The City of Santa Maria has withdrawn its appeal of a Santa Barbara County Superior Court jury’s verdict awarding more than $5.6 million to a local man injured by wastewater equipment operated by Utilities Department employees four years ago.

The agreement to drop the appeal and pay the award came after both sides met for mediation. 

The lawsuit stems from an April 18, 2019, incident. Juan Rodriguez was driving on South Palisade Drive near the corner of Boscoe Court. A sewer jetter blew through a manhole cover and sprayed water at a very high pressure directly into his face, according to the complaint.

The sewer jetter is a machine that uses a high-pressure water stream to clean the wastewater system’s pipes.

Juan and Sandra Rodriguez filed the civil lawsuit in July 2019.

Following a trial last year, a jury found the city liable and determined the city should pay plaintiff Juan Rodriguez $5.5 million after he claimed he suffered permanent blindness in his left eye, affecting his ability to work and his regular life activities. They also awarded his wife, Sandra Rodriguez, $150,000.

However, the city’s attorneys contend that Rodriguez had recovered 80% of his eyesight and deemed the award excessive.

In December, Judge Timothy Staffel denied the city’s motion for a new trial, siding with the plaintiffs’ attorneys. 

The city initially decided to appeal the verdict, but it agreed to withdraw it once both sides met in mediation. 

Continuing with the appeal would have significantly added to the city’s costs as interest had been accruing at a rate of 7%, or $1,083.60, per day since mid-October.

Attorneys Taylor Ernst and Nigel Whitehead of Ernst Law Group in San Luis Obispo represented Juan and Sandra Rodriguez. 

The city was represented by Daniel Carobini of Engle-Carobini and City Attorney Thomas Watson.

“We are pleased to reach a satisfactory resolution for both sides,” Watson said on behalf of the city. 

As part of the settlement, the plaintiffs agreed the city didn’t have to pay the more than $129,000 court costs award.

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Janene Scully | Noozhawk North County Editor

Noozhawk North County editor Janene Scully can be reached at