A jury in Cochise County will spend this week deciding whether the State of Arizona, specifically the Arizona Department of Transportation, is liable for “gruesome and horrifying” injuries a man suffered in 2017 while jaywalking across an unlit stretch of State Route 92 in Sierra Vista.
It was back around 8:30 p.m. on Nov. 11, 2017 that Gerado Sanchez and Lourdes Flores headed out on foot from their hotel to get something to eat at a restaurant across the road. Although there was an uncontrolled intersection several hundred feet to the north at SR92 and Snyder Boulevard, the spot where the two crossed had no crosswalk and no streetlights.
Flores and Sanchez, who were both dressed in dark clothing, were struck by a Dodge Dart driven by a local woman. Flores died of her injuries while Sanchez suffered multiple injuries which racked up more than $360,000 in medical bills in just the first two months, according to his legal claims.
The area where the two had crossed SR92 was designed and built in the early 1990s, long before the southern end of Sierra Vista saw a buildup of commercial and residential properties. There is no intersection in that area nor a marked crosswalk, as well as no streetlights, although a minimal of lighting was provided on the shoulder of the roadway by local businesses.
Sanchez filed his lawsuit in October 2018, listing Cochise County, City of Sierra Vista, and State of Arizona (as Arizona Department of Transportation) as defendants. He also sued the Dodge’s driver, who was not cited due in part to the fact Sanchez and Flores entered the roadway in violation of state law.
In addition, the hour of night and the darkness of the area contributed to multiple drivers not being able to see Sanchez and Flores, according to police reports.
Attorneys for the City of Sierra Vista and for Cochise County successfully argued over the last few years they had no responsibility nor liability for Sanchez’s claims. ADOT, not local agencies, were solely responsible for street lighting on SR92, according to Judge Timothy Dickerson of the Cochise County Superior Court.
A settlement between Sanchez and the Dodge’s driver was announced in June, leaving only the State of Arizona -through the Arizona Department of Transportation (ADOT)- as a defendant.
Dickerson previously ruled the State of Arizona is entitled to absolute immunity for the decision not to install a traffic signal at the nearby intersection of SR92 and Snyder Blvd. That level of full immunity was warranted both by a matter of law and because Sanchez offered no evidence that he would have walked to a controlled intersection to cross the road, the judge noted.
The issue of qualified immunity, however, is a “genuine dispute of fact” for a jury to decide, Dickerson ruled. He based that order on opposing affidavits filed by experts in the case about whether the scene of the accident was properly designed and/or whether adequate warnings were provided to drivers and pedestrians.
Court records show an expert for the State of Arizona will testify that the area of SR92 where the accident occurred met the then-existing standards when built. But Sanchez’s expert is of the opinion ADOT could have enhanced pedestrian safety along that stretch of state highway through improvements such as warning signs and street lighting.
A jury will be empaneled Tuesday in the case and is expected to hear the case through Friday. Jurors will be asked to decide whether the State of Arizona can demonstrate qualified immunity for ADOT’s choices, or if the State has some degree of liability for the accident.
As of early 2020, the segment of SR92 where the accident occurred had 14 vehicle vs. pedestrian crashes resulting in four fatalities (including Flores) and four incapacitating injuries (including Sanchez). Among evidence expected to be introduced during the trial are dozens of various ADOT documents dating back to 2003, including transportation studies, accident reports, and engineering guidelines.
If the jurors find the State liable, they must then determine whether the State’s share of fault should be reduced due to comparative fault of others, such as Sanchez, Flores, or the driver.
If Sanchez prevails on the liability issue, then a second trial will address financial damages.
In June 2018, an attorney filed a notice of claim on behalf of Flores’ estate against the city, county, and state. It is unclear whether any of the government entities settled with Flores’ family, although no lawsuit was ever filed.