Posted: Tuesday, May 9, 2017 – 7:53 PM
By Victoria Talbot
The City of Beverly Hills has agreed to a $32.5 million settlement in lawsuits arising from two accidents that occurred on Loma Vista Drive in 2014 and 2015.
“The insurance companies negotiated the settlement and the City had very little to say about the negotiation,” said Beverly Hills City Attorney Larry Wiener.
The exact amount is still being negotiated, said Wiener. The negotiations are within the insurance companies.
Attorney Brian Panish represented the family of LAPD Detective Ernest Allen, Sr., who was killed May 9, 2014, when a cement truck careened down the steep street out of control, mowing his private truck down before climbing up a tree and falling back to the street.
Panish also represented the driver of the truck, Brandon Cascio, has been in a vegetative state since the accident. He was also named in the settlement.
Cascio was a driver for Over & Over Ready Mix cement company, which, along with the City of Beverly Hills and the City of Los Angeles, was named in a lawsuit filed on behalf of Det. Allen including his mother Sarah Allen and children Ernest Allen, Jr. and Latrice Allen-Richard.
A second cement truck drive, Eric Johnson, catastrophically injured in a separate accident on May 9, a week later, also reached a settlement with the City. He, too, was represented in the settlement.
Johnson was in an accident when his truck careened down the steep incline on Loma Vista Drive, where he drove into several parked cars and a cinder-block wall to stop his vehicle.
The family of Officer Nicholas Lee, killed on March 7, 2014 in a similar accident involving a heavy haul vehicle losing control on the steep street and plowing into his car, has not settled.
Lee, a veteran training officer for LAPD, was in his cruiser with a trainee when his vehicle was hit by 47-year-old Robert Maldonado, the owner of a dump truck company.
Maldonado was arrested and charged with failure to properly maintain his truck. The vehicle’s brakes had failed when it fatally struck Lee’s vehicle.
“This was an unfortunate series of events that had tragic results,” Wiener said.
Panish Shea & Boyle LLP attorneys Deborah Chang, Brian Panish, Tom Schultz and Austin Ward issued the following statement:
“On May 2, 2014, plaintiff Eric Johnson was seriously injured when his loaded cement truck lost its brakes while driving down Loma Vista Drive, causing him to crash into parked vehicles to stop his runaway descent. Only one week later, on May 9, 2014, LAPD Detective Ernest Allen, Sr. was killed when a cement truck operated by Plaintiff Brandon Cascio on Loma Vista Drive lost its brakes, ran off the road at a sharp curve, and rolled over on top of Detective Allen’s pickup truck. As a result of his injuries, Mr. Cascio is now in a persistent vegetative coma.
“For over fifty years, the City of Beverly Hills had known that Loma Vista Drive constituted a dangerous condition because its unusual grades are too steep for too long at the top. Because the roadway has grades that are unusually long and steep, drivers’ brakes are used repeatedly while driving down the hill until some eventually fail. The runaway heavy vehicles then continue to accelerate down the roadway, gaining such high speeds that they cannot negotiate the last sharp curve to the right and eventually crash. City employees, traffic consultants, and concerned residents had warned City management for decades that these types of tragic accidents would continue to occur unless effective changes were made on Loma Vista Drive, but they were not. The City vigorously fought the lawsuits, including filing motions for summary judgment claiming a design immunity defense which were denied by the court. The City also alleged that the truck drivers were at fault for the collisions because they should have used a route that did not include Loma Vista Drive.”
The lawsuits were consolidated and settled globally, for the purpose of trial. Plaintiff Brandon Cascio was also represented in the case by Gregory Vanni of the Law Offices of Thon Beck Vanni Callahan & Powell.
The 2014 deaths of two LAPD officers, the circumstances that caused the accidents came under scrutiny. The City of Beverly Hills contracted with Fehrs & Peers Traffic Engineering firm to look for ways to make the streets safer.
Ultimately, the City has enacted several mitigation measures in the Trousdale area to enhance public safety.
Measures include limiting maximum vehicle weight to 50,400 pounds, escorts and road closures for excessive loads, vehicle inspections, secondary braking systems, heavy haul routes that avoid steep downhill streets, driver-safety checks, CHP presence and contractor’s responsibility for compliance.
These measures have enhanced safety in the area, which is experiencing a surge in development that contributed to the confluence of events.
The uptick in development has been felt throughout the hillside communities of West LA, which led to fears that such accidents could happen in Bel Air, where construction resembled a war zone.
City Councilman Paul Koretz successfully introduced several measures to curb truck traffic and limit hauling in the hillside area, looking at the mitigation measures put into place following the tragic accidents on Loma Vista.