On the morning of Saturday, January 6th, extreme weather conditions in California’s Central Valley led to a nightmare pile-up accident on Interstate 5 involving a total of 35 vehicles just outside of Bakersfield – including 17 passenger cars and 18 big-rig trucks. Two people were killed and at least nine others were taken to nearby hospitals with injuries.
The victims who passed away were identified as 62-year-old Patricia Anne Wilson from Sun City, Arizona and 45-year-old Pedro Garcia Canseco from Gilroy, California. Unfortunately, both drivers were in passenger cars that collided with semi trucks.
One of the major factors that played a part in this crash was a type of tule fog that’s unique in the world to California’s San Joaquin and Sacramento Valleys. Witnesses from the time and place of the accident described a heavy fog with no more than 100 feet of visibility.
When Kern County Fire Department crews arrived on the scene of the accident, visibility was down to just 10 feet. The chaotic scene of the crash spanned nearly half a mile long – some of the trucks were carrying compressed natural gas that spilled into the area, requiring a quick evacuation. The freeway had to close overnight while crews cleared out the debris.
If you or a family member has been affected by this crash or a similar incident in the Central Valley, the experienced personal injury and wrongful death attorneys at Sepulveda Law can help. You have rights – depending on who’s at fault, you could recover compensation for your injuries and losses. For an accident this complex, having a lawyer on your side can make all the difference when it comes to getting your claims covered by a fair settlement.
Navigating Your Legal Options in the Aftermath of an Accident
The hours and days following a highway accident can be overwhelming and disorienting, especially one as severe as a multi-vehicle pileup with fatalities. Once you’re out of immediate danger, you must tend to any injuries and consider the legal implications of the crash.
In a case like this, multiple people could be at fault. Even if you share some of the fault, you can still recover damages from others under California’s comparative fault rules. If you’ve suffered an injury or lost a family member in this type of crash, you could file a legal claim to cover your medical bills, lost income, pain, and emotional suffering.
The Danger of Sudden Weather Conditions on the Road
As this crash has shown, sudden weather conditions create significant risks on the road, rapidly altering driving conditions and challenging even the most experienced drivers. In the Central Valley, where weather can be both unpredictable and dramatic, understanding these dangers is crucial. Training is essential for truck drivers who operate on these routes.
In the case of the January 6th crash on I-5 between SR-223 and Older River Road, the grapevine’s notorious tule fog caught many of the drivers off guard.
Tule fog (rhymes with “newly”) is named after the tule grass native to the Central Valley region. The weather phenomenon is a heavy ground fog that forms primarily in California’s wet winter months, between November and March. It’s most likely to happen after a significant rainstorm, when winds are low, humidity is high, and the ground chills overnight. Water vapor condenses in the air rising up from the ground, essentially creating a cloud on the flat valley floor – often with no more than minutes of warning. To make matters worse, sometimes the fog appears in patches, surprising drivers who may otherwise be traveling at high speeds in clearer conditions.
If you ever find yourself in these types of conditions, the California Highway Patrol recommends:
- Reduce your speed and switch on your lowest-beam headlights
- If you can, get off the freeway at an exit and wait out the fog
- Increase your following distance and avoid crossing into other lanes
- Don’t stop on the side of the highway unless it’s an emergency
- Move away from your vehicle if you’re stalled or broken down
- Rolling your windows down can help you hear hazards before you see them
- Stop at every intersection even if the lights are green, sound your horn twice, and make sure no one honks back before you cross
The dangers of low visibility conditions on the road cannot be overstated. You should exercise as much caution as possible and postpone your trip if you can. Professionals such as truck drivers who expect to drive through California’s Central Valley should be aware of what precautions to take in these conditions. They must act quickly to avoid contributing to accidents with the destructive force of a tractor-trailer. Otherwise, they could be at fault for negligence.
Seeking Compensation: How Victims and Families Can Recover
Even if you were partly at fault in a crash, you can still recover damages from other drivers who share the fault for causing the crash. In an accident like this involving multiple commercial vehicles and big rigs, truck drivers are held to a high standard of professional care. If a truck driver fails to act according to these standards and causes or worsens a crash, the trucking company who employs them – or their insurance company – could be held liable.
For example, you’re driving in heavy fog when you see a truck stopped on the road in front of you. You try to brake in time but hit the truck, causing minimal damage to it and your car. Another truck behind you fails to see either of you and crashes into your car, causing significant damage and injuries. In this scenario, you may be partly at fault for not stopping in time to avoid the first truck. But the truck that was stopped and the truck that rear-ended you could share the majority of fault in causing your injuries.
For family members of victims who lost their lives to a pile-up crash in the Central Valley, a wrongful death lawsuit can put responsibility where it belongs and help you get justice.
Because the stakes after a catastrophic incident like this are so high, it’s critical to get the right legal help in the immediate aftermath. A good attorney will fight for your best interests at all times – that could involve dealing with trucking companies or insurance companies who may not want to play fair. Your lawyer can assess the full extent of your damages, gather evidence to prove your claims, and build a strong case to make sure you get full compensation.
At Sepulveda Sanchez Law, we take car and truck accident cases on a contingency fee basis so that you don’t have to worry about paying legal fees unless we win your case and recover damages on your behalf. Contact us now to get started ASAP.