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Plaintiff: Failure to maintain highway’s shoulder resulted in crash








Yolo County


Superior Court of Yolo County, Yolo

Injury Type(s):

arm-fracture, humerus;
brain-internal bleeding; chest-fracture, rib;
other-fracture, sacrum;
other-loss of consortium; pelvis-fracture;
shoulder-rotator cuff, injury (non-tear);
urological-kidney; sensory/speech-speech/language, impairment of;
surgeries/treatment-internal fixation; pulmonary/respiratory-contusion, pulmonary;
paralysis/quadriplegia-paralysis, partial

Case Type:

Transportation – Roadways; Motor Vehicle – Rear-ender; Premises Liability – Dangerous Condition of Public Property

Case Name:

Rosalina Dionisio and Oscar Dionisio v. State of California and Stephen Keith Taylor,
No. CVPM13-356


February 4, 2015



Oscar Dionisio (Male, 71 Years), 

Rosalina Dionisio (Female, 62 Years)

Plaintiff Attorney(s):

Roger A. Dreyer;
Dreyer Babich Buccola Wood Campora, LLP;
Oscar Dionisio, Rosalina Dionisio ■ Daniel G. Schneiderman;
Dreyer Babich Buccola Wood Campora, LLP;
Oscar Dionisio, Rosalina Dionisio


State of California, 

Stephen Keith Taylor

Defense Attorney(s):

Douglas L. Johnson;
State of California, Department of Transportation;
State of California ■ Jeremy C. Thomas;
State of California, Department of Transportation;
State of California ■ Bradley S. Thomas;
The Thomas Law Firm;
Stephen Keith Taylor


self-insured State of California
Government Employees Insurance Co. for Stephen Keith Taylor


On Aug. 6, 2012, plaintiff Rosalina Dionisio, 62, a U.S. Postal Service worker, was heading to her home in Sacramento from her shift at the West Sacramento postal office. While she was driving her 1990 BMW, it suddenly stopped functioning and lost power. As she attempted to determine what was going on with her car, she moved it over into the number five lane, the farthest right lane, in an eastbound section of U.S. Route 50 between Harbor Boulevard and Jefferson Boulevard, in West Sacrament. Dionisio then attempted to pull out of the slow lane and over onto a paved shoulder, but saw that there was no shoulder available because oleanders, a type of shrub, had been allowed to overgrow the 8-foot paved shoulder that had been designed and constructed on that section of the freeway. As a result, Dionisio attempted to pull her car over as far to the right as she could so that the BMW was against the oleanders. However, her vehicle was only three feet in the shoulder, with the other half of her vehicle sticking out three feet into the number five lane. At around the same time, Stephen Taylor was eastbound on Route 50, traveling at approximately 70 miles per hour, when he moved into the number 5 lane with the intention of taking the Jefferson Boulevard exit. Taylor testified that he saw the Dionisio vehicle ahead of him, but that he did not appreciate that a portion of the vehicle was in his lane. Witnesses that Taylor had passed observed the Dionisio vehicle pulled off to the side of that road at about 1,000 feet in front of them. The couple both testified that they observed the Dionisio vehicle half in the shoulder and half in the number five lane. Since Taylor did not realize that the Dionisio vehicle was partly in his lane until it was too late, he did not brake or swerve. As a result, Taylor’s vehicle rear-ended the Dionisio vehicle at 70 mph, causing Dionisio to suffer injuries to her head, back, pelvis, leg and shoulder. Dionisio sued Taylor and the maintainer of the roadway, the State of California. Dionisio alleged that Taylor was negligent in operating his vehicle. She also alleged that the state’s Department of Transportation (Caltrans) was negligent in the maintenance of the highway’s shoulder at the subject location and that this failure constituted a dangerous condition of public property. Plaintiff’s counsel argued that the state of California has a responsibility for maintaining the shoulders of its roadways. The paved shoulder in the subject area was designed and constructed by Caltrans in the 1960s.Caltrans also called for oleanders to be planted and an irrigation system to be installed next to the shoulder. Plaintiff’s counsel presented evidence that allegedly demonstrated that the oleanders had overtaken the subject portion of the shoulder such that there were only small pockets of shoulder, or no shoulder, available for an area of approximately 0.2 miles. Counsel contended that west of the subject location, which Dionisio had passed after going under the Harbor Boulevard overcrossing, had shoulder areas that were open and available. Plaintiff’s counsel also located photographs, both from Caltrans’ photo logs and from Google, which allegedly demonstrated that this overgrowth of the shoulder existed since 2005. Counsel obtained records from Caltrans that showed that the state had been to the subject location on hundreds of occasions, doing a variety of different tasks, but that it never trimmed back the oleanders. At trial, Caltrans’ employees acknowledged that it was their responsibility to make certain the paved shoulder was open and available to members of the public. The Superintendent of Maintenance and the Superintendent of Landscaping were both cross-examined about their failure to remove the subject oleanders and they both acknowledged that they had admittedly failed in their obligation. The Superintendent of Maintenance also admitted that he had called the Superintendent of Landscape to get the oleanders trimmed back over a year before the subject incident. Thus, plaintiff’s counsel argued that the state had an obligation to keep the shoulder open and available to the public, and contended that both superintendents acknowledged that it was foreseeable that an incident of a similar nature could happen if they failed to do so. Counsel for the state of California noted that Dionisio testified in deposition that she heard a loud noise, felt a vibration, and then drove maybe another one or two minutes, looking for a place to pull off on the shoulder. The state’s counsel contended that had Dionisio pulled off on the shoulder sooner–approximately 100 feet west of where she stopped, or anywhere west of that point–she could have gotten entirely off the road and onto the shoulder without any oleander intrusion. Taylor’s counsel acknowledged that the impact speed was between the 60- to 70-mph range and that there was no physical evidence of braking (skid marks) or avoidance, as the post-impact movements of the vehicles were inconsistent with a pre-impact left steer by Taylor. Thus, the state’s counsel asserted that Taylor could have avoided the impact, with room to spare in the same lane of travel, had he initiated a left steer some 60 feet in advance of the point of impact. The state’s counsel also asserted that the subject location did not constitute a dangerous condition of public property when used with due care by the public generally, which mirrored the statutory definition of a dangerous condition of public property. In addition, the state’s counsel asserted that the type of incident that occurred was not foreseeable when drivers were exercising due care, noting that evidence demonstrated that Dionisio was stopped at the subject location for nine minutes, during which other vehicles would have successfully gone by. Counsel further pointed to the testimony of the eyewitnesses, who claimed they could see Dionisio’s vehicle 1,000-feet back, and contended that this testimony supported the position that Taylor was responsible for the accident and that this type of incident was not foreseeable.


