Dangerous sidewalk over freeway causes fall, $1.77 million verdict. Demanded $399,999. Santa Clara County.


When scientist trips on sidewalk, city and state argue over who is responsible for inspection of the sidewalk.

The Case

  • Case Name: Thibadeau v. State of California
  • Court and Case Number: Santa Clara County Superior Court / 112CV234911
  • Date of Verdict or Judgment: Friday, June 05, 2015
  • Date Action was Filed: Thursday, October 25, 2012
  • Type of Case: Dangerous Condition Public Property, Sidewalk Accident
  • Judge or Arbitrator(s): Hon. Theodore Zayner
  • Plaintiffs:
    Bob Thibadeau, 62, chief scientist and executive for a computer security company.
  • Defendants:
    State of California, City of Cupertino
  • Type of Result: Jury Verdict

The Result

  • Gross Verdict or Award: $1,772,227
  • Net Verdict or Award: $1,577,049.30 against State.
  • Settlement Amount: $50,000 with City of Cupertino before trial.
  • Award as to each Defendant:

    $1,772,227 against State of California.

    $50,000 settlement with City of Cupertino a few weeks before trial.

    City settled weeks before trial based on court’s ruling that the State had a duty to inspect and notify the City of the defect before the City had any duty to fix it.


  • Contributory/Comparative Negligence: 10% Plaintiff, 90% State of California
  • Economic Damages:

    Past meds: $41,367 

    Future meds: $60,000 

    Past lost wages: $57,205

    Future lost earning capacity: $963,705

  • Non-Economic Damages:

    Past: $100,000 

    Future: $550,000

  • Punitive Damages:

    None claimed (public entities and negligence case).

  • Trial or Arbitration Time: 3 weeks.
  • Jury Deliberation Time: 3 days.
  • Jury Polls: 12-0 liability, 12-0 damages, 10-2 comparative of plaintiff.
  • Post Trial Motions & Post-Verdict Settlements: Request for costs pending.

The Attorneys

  • Attorney for the Plaintiff:

    Bohn & Fletcher LLP by Robert H. Bohn, Jr., San Jose.

  • Attorney for the Defendant:

    CA Dept of Transportation-Bay Area Legal by Irene Moy and Taylor Pohle, Oakland.

The Experts

  • Plaintiff’s Medical Expert(s):

    Ed Damore, M.D., orthopediatrics, Los Gatos.

    Spiro Pappas, M.D. orthopediatrics, Pittsburgh, PA.

  • Defendant's Medical Expert(s):

    Robert Bruckman, M.D., orthopediatrics.

  • Plaintiff's Technical Expert(s):

    Brad Avrit, P.E., safety engineering, Los Angeles.

  • Defendant's Technical Expert(s):

    Stephen J. Fenton, P.E., safety engineering, Denver, CO.

    Nevin Sams, engineering.

Facts and Background

  • Facts and Background:

    Plaintiff tripped and fell on a sidewalk offset measuring 1 1/2 to 2 inches at the junction of the I-280 freeway overcrossing at North Wolfe Road in Cupertino.  He sustained a rotator cuff tear and bony bankart lesion. The offset was obscured by leaves and shadows. Defendant State of California, through its agency Caltrans, maintains the freeway and bridges over the freeway.

  • Plaintiff's Contentions:

    That the State failed to properly train its employees how to recognize or report sidewalk hazards and, in fact, had no clear standards as to what constitutes a reportable hazard. That the State (Caltrans) had the responsibility to inspect for such hazards and protect against them and report them to the City of Cupertino to have them remedied. That the State failed to do so for years, thereby allowing this dangerous condition to exist for years.

    Further, that the State failed to keep the sidewalk reasonably clear of leaves which had been a problem noted for years.

  • Defendant's Contentions:

    That the sidewalk did not constitute a dangerous condition. That the City of Cupertino should have known and taken care of it. That the State's bridge inspectors were too busy inspecting structures to pay much attention to sidewalks. That plaintiff had been over the area many times in the past and should have known of this offset. That plaintiff failed to rehabilitate himself properly and injured his shoulder in two post-incident events. That plaintiff sustained no future lost wages and did not need any future medical treatment.

Injuries and Other Damages

  • Physical Injuries claimed by Plaintiff:

    Left rotator cuff tear and bony bankart lesion.

    Plaintiff required 2 arthroscopic surgeries and will need a reverse shoulder arthroplasty in the future.

  • Plaintiff's work as a chief scientist and executive for a computer security company was impacted as a result of his injuries.

Special Damages

  • Special Damages Claimed - Past Medical: $41,367
  • Special Damages Claimed - Future Medical: $60,000 - $180,000 (1 vs. 3 future surgeries)
  • Special Damages Claimed - Past Lost Earnings: $107,205 (including not receiving a $50,000 bonus)
  • Special Damages Claimed - Future Lost Earnings: $310,741 - $1,310,741 (1-5 years)

Demands and Offers

  • Plaintiff §998 Demand: $399,999
  • Defendant §998 Offer: $50,000
  • Defendant Final Offer before Trial: $75,000