Plaintiff suffers multiple fractures and TBI after defendant loses control of car. $5.6M. Ventura County.


Defendant Caltrans is blamed for drop off from roadway to shoulder that caused loss of control by defendant driver.

On March 3, 2020 the court granted defendant State of California, acting through the Department of Transportation ("Caltrans"),  the request for a new trial as to the amount of damages awarded to plaintiff James Collins pursuant to Code of Civil Procedure section 657(7). (See more detailed information from order in Additional Notes section.)

The Case

  • Case Name: Collins v. Barragan, et al.
  • Court and Case Number: Ventura County Superior Court / 56-2016-00484371-CU-PA-VTA
  • Date of Verdict or Judgment: Thursday, November 21, 2019
  • Date Action was Filed: Wednesday, July 20, 2016
  • Type of Case: Vehicles - Auto vs. Auto
  • Judge or Arbitrator(s): Hon. Jeffrey Bennet
  • Plaintiffs:
    James Collins and Beverly Collins
  • Defendants:
    Alexander Barragan
    California Department of Transportation (Caltrans)
  • Type of Result: Jury Verdict

The Result

  • Gross Verdict or Award: $5,661,173
  • Award as to each Defendant:

    $5,661,173 awarded against defendant Caltrans. No award against defendant Barragan.

  • Contributory/Comparative Negligence: 0%
  • Economic Damages:

    James Collins:

    Past medical:  $1,362,135

    Future medical: $836,503

    Loss of earning capacity: $262,535

  • Non-Economic Damages:

    James Collins:

    Past: $1,000,000

    Future: $2,000,000

    Beverly Collins:

    Loss of consortium: $200,000

  • Trial or Arbitration Time: 5 weeks.

The Attorneys

  • Attorney for the Plaintiff:

    Thorsnes Bartolotta McGuire, LLP by Brett Schreiber, San Diego.

    Heimanson & Wolf LLP by Ilan Heimanson, Los Angeles.

  • Attorney for the Defendant:
  • Attorney for the Defendant:

    Veatch Carlson, LLP by Gregory Selarz and Robert Mackey, Los Angeles. (For Alex Barragan.)

    Caltrans Legal Division by Richard Capella and Trang Le, Los Angeles. (For California Department of Transportation aka Caltrans.)

Facts and Background

  • Facts and Background:

    Plaintiff James Collins was traveling along State Route 118 in an agricultural section of Ventura County when defendant 21-year-old Alex Barragan (Barragan) lost control of his vehicle in the opposite lane of travel, and crossed the centerline into plaintiff's lane. This resulted in a head-on collision with plaintiff's vehicle at an 80-mph impact velocity.

    The transition from the paved road to the shoulder was approximately three and a half inches and resulted in Mr. Barragan losing control of his vehicle, leading up to the head-on collision. Plaintiff had a 33-day hospital stay and underwent nine surgeries. Ultimately, he suffered a leg-length discrepancy of nearly two inches.

  • Plaintiff's Contentions:

    The parties agreed that plaintiff James Collins was not at fault. Mr. Collins contended he suffered a traumatic brain injury along with fractures and injuries from head to toe inclusive of a collar bone fracture and fractured ribs. He would also lose out on his future earning capacity because he could no longer work as a glass maker and installer.

    Plaintiffs contended that defendant Barragan was negligent and that Caltrans was negligent in failing to maintain their roadways and in not following their own guidelines regarding shoulder backing and lateral support to the edge drop off from pavement to shoulder.

    That the State of California, Department of Transportation (Caltrans)  failed to maintain the roadway edge, constituting a dangerous condition of public property. The pavement edge dropoff in the area of the collision was approximately 3.5”- 4” despite Caltrans's own maintenance standards requiring that dropoffs be repaired if they exceed 2”. Caltrans has known for nearly a half-century that drivers will go off-road for a host of reasons but that if the drop is greater than 2” it may adversely affect the vehicle's ability to safely return to the travelway.    

  • Defendant's Contentions:

    Defendant Barragan contended that he faced a sudden emergency when he perceived an 18-wheeler coming into his lane, which forced him to maneuver right, off the roadway and onto the shoulder. That his car fishtailed back into the opposite lane of traffic because of the edge drop from roadway to shoulder that Caltrans should have repaired in line with their own maintenance manual.

    Defendant Caltrans contended that defendant Alex Barragan was negligent and the sole cause for the accident. Additionally, plaintiff James Collins made a good recovery from his injuries and required less future care than what plaintiff's doctors and future care plan experts testified to.

Injuries and Other Damages

  • Physical Injuries claimed by Plaintiff:

    Traumatic brain injury, subarachnoid hemorrhage and brain contusions, clavicle fracture, fractures to his ribs, fracture to left tibial plateau, and open dislocation of the tarsal joint of the right foot.

  • Future loss of earning capacity since plaintiff was forced into retirement from operating and running his own business.

    Plaintiff Beverly Collins presented a loss of consortium claim.

Demands and Offers

  • Defendant §998 Offer: $200,001 to James Collins, and $5,001 to Bev Collins.

Additional Notes

Per Caltrans defense counsel:

The State believes that the ruling in Howell v. Hamilton Meats & Provisions, Inc., 52 Cal.4th 541, 257 P.3rd 1130, 129 Cal. Rptr. 3d 325, is controlling and not followed in this trial, thus the total amount of plaintiff’s special damages were entered into evidence and relied on by the jury. An appeal on this issue is pending.

On March 3, 2020 the court granted defendant State of California, acting through the Department of Transportation ("Caltrans")  the request for a new trial as to the amount of damages awarded to plaintiff James Collins pursuant to Code of Civil Procedure §657(7), on the grounds that (i) the Court committed legal error in failing to apply the rules enunciated in Howell v. Hamilton Meats & Provisions, Inc. and Corenbaum v. Lampkin and in allowing plaintiff James to submit evidence of the full amount of his medical bills (i.e., rather than the amounts accepted as payments in full by his healthcare providers); and (ii) this legal error was prejudicial to defendant because it allowed the jury to consider an inflated figure for past medical damages when determining the amount of past and future medical damages and general damages to award to plaintiff James Collins. (Howell v. Hamilton Meats & Provisions (2011) 52 Cal.4th 541, 548-549, 551, 556, 566, (Corenbaum v. Lampkin (2013) 215 Cal.App.4th 1308, 1331-1333; Markow v. Rosner (2016) 3 Cal.App.5th 1027, 1050-1051.