Multi-Vehicle Chain Reaction Collisions Lead to Tunnel Fire, Multiple Deaths and Injuries to Motorists

A speeding truck leaving the Newhall Tunnel in Southern California apparently lost control, crashed into the center divider and came to a stop some 1,700 feet outside of the tunnel exit.  As other motor vehicles were leaving the tunnel, they braked and slowed down to avoid the crashed truck.  A series of chain-reaction collisions followed.  A fire broke out from one of the crashes and spread through the tunnel and to other stalled vehicles.

One of the individuals involved in this tragic crash was Ricardo Cibrian, a trucker who was trapped inside his truck in the tunnel and unfortunately died in the fire that reached his tractor. He was survived by his wife and two children.

This crash and fire resulted in more than 50 claims, including 3 death cases.  There were five personal injury actions and dozens of property damage claims.  All of the cases were consolidated into one.  Cibrian’s family claimed $1.2 million in economic damages, including past and future lost earnings.

The collection of plaintiffs sued the State of California. They claimed  the tunnel’s design was inherently dangerous because the sight distance was inadequate for the posted speed limit. 

The plaintiffs were prepared to present evidence that the tunnel, which was designed and built in 1959, had a posted speed limit of 45 mph. They maintained that the state raised the speed limit to 55 mph in 2002.  The plaintiffs claimed that the higher speed limit was a contributing factor in the multi-vehicle crash and fire.  It was further claimed that because of the speed limit, motorists were not able to stop their cars and trucks in time to avoid the slowing or stopped traffic ahead.

In addition, the company that employed the truck driver whose crash triggered the chain-reaction was claimed to have been negligent in speeding and losing control of his truck.

The plaintiffs further alleged that the 11 additional defendants, all truck drivers, were traveling too fast for conditions and collided with other trucks either inside or outside of the tunnel.

The Cibrian family settled with the State of California for $2.75 million and with the trucking company for $3.75 million.  The state and the trucking company also settled with other injured plaintiffs.

The varied plaintiffs’ lawyers collectively made policy limits demands upon the insurance companies for the truck drivers. These were generally $1 million and were joined by the State of California, which had a $15 million economic damages claim for the fire damage to the tunnel.  At last, the insurance carriers, or most of them, paid the policy limits resulting in contributions of about $8,888,000.  The plaintiffs and their attorneys also had an allocation agreement in place before any demand was made in order to avoid disputes when the global settlement was reached.

The plaintiffs’ counsels were many, but the counsel for the Cibrian family was the lead counsel, which was Timothy G. Tietjen.

Martinez v. Cal., No. PC 053794 (Cal., Los Angeles Co. Super. April 23, 2013).

Kreisman Law Offices has been handling Illinois truck accidents and automobile accident cases for individuals and families who have been harmed, injured or died as a result of the carelessness or negligence of another for more than 38 years in and around Chicago, Cook County and its surrounding areas, including Elk Grove Village, Des Plaines, Elmwood Park, River Grove, Hickory Hills, Bridgeview, Bedford Park, Joliet Park, Yorkfield, Oakbrook, Morton Grove, Chicago (Edgewater, Lakeview, Lincoln Square, Albany Park, Sauganash, Edgebrook, Jefferson Park), Mount Prospect, Prospect Heights and Glencoe, Ill.

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