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Historic $27 Million Settlement Reached After Car Accident Involving Sacramento Sheriff’s Deputy Left Child Permanently Brain Damaged

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Last week Sacramento County officials announced a settlement with a local family following a 2017 car accident that left one child with broken bones and another with permanent brain damage. The settlement, which includes a $27 million payout to the family, is one of the county’s largest ever in a personal injury case.

On July 14, 2017, Raed Awad and his wife, Nevin, were returning home with their three children (a 6-year-old boy, 10-year-old girl, and 12-year-old boy) just after midnight. Less than one block from the Awad’s home, their Honda CRV collided with the vehicle driven by Sacramento County Sheriff’s deputy, Sean Steen, on Fulton Avenue in Arden Arcade, California.

Though no alcohol or illicit substances were found to have played a factor, Steen, who was traveling at over 80 miles per hour, made a serious oversight that would prove to be the primary focus of the family’s personal injury civil lawsuit against Sacramento County. While responding at high speed to a distressing call of a “fight in progress,” the deputy did not have his vehicle’s lights or sirens on at the time of the collision.

Attorneys Robert Buccola and Jason Sigel of Sacramento personal injury firm, Dryer Babich Buccola Wood Campora, LLP, represented the Awads against the county. Buccola described the continued challenges the Awad’s daughter, now 12-years-old, experiences due to the brain damage sustained through the accident to a local media outlet. “She, unfortunately, cannot get up. She can’t walk. She does require bowel and bladder care, and that’s anticipated to be the case for the rest of her life,” Buccola told ABC10, adding that she is essentially unable to speak.

Attorney Sigel spoke with the Sacramento Bee about the young girl’s injuries, and indicated that, although she will likely require 24/7 living care for the rest of her life, Julian Awad has shown more progress than doctors initially predicted.

“For the first year and a half…you could call her name or play her favorite songs on the iPad and she wouldn’t respond,” Sigel told the Sacramento Bee. “But now, she’s beginning to turn to that stimulus. She’s beginning to reach out to things. By all accounts, it’s pretty miraculous recovery.”

The December 2017 personal injury civil lawsuit filed by the Awads claimed negligence on the part of the sheriff’s deputy by traveling “at a high speed well in excess of the posted speed limit” and ultimately causing the crash.

Attorneys on behalf of Sacramento County and the Sheriff’s Office issued a response via a February 2018 court filing. Said response denied the Awad’s allegations, and actually included an affirmative defense that the plaintiff and driver of the Honda CRV, Raed Awad (the father of the injured children), was “himself guilty of comparative negligence or fault.”

The response from the Sheriff’s Office and county also cited section 17004 of California’s vehicle code, which expressly limits civil liability for public employees (e.g. law enforcement officials) for personal injuries, death, or property damage caused while responding to an emergency call.

Buccola indicated to the Sacramento Bee that “the Sheriff’s Office has a protocol policy requiring deputies use Code 3 — responding with their vehicles’ emergency lights and sirens on — when traveling above the speed limit to respond to an emergency.”

“There would have been likely immunity, completely, if he [deputy Steen] had gone Code 3 with his overhead light bar on and siren,” Buccola said.

Sacramento County finally settled with the Awad family last week for nearly $27 million, including legal fees. The settlement will be paid by the county’s insurance risk fund, not by taxpayers. The majority of the settlement is said to be going into a trust for the injured girl to help pay towards medical expenses for the remainder of her life, according to attorneys representing the Awad family.

Sacramento County spokesperson, Kim Nava, referred to the settlement as “one of the largest – if not the largest – for a personal injury case in the county’s history.”

Deputy Steen is currently working for the Sacramento County Sheriff’s Office. Sheriff Scott Jones issued a public statement following the announced settlement:

“This settlement reached between the county and the plaintiffs can not undo that moment in time of the horrific accident that changed their lives forever…Although no amount of money can truly compensate them for what they’ve been through, I sincerely hope that in some way it helps them in their recovery and moving forward.”

Buccola and Sigel indicated to the press that the Awad family has forgiven the deputy. Steen, it should be noted, immediately jumped out of his vehicle in an effort to assist the family after the crash occurred, remaining at the scene until additional first responders arrived.

“They don’t really harbor any ill will or animosity toward him,” Buccola told ABC10. “In fact, they’ve expressed concerns that he makes a recovery and want him to know that they understand that accidents can happen, even to the most well-intentioned people.”

A common sentiment shared among all sides seems to be the notion that this particular tragedy may serve as a reminder of the importance in following protocol — the hope being that by adhering to protocol and keeping this example in mind, a similar incident might be prevented in the future.