Cop Car Crash Results in Settlement

A jury in the Santa Barbara County Superior Court in California reached judgment settling a civil lawsuit in a case where two men were injured when their vehicle was rear-ended by a Santa Maria police vehicle in 2016. This case sends an important signal that drivers must bear liability and responsibility when their actions result in an accident. In particular, this case looked at distracted driving and the fact that being preoccupied while driving is just as dangerous when it influences how a police officer operates their vehicle as when the same occurs with a civilian driver.


The litigants, Bob Otis Sell and Joel Hutchison, were in a pickup truck traveling in Santa Maria when they reached and reacted to stopped traffic in the roadway. Officer Michael Wheeler, driving the police cruiser behind them, failed to notice the stopped traffic and plowed into their truck. Accident reports show that the officer was looking at information on his in-car laptop and that distracted him from safely piloting his vehicle. When he finally noticed that traffic had come to a halt, he attempted to use his brakes to avoid an accident but was unable to do so. Both men in the pickup truck were injured and transported…


The Lakota R. Denton website states that initial days after a car wreck that has resulted in injury can be chaotic and confusing, which is why consulting an attorney as early as possible is necessary to protect the rights of those who have been hurt. An attorney can follow the police investigation of the crash, coordinate between insurance companies to ensure coverage for both injuries and vehicles, analyze medical and other bills that result and then proceed with settlement discussions or a lawsuit if necessary.


In the case of Hutchison and Sell, the Santa Maria police department did admit to being liable for the accident and paid for the impacted vehicle. Settlement attempts before the case went to trial failed when the city took issue with the actual extent of the injuries experienced. Both men experienced injuries serious enough to require multiple surgeries. Additionally, their attorney provided information on the extent of their lost wages, healthcare costs, property damage and future work in their field as plumbers. A majority vote by the civil jury awarded the two a total of $420,000 to offset their losses, a far higher figure than previously offered by the Santa Maria police department. That agency is currently considering whether to appeal that result.