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Freeway Collision with Abandoned Equipment Kills San Diego Man

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A 62-year-old man died this week in the Lincoln Acres area of San Diego, California when the truck he was driving collided with a piece of construction equipment that was reportedly abandoned on a freeway ramp. According to an article in the San Diego Union-Tribune, that equipment was actually an air compressor on wheels, which was later reported stolen.

Joaquin Baltazar Lopez, who officials said was wearing his seatbelt, had to be extricated from his 1989 Toyota pickup truck. The newspaper reported that he died from the injuries even before he could be transported to the hospital. Hours after this auto accident, a company located 20 minutes away from the accident site reported to police that someone had broken into their facility and stole two pieces of equipment used to sandblast plaster from swimming pools, the newspaper article said.

Unfortunately, Lopez slammed into the abandoned equipment minutes after California Highway Patrol officials were notified about it. Officials are now looking for the driver and the vehicle that was pulling the compressor. It’s a tremendous tragedy for Mr. Lopez and his family. Sadly, he is not alone. California’s freeways are among the most notorious for highway debris.

According to a New York Times new article, in California alone, 155 people lost their lives in the last two years as a result of accidents involving objects on highways. The list of these objects reads like a yard sale or a grocery list – from grapes, oranges and strawberries to furniture and mattresses. In fact, in a case that bears an eerie similarity to this San Diego incident, a Long Beach man is facing murder charges in the death of a Los Angeles County Sherriff’s deputy who was killed when he swerved to avoid a stolen stove that had fallen off the man’s truck.

Here’s another statistic from that same article. Pickup trucks and other vehicles piled high with loads not properly secured contribute 140,000 cubic yards of freeway waste every year. That’s debris enough to fill 8,750 garbage trucks, according to a CalTrans official quoted in the Times article.

The article says although a lot of this highway debris was thought to be “intentional debris,” new research shows that it was in fact “unintentional.” It’s negligence of a type that liability attaches for the harm the debris causes. If a truck carting equipment does not secure it well enough and it falls on the freeway and hurts or kills someone, that truck driver and his company are liable for the incident. One of our Los Angeles County clients lost his wife and is raising their children on his own now because a metal sign flew off of a truck and pierced his wife’s car front windshield, fatally injuring her. The company responsible paid a seven figure settlement.

The state of California is starting to hold more and more of these offenders criminally responsible and that’s a good thing. But many others slip through the cracks and victims are left to fend for themselves sifting through a complicated legal process they are unfamiliar with and fighting insurance companies that don’t want to spare them a dime.

My advice for these victims’ families is to hire a personal injury attorney who has specific experience dealing with these cases. These are often complex, long-drawn out battles and an attorney who has a track record of success and experience would be good to have on your side, someone who won’t give up and will not hesitate to fight for your legal rights even when it is difficult and/or expensive.

In this particular San Diego case, if we were representing the family of the deceased man, we would be looking at liability on the part of the company who owned the equipment. We’d be fully checking the “stolen” equipment story. We’d be looking into the adequacy of the equipment yard’s security.

We’d be looking into product defects, like the Toyota truck and the compressor itself. Were there any defects or system failures in the Toyota pickup that contributed to the injuries? The compressor was designed for easy towing transport on its own wheels. Were there adequate reflectors for transporting that may have prevented this accident?

An investigation and analysis may turn up other possible leads towards wrongdoing, negligence or liability.

Lastly, if nothing else, was the deceased man covered by any uninsured/underinsured motorist coverage either on his auto policy, his family’s auto policy or on a homeowners’ policy? When seeking compensation for a family after a tragedy such as this one, the family’s attorneys should be leaving no stone unturned to hold wrongdoers accountable and to benefit from whatever insurance coverage.

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