The state of California is not liable for a 1991 automobile accident that left jockey-turned-trainer Bill Shoemaker paralyzed, a Superior Court judge ruled in Pomona on Friday.
Judge James Piatt granted the state a summary judgment, ruling California was not responsible under the design-immunity statute, lawyers for both parties said.
Shoemaker, who will turn 62 this month, sued the state for allegedly allowing a dangerous condition to exist on the highway, without a guardrail. He also sued Ford Motor Co., an ambulance company and a number of doctors who treated him at Glendora Community Hospital after the accident on April 8, 1991.
He reached an agreement with Ford last February that guaranteed him and his family at least $1 million and up to $2.5 million depending on the outcome of the trial. That agreement, coupled with the claim against the state, resulted in a public outcry against Shoemaker.
Shoemaker, the winningest jockey ever, was driving a Ford Bronco II when it veered off Highway 30 in San Dimas, hit a berm on the side of the road and rolled 50 feet down the side of an embankment.
At the time of the accident, tests showed that Shoemaker's blood-alcohol level was 0.13, above the state's legal limit of 0.08 to operate an automobile.
Shoemaker, a quadriplegic who uses a sip-and-puff wheelchair, has claimed he was not legally intoxicated when he drove away from Sierra La Verne Country Club shortly before the accident.
Arnold D. Larson, one of Shoemaker's attorneys, said the issue of a guardrail was not considered in Piatt's ruling. As a result, he said he will file a motion for reconsideration in an effort to bring the case before a jury.
"I wish they wouldn't, because I think the whole thing is ridiculous," said Christopher Hiddleson, attorney for the Dept. of Transportation. "I think it is clear the design of this freeway is reasonable, and it had nothing to do with how the accident was caused or happened."
Piatt's decision leaves seven doctors and the hospital as remaining defendants in a malpractice claim. A trial-setting conference is scheduled for Dec. 6, and the case could go to trial sometime next spring.
One physician, Cerna Atil, who is connected with Glendora Community, has been dismissed as a defendant. Larson said he expects Crippen Ambulance Service also to be dismissed. Larson said Friday's ruling will have no effect on the malpractice claims.