Shortly after the Benicia-Martinez Bridge opened, a fatal crash occurred between a 1967 Chevrolet pickup with a camper shell, carrying five girl scouts (aged 11-13 years-old), and a station wagon. The Chevrolet pickup was struck head on by the careening station wagon, which was deflected into oncoming traffic after striking the guardrail. Both vehicles caught fire. The mother and father of one of the girl scouts were killed and the girl scouts themselves suffered cuts, broken bones and severe burns.
The State was found to have maintained the bridge in a dangerous and defective condition and was ordered to pay $3,582,350. At the time, it was the largest verdict returned against the State of California. The State then adopted a policy to install median barriers on highways throughout California.
The State appealed the verdict to the California Supreme Court, arguing that they were not obligated to pay interest on the judgment. The Supreme Court held that the State, like other parties to litigation, is obligated to pay interest on a judgment obtained against it in a tort action.