Monday, September 28, 2020     Volume: 21, Issue: 30

Santa Maria Sun / News

The following article was posted on December 4th, 2019, in the Santa Maria Sun - Volume 20, Issue 40 [ Submit a Story ]
The following articles were printed from Santa Maria Sun [] - Volume 20, Issue 40

Santa Maria settles with men hurt in police vehicle accident

By Zac Ezzone

After battling the matter for more than two years in court, the city of Santa Maria is settling a lawsuit filed by two men who were in a vehicle hit from behind by a police car in May 2016.

Santa Maria City Council unanimously agreed to settle a lawsuit filed by two men hurt in a car crash involving a city police officer in 2016.

City Attorney Thomas Watson announced the settlement following a closed session period of the council’s Nov. 19 meeting. 

“With respect to the conference with legal counsel regarding Sell and Hutchison v. City of Santa Maria, it was unanimously determined by council to enter into a settlement agreement with the plaintiffs and resolve the case,” Watson said.

City Public Information Manager Mark van de Kamp told the Sun that the city has agreed to pay $400,000 to the people who filed the lawsuit and their attorneys.

Officer Michael Wheeler rear-ended a vehicle carrying Bob Sell and Joel Hutchison on Broadway Street near Enos Drive after traffic came to a sudden stop. Van de Kamp said Wheeler was responding to a call and looking at suspect information displayed on a computer inside his car when traffic ahead halted. The officer slammed on his brakes before striking Sell and Hutchison’s vehicle. 

According to court documents, Sell and Hutchison filed a complaint—seeking damages for loss of wages, medical expenses, property damage, and general damage suffered as a result of the crash—in Santa Barbara County Superior Court on April 3, 2017. In December 2018, a jury found that the city should pay Sell and Hutchison $420,000 to cover these damages.

Van de Kamp said the city appealed this ruling, contesting the extent of personal injuries both Sell and Hutchison suffered in the car crash. Although, he said, the city has always accepted responsibility for the accident itself and paid the full amount for the vehicle damages. 

In March 2019, a judge lowered the amount of damages to about $385,000, but this included other expenses bringing the total to close to $450,000, City Attorney Watson said. The city filed an appeal following this ruling. 

Not wanting to continue dragging out this case through an appeals process, the city and plaintiffs arrived at an amount they found agreeable.

“We’ve been waiting three years for that to happen,” Sell and Hutchison’s attorney Michael Clayton said.

As soon as the settlement proceeds of $400,000 are paid, the appeals and the jury trial will be dismissed. Clayton said Sell and Hutchison are both waiting on this settlement money to have surgeries to repair injuries sustained in the crash.

“We’re trying to get them back to there they were,” Clayton said. 

—Zac Ezzone

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