Gonzalez v. City of Atwater – Merced County

James Miller headshotJim Miller completed a 17 day jury trial in September and October 2014 where a jury found his client not liable for the wrongful death of a married 73-year-old woman with five adult children. The co-defendant was found 100 percent liable for the death and the jury awarded the plaintiffs $3,214,134.00.

In this matter, the decedent was walking northbound in the cross walk at the intersection of Bellevue and Linden in the City of Atwater. She had a green light for her direction of travel as a pedestrian. Jim’s client was headed northbound on Linden intending to turn left onto Bellevue when her vehicle struck the decedent. Jim’s client also had a green light for her direction of travel.

The City of Atwater had originally installed a permissive phasing of lights at this location, which then allowed both south and northbound traffic on Linden to proceed at the same time with traffic yielding to oncoming traffic before making a left or right turn. This intersection and the phasing was installed and completed in December 2001.

Jim’s client testified that on the day of the incident, she had a red light for her direction of travel that then turned green. She entered into the intersection and had to stop and yield to oncoming traffic before executing her left turn. She indicated she had been through this intersection on at least 100 occasions before and never experienced a pedestrian in the cross walk and was unaware that pedestrians had a green light when she also had a green light. She stated that she was focused on the traffic coming southbound on Linden, and once she saw it clear, she executed her left turn and struck the decedent. She never saw the decedent before the impact.

The City of Atwater claimed the incident was solely Jim’s client’s fault. The plaintiffs’ attorney contended that the subject intersection was in a dangerous condition at the time of the incident and that two prior deaths under similar circumstances indicate that the City should have changed the intersection. The plaintiffs’ attorney in his closing argument stated that he did not blame Jim’s client for the accident and thought that the City of Atwater was 100 percent at fault for the incident. The plaintiffs’ attorney further indicated to the jury that the only reason he named Jim’s client in the lawsuit was because the City of Atwater blamed her for the incident. The jury deliberated for one day and found Jim’s client not negligent and the City of Atwater 100% at fault.

The City of Atwater filed a motion for new trial after judgment was entered. This motion was denied. The case is currently on appeal in the 5th District Court of Appeal.

Media: Modesto Star Article

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