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Thursday, Sep 05 2013 10:30 PM

County conundrum: Should it sue injured athlete over accident?

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    By Felix Adamo / The Californian

    In this file photo, Tyler Schilhabel's room at the Rancho Los Amigos National Rehabilitation Center is decorated with cards, letters and posters from many supporters from school, church and Bakersfield in general wishing him well. Behind is a poster of Schilhabel as the starting quarterback at Independence High.

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BY JAMES BURGER Californian staff writer jburger@bakersfield.com

Kern County supervisors are poised to decide Tuesday whether to add legal trouble to the life of a former high school quarterback whose fight to regain his independence after a debilitating accident inspired many in Bakersfield.

They must decide whether to further pursue a lawsuit the county filed against former Independence High School player Tyler Schilhabel over a car accident with a county employee that he caused.

Schilhabel lost his ability to walk in a September 2010 "quad" accident at Oceano Dunes. He's now a college student.

Nearly a year after the quad accident, in August 2011, Schilhabel was driving his mother Shelly's 2008 Toyota Scion -- modified so he could operate it with his hands -- when he rear-ended a Dodge Intrepid driven by Sheriff's Office Services Technician Katie Long.

The legal action would be to recoup the worker's compensation costs the county paid as Long recovered from injuries sustained.

Tyler's father, Dave Schilhabel, called the county's possible suit over $6,676 ridiculous and said he plans to fight it "on principle."

"There was no accident report. There was no damage to any vehicle," Dave Schilhabel said. "This lady, she didn't get bumped at more than three miles an hour."

The Bakersfield Police Department did write a report on the accident and reported there was minimal damage to the Dodge Intrepid and that Long complained of pain.

The report states that both cars were stopped at a red light in the 4900 block of Panama Lane near the entrance to Costco. When the light turned green, Tyler took his hand-break off and rolled forward.

"(Long) didn't go," Dave Schilhabel said.

Kern County Counsel Theresa Goldner said the case against Schilhabel was filed July 17 simply to preserve the county's right to pursue financial redress after the Schilhabels' insurance company refused to pay for the worker's compensation claim and both the Schilhabels and the insurance company failed to respond to repeated county efforts to contact them.

"Ms. Long was taken from the scene of the accident by ambulance to the hospital for medical treatment," Goldner wrote in a statement. "For the next three months, Ms. Long was unable to return to work as a result of injuries she suffered in the accident."

"Farmers has refused to pay because my insurance agent was on scene within 15 minutes of the accident and the police didn't take a police report. I hope they don't pursue it. I think the whole thing is ridiculous," said Dave Schilhabel.

Goldner said the Bakersfield Police Department investigation showed Tyler Schilhabel caused the accident.

"The county made numerous attempts to resolve this subrogation claim informally with Farmers Insurance. Unfortunately, after almost two years, Farmers Insurance still has not settled the claim," she said.

The county filed the lawsuit because the two-year statute of limitations was about to expire.

Goldner said the lawsuit has not been served, however, "because we are mindful of Mr. Schilhabel's personal circumstances."

And she chose to take the case to the Kern County Board of Supervisors to make sure "it is in the taxpayers' best interests for the county to pursue this matter."

Generally, routine worker's compensation claims cases don't come to the board but are handled by county adjustors.

Tyler Schilhabel has moved on with his life.

He graduated from Independence and attended Boise State University, Dave Schilhabel said. This year Tyler is at Arizona State University and -- if his grades are good enough -- next year he'll transfer to the University of Southern California, which has a scholarship program for injured athletes that could help with school costs.

"He's fully independent. He's sharing an apartment with a guy across from campus," Dave Schilhabel said.

At USC, he said, Tyler hopes to study political science or pre-law coursework.

Tyler is still an athlete and remains active, his father said, though he is no longer undergoing therapy.

At first he was skeptical of disabled sports, Dave Schilhabel said, but he's begun to warm to the idea and get involved.

At Boise State, Tyler did hand-cycling.

"We're trying to get him a chair that he can use to do sprinting. He wants to do track sprinting," his father said.

Tyler has also added mono-waterskiing and snow-skiing to his repertoire, Dave Schilhabel said.

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