Local News

Wednesday, Oct 31 2012 06:11 PM

Multimillion dollar settlement reached in 2011 Highway 99 crash

BY JASON KOTOWSKI Californian staff writer jkotowski@bakersfield.com

A settlement of more than $4 million has been reached in the case of a Bakersfield man who suffered brain damage and other major injuries after a big-rig plowed into the back of his car in August 2011.

A total of $4,886,800 will be paid to Jose and Elizabeth Lopez, but since the amounts will be paid over 22 years the settlement will eventually be worth $6.7 million, according to documents filed in Kern County Superior Court. The settlement was reached in early October.

"They obviously were pleased with the settlement," said Craig Edmonston, attorney for the Lopezes. "We think it's a fair result under the circumstances."

The lawsuit was filed against Hanford-based Triple C Trucking, which employed the driver who crashed into the back of Lopez's car. Eugene F. West, the company's attorney, said everyone involved agreed to the settlement.

"We thought it was a fair and reasonable disposition based on evidence and the injuries," he said.

The court documents say Lopez was driving to work at 2:19 a.m. Aug. 12, 2011 when he rear-ended a Ralph's grocery truck on Highway 99 north of the White Lane exit. Lopez, now 34, was stuck inside the vehicle.

Four minutes later, Michael Anthony Mello crashed into the back of Lopez's car, the reports say. The California Highway Patrol found Mello at fault in the crash because he was driving at an unsafe speed.

Lopez's car was crushed and he suffered a brain injury, premature dementia and numerous other injuries, the reports say. He was in a wheelchair but can now walk on his own.

Medical bills ran into the hundreds of thousands of dollars, and Lopez will continue to require rehabilitation and other medical care, according to the reports. The married father of three is unable to work.

Mello, the truck driver, was found to have been involved in numerous other crashes. The reports say Mello, while driving for Triple C Trucking, was involved in two crashes in 2009 -- including one where he crashed into the back of a disabled vehicle in Los Angeles County, a Jan. 3, 2011 crash in Tehachapi, and another crash in Kern County just four days before the crash that injured Lopez.

Also, his license was suspended after he received three speeding citations between Nov. 2 and Dec. 10, 2010, according to the court documents.

"Plaintiffs contend that defendant Triple C Trucking's repeated refusal to take any disciplinary action against defendant Mello and take him off the road after numerous motor vehicle accidents, speeding tickets and citations, injury accidents, lawsuits and his driving for Triple C on a suspended license constitutes willful and reckless conscious disregard," the reports say.

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