Parents file wrongful death suit

Matthew Hurlbutt, a Cal Poly student, died after being struck while walking on highway

nwilson@thetribunenews.comApril 26, 2011 

Matthew Hurlbutt is seen in a Facebook photo.

The parents of a Cal Poly student who died last year after being hit by a truck while walking on Highway 101 have filed a wrongful death lawsuit against three government agencies and a local doctor — claiming negligence caused their son’s death.

Michelle and Lee Hurlbutt of Upland filed the lawsuit March 29 in San Luis Obispo Superior Court against Caltrans, the county of San Luis Obispo, city of San Luis Obispo and local doctor Atsuko Rees.

The lawsuit — which represents only one side of the story — alleges the agencies owned and maintained the area of the highway where 21-year-old Matthew Hurlbutt was struck and killed about 1 a.m. on April 4, 2010, near the Santa Rosa Street intersection.

They allege Rees improperly prescribed their son medical marijuana, which altered his senses and judgment about crossing the freeway.

The lawsuit doesn’t mention that in addition to marijuana, Hurlbutt had a high level of alcohol as well as cocaine in his system when he was struck, according to a CHP investigation.

Hurlbutt’s parents allege the area was poorly lit, had no barrier to restrict pedestrian crossings and lacked adequate warning signs to prevent pedestrians from entering the freeway.

“The area was frequently used as a pedestrian crossing, so much so, that a footpath was worn leading to the area where (Hurlbutt) crossed the US-101,” according to the lawsuit.

In addition to claims of negligence about the safety conditions, the suit claims Rees provided him with a medical marijuana prescription after Hurlbutt became her patient, though he didn’t need it.

“Mr. Hurlbutt was a healthy young man and had no medicinal need for marijuana,” the lawsuit states.

Rees said Tuesday that she hadn’t been served with the lawsuit and she wouldn’t comment.

But she emphasized that she issues statements of need of medical marijuana based on “medical evaluations.” Those statements allow patients to legally purchase the drug under state law.

The driver, Ronald Reinhardt, of Pismo Beach, never saw Hurlbutt before striking him in a 2002 Toyota Tacoma, the lawsuit states.

The three government agencies each rejected claims last year by the Hurlbutts for monetary damages.

Filings of claims are required before a civil lawsuit can be made against a government agency.

Assistant county counsel Rita Neal told The Tribune in an email that its claim was rejected because “the area where the accident occurred was not owned or controlled by the county.”

San Luis Obispo’s city attorney Christine Dietrick said Monday that the city hadn’t been served with the lawsuit yet and declined any further comment.

Caltrans spokesman Jim Shivers said Tuesday that the agency is aware of the case, but “we generally don’t comment on ongoing litigation.”

The parties are scheduled to appear for a case management conference Aug. 2 at 9 a.m. in Judge Charles Crandall’s courtroom.

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