On February 7, 2017, heavy rains caused a mudslide that closed northbound lanes of Highway 17 on the Santa Cruz side of the summit. The California Department of Transportation (Caltrans) hired Granite Rock Construction Company as the general contractor to clean up the slide. Granite Rock then hired Hildebrand & Sons Trucking as a subcontractor to provide extra trucks and drivers.
Two days later on February 9, 2017, a powerful rainstorm hit the already muddy jobsite, making it harder for the work crews to see, hear and move about. At about 11 a.m., the Caltrans onsite engineer decided that the jobsite should be shut down due to safety concerns. However, he never communicated that decision to the subcontractors, Granite Rock or Hildebrand. While the Granite Rock foreman had the power to shut down operations if things became dangerous, he did not believe the rainstorm made conditions dangerous. Unaware of the Caltrans decision, Granite Rock and Hildebrand crews continued working in a heavy downpour.
At 12:05 p.m. a three-axle Hildebrand dump truck backing uphill ran over two Granite Rock employees, killing “truck boss” Robert Gill. Gill’s 20-year-old son, Robert Jr., a new Granite Rock employee, witnessed his father’s death.
Walkup partner Matt Davis, in association with Tim McMahon of the Corsiglia, McMahon & Allard firm, represented the Gill family in a three-week trial in Santa Cruz County Superior Court against Hildebrand and Caltrans. While property owners generally have no liability for injuries to or the death of an employee of a general contractor, Davis argued that an exception to that rule applied here because Caltrans retained control over Granite Rock’s cleanup operations and negligently exercised that control by failing to shut down the jobsite.
Both defendants denied liability. Hildebrand argued its driver did nothing wrong and Caltrans contended that Granite Rock was solely responsible for jobsite safety pursuant to the job contract. They also argued that Mr. Gill was at fault because he was responsible for directing the movement of the trucks.
During jury deliberations Matt and Tim settled with Hildebrand for an amount in excess of its liability insurance policy. The jury found both Hildebrand and Caltrans liable and awarded the Gill plaintiffs $11.25 million in damages. The jury also found that Granite Rock and Gill shared some fault for the incident. After offsets and reductions for settlement, the net verdict against Caltrans exceeded $3 million.