Companies lose again in bid to avoid liability in freeway death
A consolidated negligence lawsuit brought against Caltrans on behalf of the son and daughter of an Azusa man who was struck and killed on a freeway in Pomona in 2016 — where unsafe conditions on the poorly lit roadway allegedly contributed to his death — is headed to trial against two companies that Tuesday lost another bid to avoid liability in the case.
Dwayne Armenta, 36, was killed about 2:35 a.m. Nov. 23, 2016, as he was trying to get to a gas station after his Ford F-150 truck ran out of gas on the eastbound San Bernardino (10) Freeway about 1,000 feet from the Kellogg Drive off-ramp.
Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Jill Feeney rejected arguments by attorneys for Guy F. Atkinson Construction LLC and High-Light Electric Inc., who maintained among other things that the companies had no obligation to provide lighting on the freeway because they have the same civil immunities as Caltrans, which was previously dismissed as a defendant in the case.
“Unlike Caltrans, which had no duty to light its streets, (the companies) are contractors that have a duty to use reasonable care to prevent damage to persons whom they may reasonably expect to be affected by their work,” Feeney wrote. “Any immunities Caltrans enjoyed regarding liability for negligence do not extend to (the firms, which) remain liable for negligence in performing their contracted work.”
Feeney signed a judgment Nov. 18 formally relieving Caltrans of any liability in the case. One plaintiff is 21-year-old Devin Armenta of Claremont, Dwayne Armenta’s son, who was 14 at the time of the accident. The other plaintiff is Devin Armenta’s sister, who was 4 when her father died, is now 10 and lives in La Puente.
Feeney had also denied previous motions by attorneys for the two companies to dismiss all claims against them, finding that there were triable issues regarding whether an alleged lack of sufficient lighting in the area represented a negligently created dangerous condition.
Caltrans contracted with Atkinson, which in turn hired High-Light to provide lighting for the renovation work known as the High-Occupancy Expansion Project, according to Feeney.
The crash occurred on a highly traveled stretch of the freeway, the suit states. The asphalt shoulder and the slow lane were closed off, leaving drivers such as Armenta with no safe place to walk if they had problems with their cars, the suit alleges.
Under those circumstances, a stranded motorist such as Armenta had no safe alternative but to either stay in his car in one of the four open lanes and risk being struck from behind, or leave his truck and be vulnerable to being hit by other vehicles, the suit states.
Armenta initially stayed in his truck, but decided to leave and head to a gas station by walking to the Kellogg Drive off-ramp, the suit states. He was able to cross all the westbound lanes while carrying a gas can, but was fatally struck in the unlit median center by a driver who fled, according to the lawsuit.
Trial in the case is scheduled Feb. 1.