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Judge upholds jury’s verdict in Santa Maria cop car crash case

Posted at 9:18 AM, Mar 27, 2019

A judge on Tuesday ruled to uphold a jury’s ruling – for the most part – that awarded hundreds of thousands of dollars to two people injured in a crash with a Santa Maria police car almost three years ago.

The initial ruling last year in the case involving the City of Santa Maria and Robert Sell and Joel Hutchinson awarded the two $420,000, but the City then appealed the verdict, contesting the extent of the men’s personal injuries.

Santa Maria-based Attorney Michael Clayton, who represents Sell and Hutchinson, says they have waited two years to get needed medical assistance for injuries sustained when they were hit from behind by a Santa Maria police car on May 19, 2016.

Clayton said while the judge during Tuesday’s appeal hearing stated he did not want to “go against the province of the jury,” he did decide that an injury to Sell’s right arm was not “reasonably related” and eliminated approximately $24,000 for a future surgery and another $7,000 for loss of earnings, bringing the total settlement amount to $390,000.

“The City of Santa Maria admits liability and they admit that they’ve done wrong, however, they’re not taking care of the two guys that are there that were injured,” Clayton told KSBY. “They say they’re liable and they say they want to pay but they’re not really doing that.”

The jury trial was a result of failed negotiations with the City, according to Clayton.

“This is taxpayers’ money and the City of Santa Maria citizens and the people who pay those taxes ruled that these two guys were hurt and they need to be compensated,” Clayton said.

Earlier this month, the City told KSBY it “admitted fault in the accident and promptly paid the full value of the vehicle. However, the City contested the extent of the Plaintiffs’ personal injuries, arguing that the $420,000 award was “excessive and unsupported by the evidence.”

Following Tuesday’s ruling, the City said it is, “disappointed with the results and will explore options to appeal.”

Clayton has said if the City does appeal again, “We’ll do our damndest to stay there all the way.”