dale-thomas

Jury Awards Damages in the Wrongful Death of Cyclist

On June 21, 2017, a civil jury of nine Coloradans serving in the United States District Court in Denver found negligence on the part AZ Asphalt, LLC, and on the part of Saul Diaz-Sabas, its employee driver, and determined damages totaling $568,810.00 against AZ Asphalt et al in the wrongful death of Dale Thomas.

This verdict, which became a final judgment on August 2, 2017, includes non-economic, economic, and punitive damages against AZ Asphalt et al in favor of plaintiff Ellen Petrick, Thomas’s widow, represented by attorney Brian Weiss of Bike Law Colorado.The facts of the crash that killed Thomas are as follows: On the afternoon of June 19, 2015, John Michael Collins, owner of AZ Asphalt, ordered his employee, the then 16-year-old Diaz- Sabas, to drive a Dodge pickup truck pulling a trailer hauling a skid steer used in the paving business, from a job site in Crested Butte to his ranch in Gunnison. As Diaz-Sabas made the turn from Highway 135 onto County Road 8, he cut off cyclist Thomas and ran Thomas over with the trailer. Thomas died at the scene of the crash of catastrophic injuries.

The facts of the crash that killed Thomas are as follows: On the afternoon of June 19, 2015, John Michael Collins, owner of AZ Asphalt, ordered his employee, the then 16-year-old Diaz- Sabas, to drive a Dodge pickup truck pulling a trailer hauling a skid steer used in the paving business, from a job site in Crested Butte to his ranch in Gunnison. As Diaz-Sabas made the turn from Highway 135 onto County Road 8, he cut off cyclist Thomas and ran Thomas over with the trailer. Thomas died at the scene of the crash of catastrophic injuries.Colorado State Patrol Troopers responded to the scene and did a thorough investigation of the crash, citing both Collins and Diaz-Sabas. Significant findings included that Collins’ trailer did not have functioning brake lights or turn signals and that Diaz-Sabas was driving without a license or learner’s permit. It should be noted that Colorado law does not allow traffic citations to be used in civil trials so the jury did not know about the traffic tickets or guilty pleas entered by Collins and Diaz-Sabas.

Colorado State Patrol Troopers responded to the scene and did a thorough investigation of the crash, citing both Collins and Diaz-Sabas. Significant findings included that Collins’ trailer did not have functioning brake lights or turn signals and that Diaz-Sabas was driving without a license or learner’s permit. It should be noted that Colorado law does not allow traffic citations to be used in civil trials so the jury did not know about the traffic tickets or guilty pleas entered by Collins and Diaz-Sabas.
However, the recorded statements and depositions obtained in the course of the civil suit further revealed that Collins had not checked for employee driver’s licenses, completed I-9s, or done any type of background check of his employees who were instructed to drive commercial vehicles. The jury determined that Diaz-Sabas was reckless because he knew or should have known that driving without a license was dangerous, and had previously been ticketed for driving without a license. Thus, the jury determined punitive damages were necessary to send a message that this should not have happened. This is not only rare but is significant in that it required the jury to conclude that the misconduct of defendant Diaz-Sabas was both “willful and wanton”, meaning his actions showed an utter indifference to or conscious disregard for his safety and the safety of others.

Two eyewitnesses testified in court, each with vastly different versions of the crash. Ryan Cross of Boulder, Colorado, had been following in his vehicle immediately behind Diaz-Sabas. He witnessed Thomas being cut off and struck by Diaz-Sabas. Immediately, Cross pulled over to assist. Cross then stayed on the scene to speak with troopers and complete a written report.

In his report, Cross stated that “THE CYCLIST WAS OBEYING ALL TRAFFIC LAWS AND COULD NOT HAVE PREVENTED THIS IN ANY WAY [sic — all caps].” Cross explained what he saw with a video reenactment which was prepared by a crash reconstructionist. A second eyewitness, Joshua Doran, from Buena Vista, Colorado, had been following in his vehicle multiple cars behind Diaz-Sabas, and reported that Thomas was not looking where he was going and rode into the trailer. Doran changed his story over time and was consequently impeached at trial by Brian Weiss.Despite the refusal of AZ Asphalt et al to accept responsibility for the crash, and their insistence that Thomas himself was to blame, the jury made the following findings:

Despite the refusal of AZ Asphalt et al to accept responsibility for the crash, and their insistence that Thomas himself was to blame, the jury made the following findings:
Noneconomic damages: $ 400,000.00 (note: the cap in Colorado is $436,070.00)
Economic damages: $ 68,810.00
Punitive damages: $ 100,000.00

Thomas, who was 64-years-old at the time of his death, had lived in Gunnison for forty years and grew up in Littleton. He was the owner of Rocky Mountain Log and Antler Furnishings, but was best known as a cyclist who logged thousands of miles each year in and around Gunnison. He is survived by his widow, Ellen Petrick, his son, Jake Thomas, his daughter, Leah Thomas, and his grandson, Roland Thomas.

For more information, contact Brian Weiss, 303-741-0249, or Ellen Petrick, 406-599-6842