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3 Women Settle With Dole Over Accident on Muddy Road

Lawsuit: Company says it was not liable for the crash that left one victim permanently disabled.

July 12, 2002|JESSICA BLANCHARD | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Three Oxnard women have settled a lawsuit against Dole Food Co., which they alleged was at fault for a February 2000 single-car accident that left one of them permanently disabled.

The settlement should give farmers and companies an incentive to clean up the roadways after they are done harvesting in nearby fields, said F. Samuel Heredia, an attorney for the women.

"I think we've done a good job of making sure the roads are safer, especially in the rural areas," Heredia said.

Shortly after midnight Feb. 10, 2000, the vehicle in which the women were riding slid on a muddy section of Pleasant Valley Road in Oxnard, rolled into a ditch and landed on its roof.

Adela Gutierrez, 56, Maria Melgoza, 51, and Estella Franco, 37, alleged in their suit that Dole and its subsidiaries had failed to adequately clear the road of mud after harvesting celery nearby.

All three women suffered serious injuries. Gutierrez was in a coma for three weeks and is permanently disabled; Melgoza was in a coma for three days and suffered a ruptured spleen and a fractured wrist; and Franco suffered facial fractures and had to have reconstructive surgery, Heredia said. Only Melgoza has been able to return to work, he said.

None of the women, who were on their way home from work, was wearing a seat belt, according to the police report. The driver, Guillermo Sanchez Medellin, a co-worker, had an expired driver's license and was found to be operating the car at an unsafe speed for the road conditions. He was hospitalized for minor pain but was not a plaintiff in the lawsuit.

Clifford Schaffer, an attorney for Dole, declined to address specific allegations in the suit but said Dole was not liable for the crash.

The settlement terms were not disclosed, but Heredia said the women would be able to take care of their medical bills for life. They total nearly $200,000 so far, he said.

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