, a lady driving southbound on 101 was blinded by the lights and drove into Kyle.”
The money from the settlement will be used for Anderson’s long-term care and Reiner said the family has worked with his doctors to prepare that plan. He faces a lifetime of 24-7 care.
“One of the reasons the family and I resolved the case now was because it going to start a second trial when we reached an agreement,” Reiner said. “This payment will be made now and the physicians for Kyle have prepared a life-care plan that will cost $18 million and now his family has the funds necessary to care of his needs.”
The money from the settlement will be used to address not just his medical care but his ability to communicate.
“Kyle is aware of his surroundings, but he cannot speak or communicate, he’s locked in,” Reiner said. “He can’t say to his parents ‘I love you’ and he can’t say where he hurts. There is new technology we are working on with him, a computer program he is being taught to use to move his eyeballs back and forth and by doing that he can move things across a computer screen. That’s how he’s beginning to communicate and now that we have the funds, we can get a lot better technology so he can communicate more effectively.”
Dan Squier can be reached at 707-441-0528.