CHP officer, responding to call, cuts off semi on freeway. $6.1M. San Joaquin County.


Truck driver says CHP officer caused freeway accident; no comparative fault.

The Case

  • Case Name: Marvin Lee Sheley v. California Highway Patrol
  • Court and Case Number: San Joaquin Superior / STK-UAT CV- 2014-0006399
  • Date of Verdict or Judgment: Friday, April 12, 2019
  • Date Action was Filed: Thursday, June 26, 2014
  • Type of Case: Vehicles - Freeway
  • Judge or Arbitrator(s): Hon. Barbara Kronlund
  • Plaintiffs:
    Marvin Lee Sheley
  • Defendants:
    California Highway Patrol
  • Type of Result: Jury Verdict

The Result

  • Gross Verdict or Award: $6,103,822 (including costs of $118,139)
  • Contributory/Comparative Negligence: None.
  • Economic Damages:

    Past medical: $600,000

    Past wage loss: $436,301

    Other past economic loss: $13,834

    Future medical: $322,000

    Future wage loss; $586,548

  • Non-Economic Damages:

    Past: $1,500,000

    Future: $2,500,000

  • Trial or Arbitration Time: 12 days.
  • Jury Deliberation Time: 5 1/2 hours.
  • Post Trial Motions & Post-Verdict Settlements: Defense motion to tax costs; Plaintiff motion for costs of proof; Defense motion to reduce verdict for collateral sources (Gov. Code, § 985); Defense motion for installment payments (Gov. Code, § 984e).

The Attorneys

  • Attorney for the Plaintiff:

    Bissell Law Corporation by Todd S. Bissell and Travis Bissell, Folsom.

  • Attorney for the Defendant:

    California Attorney General's Office by LeeAnn E. Whitmore and James Walter, Sacramento.

The Experts

  • Plaintiff’s Medical Expert(s):

    Mark Gibson, D.C. (Pre-accident treating chiropractor.)

    Richard Radnovich, D.O., pain management. (Treating physician.)

    Richard Manos, M.D., spinal surgery. (Treating physician.)

  • Defendant's Medical Expert(s):

    Vanburen Lemons, M.D., neurosurgery, Sacramento.

    William Hoddick; M.D., radiology, Walnut Creek.

    Mark Strassberg, M.D., psychiatry, San Francisco.

  • Plaintiff's Technical Expert(s):

    Robert Snook, accident reconstruction, Galt.

    Lisa Suhonos, vocational rehabilitation, Carmichael.

    Dorajane Apuna-Grummer, Ph.D., billing and life care planning, Sacramento.

    John Hancock, Ph.D., economics, Gold River.

  • Defendant's Technical Expert(s):

    Bahram Ravani, Ph.D., accident reconstruction and biomechanics, Davis.

Facts and Background

  • Facts and Background:

    On July 13, 2012, plaintiff was operating a semi tractor trailer in the #3 lane of I-205 near Tracy. Plaintiff was an interstate truck driver based in Boise, ID.

    Defendant CHP officer was responding to a call. He was traveling Code 3 in the #1 lane at a speed of 80-90 mph. He abruptly changed lanes to get to the right edge of the freeway, where he was heading, when he crossed in front of plaintiff and caused the right front of plaintiff's truck to strike the right rear of the CHP vehicle. The CHP car rolled down an embankment and came to rest against a tree.

    Plaintiff was able to maintain control of his truck and pulled to the side of the road.

  • Plaintiff's Contentions:

    Plaintiff claimed that he was injured and unable to work and that defendant CHP was 100% at fault and that plaintiff was free of comparative fault.

  • Defendant's Contentions:

    Defendant denied liability until after motions in limine favorable to plaintiff were granted at trial.

    Defendant then admitted liability, but continued to maintain that plaintiff was 60% comparatively at fault. Defendant's accident reconstruction expert (Rivani) testified that plaintiff was going between 60 and 65mph prior to impact, probably 63mph, and had slowed to about 58mph at the moment of impact. That opinion was the basis for the comparative fault argument. 

    Defendant contended that the forces of the impact were too minor to cause significant injury to plaintiff, and that the treatment that plaintiff had was unreasonable and unnecessary.

Injuries and Other Damages

  • Physical Injuries claimed by Plaintiff:

    Spinal injuries to neck and back resulting in a cervical fusion, lumbar microdiscectomy, lumbar fusion, trial spinal stimulator surgery; permanent implanting of a spinal cord stimulator; cervical hardware removal surgery, with a diagnosis of failed neck and back syndrome, chronic neck and back pain and depression.

  • Plaintiff did not work from the day of the accident (July 13, 2012) until the summer of 2016, at which time he attempted to return to work as an interstate truck driver.  He was able to work only about four months before his symptoms flared and he was not able to continue working. Plaintiff's only other work experience was in construction, which his doctor's limitations precluded him from doing. Plaintiff is now 59 years old.  He was 53 when this accident happened.  Based on his doctor's limitations and the evaluation done by vocational rehabilitation expert Lisa Suhonos, plaintiff was unemployable. He has not worked and is still treating for chronic pain in his neck and back.

Special Damages

  • Special Damages Claimed - Past Medical: $600,000
  • Special Damages Claimed - Future Medical: $322,000
  • Special Damages Claimed - Past Lost Earnings: $436,301
  • Special Damages Claimed - Future Lost Earnings: $586,548

Additional Notes

Defendant made three offers of settlement, the highest being $345,000 by Offer to Compromise.

Plaintiff made a single demand by Offer to Compromise in the amount of $1,775,000.

Plaintiff was awarded $118,139.00 in costs and expert fees per CCP Section 998.

The court denied defendant's motion to tax costs and plaintiff's motion for costs of proof. The parties settled the matter prior to the court's ruling on defendant's Government Code Sections 984 and 985 motions, which included defendant's request to amortize the payment of this judgment for 10 years.

The post-verdict settlement included defendant's directly paying two ERISA liens in the amounts of $145,160.33 and $69,746.10. Defendant further agreed to pay additional up-front cash in the amount of $1,900,000 and to fund two annuities with an expected benefit of $5,331,178 at a cost of $5,700,000 in new money.