On Wednesday, attorneys made closing arguments for a $72 million lawsuit against the California Department of Transportation that seeks to hold the agency partially responsible for the death of a pedestrian along Hwy 9 in the Felton area.
Attorney Dana Scruggs told the 12-person jury in the Santa Cruz County Superior Court that Caltrans’ failure to improve the section of road north of downtown led to the death of 22-year-old Josh Howard.
He asked the jury to assign 75% of the blame for Howard’s Feb. 2019 death to Caltrans and 25% to Jeremy Shreves, the motorist who was convicted of felony reckless driving in the crash.
The first question that jurors will face as they deliberate the suit brought by the victim’s parents, Kelley Howard and Dimitri Jaumoville: “Was Hwy 9 in a dangerous condition at the location of the subject accident?”
Scruggs said Caltrans knew the road was substandard and ignored the issue.
“If they’d fixed the road, it wouldn’t have happened,” Scruggs said.
Shelby Davitt, an attorney for Caltrans, said there’s only one person to blame for Howard’s death: Shreves.
“He shouldn’t have drifted towards that edge line,” she said. “He didn’t turn his wheel.”
She clicked to a screen with a giant blue “0” on it, indicating no pedestrian accidents had occurred there prior to Howard’s death.
“This area is safe when using reasonable care,” she said. “There’s no dangerous conditions at this location—the alleged dangerous condition was the narrow shoulder, but the shoulder does not create a substantial risk of injury.”
Davitt also said Caltrans wasn’t provided with any specific “notice” that Highway 9 could be a serious problem in that spot.
“There’s no accident history here,” she said. “Generally complaining about the road is not notice.”
She called the proposed $72 million in damages a “ridiculous” figure “pulled out of thin air.” Instead, she said, the jury could come up with a figure by adding up several different items meant to bring the family joy in memory of Howard.
One of the options she thought of was to provide 21 of the man’s peers with passes to Roaring Camp Railroad; another was making a donation to an animal shelter, since Howard loved cats.
She suggested $1 million might be a more reasonable sum.
Closing arguments are set to continue on Thursday.