Santa Cruz Jury Returns $7.4 Million Verdict for Construction Worker Injured in 2017 Highway Accident

Santa Cruz Jury Returns $7.4 Million Verdict for Construction Worker Injured in 2017 Highway Accident

Caltrans ignored dangerous weather conditions which led to tragedy


SANTA CRUZ, Calif., April 20, 2023 –  After a three-week trial, Simon Greenstone Panatier, PC trial lawyers secured a $7.4 million jury verdict for the family of a construction worker permanently injured in an accident at the site of a 2017 mudslide along California Highway 17.

As an employee of Graniterock Construction, a Watsonville, California-based construction materials and contracting company, Stephen Whitmire was part of a crew assisting the California Department of Transportation (Caltrans) in clearing a February 2017 debris flow and mudslide along Highway 17 between San Jose and Santa Cruz. Working alongside Caltrans employees and the Graniterock crew were drivers from Hildebrand and Sons Trucking, hired to haul away slide materials.

In complete disregard for the safety of the workers, work began and continued in worsening weather conditions, according to the Whitmire’s attorney, Charles E. Soechting Jr., a shareholder and trial lawyer with the Dallas office of Simon Greenstone Panatier.

Mr. Whitmire and his co-worker, Robert Gill Sr., were struck by a Hildebrand driver during operations, which proceeded despite the dangerous conditions presented by the weather which were known to, but ignored by, Caltrans.

Mr. Whitmire was run over and dragged approximately 50 feet and had to be extricated from under the wheels of the three-axle dump truck. Mr. Whitmire, then 33, survived the incident, but suffered severe, lifelong injuries. Mr. Gill’s injuries were fatal. Following the incident, Caltrans engineers suspended work on debris removal, determining the site was not yet stable enough for cleanup.

“Given the dangerous conditions Stephen and his colleagues were forced to work in, it was almost foreseeable that something tragic would happen, and it did. One of the defendants’ experts even agreed that ‘it was the proverbial accident waiting to happen.’ We are grateful to the jury for their work on this case. Justice may have been delayed, but it was finally delivered to Stephen and his family,” said Mr. Soechting. Mr. Whitmire’s lawsuit was originally filed in 2018, only to have the trial delayed due to COVID.

The Whitmire family was represented at trial by Mr. Soechting and Albert Oganesyan of the Long Beach office of Simon Greenstone Panatier. Presiding judge was Timothy Volkmann of Department 5 of the Superior Court of the State of California, Santa Cruz.

The case is Stephen Whitmire and Torrey Whitmire vs. Hildebrand and Sons Trucking Inc., a California Corp. and State of California, Department of Transportation, Santa Cruz Superior Court, Case No. 18CV00153.