A Los Angeles County Superior Court judge ruled Friday that the State of California would be excluded as a defendant in the $50-million lawsuit brought by horse trainer Bill Shoemaker after his single-car accident left him a quadriplegic six years ago.
With the state on the sidelines, Shoemaker’s suit against Glendora Community Hospital and eight doctors will continue Monday before Judge Frederick J. Lower Jr. Shoemaker’s attorneys will argue that their client’s condition was aggravated by the medical treatment he received in the hours after the accident.
Shoemaker, 65, won 8,833 races, more than any jockey, before starting a career as a trainer in 1990. He resumed training from a wheelchair about six months after the accident, which occurred April 8, 1991, when his Ford Bronco left the road and went down a 30-foot embankment off Route 30 in San Dimas.
Shoemaker’s attorneys allege that a guardrail at the scene of the accident would have made the road safer. Expert witnesses testified for the state and Shoemaker during 3 1/2 days in court this week.
“Substantial evidence supports the view that the design of the subject area underwent discretionary approval and was reasonable,” Lower said in his ruling. ". . . Caltrans [state] design engineers had the discretion to omit a guardrail.”
In the five years before the Shoemaker accident, there was one accident on the same side of the road as his, and Christopher Hiddleson, the attorney for the state, said the injuries from that incident would have been more severe had there been a guardrail.
“The building of this road was consistent with the state’s design criteria,” Hiddleson said. “And the installation of a guardrail should be considered only if there’s a high run-off probability on the road.”
Neil Papiano and Douglas C. Pease, Shoemaker’s attorneys, said there would be no appeal of Friday’s ruling.
“We were compelled [by the Ford Motor Co.] to try this issue,” Papiano said. “Now we can try the case against the doctors without any side issues.”
Ford, reluctant to go to court against Shoemaker, made a $1-million settlement in 1993, with the proviso that it would pay an additional $1.5 million if Shoemaker sued other parties and was unable to collect that much.
Shoemaker’s blood-alcohol content after the accident was .13, above the state’s maximum level of .08 for driving. Shoemaker has denied he was intoxicated and his attorneys say his “alleged intoxication is irrelevant in this case.”