Dionisio suffered acute bleeding to the occipital and parietal portions of her brain, and a "tear drop" fracture of the T2 vertebra. She also suffered multiple rib fractures, pulmonary contusions, a lacerated kidney, pelvic and sacrum fractures, a left humerus fracture, and a left rotator cuff injury. Dionisio was subsequently taken to UC Davis Medical Center, in Sacramento, and it was determined that she had all of her mental faculties and recollections as to what took place before the actual impact. It was also determined that the T2 fracture resulted in partial paralysis of her left arm and both legs. She did not suffer any kind of a cognitive brain injury, but the brain injury contributed to her partial paralysis. Dionisio also suffered partial vocal cord paralysis that affected her speech. She ultimately underwent spinal surgery with instrumentation, pelvic surgery with instrumentation, and internal fixation on her humeral fracture. Dionisio is confined to a wheelchair as a result of her partial paralysis. She claimed that she would have worked until the age of 66, but that she now needs attendant care for the rest of her life. Thus, Dionisio sought recovery of $1.8 million in past medical costs, and $500,000 in past and future lost wages. She also claimed that due to her need for attendant care for the rest of her life, her life care plan was between $3 million and $4 million. Dionisio’s husband, Oscar Dionisio, who was 71 years old and had retired from the USPS five years earlier, noted that he had been married to his wife for 19 years. Thus, he sought recovery of damages for his loss of consortium. The state’s counsel calculated that the Dionisios’ economic damages were in the $8.5-million range. However, according to defense counsel, plaintiffs’ counsel calculated the Dionisios’ economic damages as being higher.


On the eighth day of trial, the parties agreed to a $9.85 million settlement, with Caltrans agreeing to pay $9.75 million and Taylor’s insurer agreeing to pay $100,000.

Trial Information:


Timothy Fall

Editor’s Comment:

This report is based on information that was provided by plaintiffs’ counsel and counsel for the state of California. Stephen Keith Taylor’s counsel did not respond to the reporter’s phone calls.