On 9/16/16, on northbound Highway 101 in Palo Alto, California, a heavy metal projectile approximately the size of a tennis ball smashed through the window of a minivan, killing the driver, the beloved 82-year-old Louis Schaefer, a Bay Area retired engineer. Ironically, the at-fault party appears to be CALTRANS, the very entity responsible for keeping our highways free of dirt and debris. It is reported that the projectile appears to be a cap to the tank of a CALTRANS water truck that detached while the truck was traveling on southbound Highway 101.
Surviving family members in fatal accident cases caused by governmental entities such as CALTRANS are entitled to bring claims for wrongful death. While a two-year statute of limitations is applicable to accident claims against private parties, there is a governmental claims process applicable to CALTRANS that must be complied with pursuant to California State law which dictates that a governmental claim be brought within 6 months of the accident.
As reported by several news agencies, Aniket Gadre, a young boy, was tragically killed while walking with his mother in the parking lot of San Jose’s Westfield Oakridge Shopping Center during the evening of June 30, 2016. According to witnesses, a Mercedes automobile traveling at low speed, apparently looking for a parking spot, fatally struck Aniket. As a Bay Area pedestrian accident lawyer who has handled many such cases, distracted driving is a huge factor in many fatal and severe injury incidents. While we frequently see drivers take their eyes off the path in which their vehicle is traveling, it is negligent to do so. This comes at the same time that the NHTSA has released its crash data showing a dramatic increase in pedestrian fatalities, as I reported in my earlier blog post.
The NHTSA has released their preliminary analysis of 2015 crash data. Traffic deaths nationally increased 7.7% over 2014, 6% in California, with 9 out of 10 geographic regions reporting increases. Bicycling deaths nationally increased a startling 13%, while pedestrian deaths increased an equally troubling 10%. The data is still being analyzed but the NHTSA reports that human factors such as distracted driving and young drivers to be primary factors. This of course comes as no surprise to San Francisco Bay Area drivers who constantly witness distracted driving activity on our roads due to drivers’ use of smartphones. Congressional action and local strict enforcement are clearly needed.
In my humble opinion, we have a duty as citizens to report unsafe drivers in order to prevent traffic accidents. If one knows of an incompetent or chronically impaired driver, there is action that can be taken to report that person and thereby hopefully eventually remove that person from the road, either temporarily or permanently, in order to prevent fatalities and injuries. If we are out driving and observe someone exhibiting unsafe driving behavior, the California Highway Patrol (CHP) wants us to report it while it is happening by calling 911. There is also a procedure for reporting such drivers to the DMV. The DMV has a Form (DS 699) Request For Driver Reexamination, which can be found online, by which ordinary citizens can report to the DMV unsafe drivers known to them. I recently used this form to report an extremely elderly man who I observed for several minutes exhibiting incompetent driving behavior on Highway 101. While I should have notified the CHP immediately, I later used the DS 699 to report the driver using the car plate number and vehicle and driver description.
As reported by local news media, a Toyota Corolla driven on the wrong side of Highway 1 near Paloma Ave in Pacifica collided head-on with a Nissan Altima driven by an Uber driver at approximately 2:30 a.m. on 12/25/15. The collision caused the untimely and tragic death of Jason Gilbride, age 25, of Pacifica, who was the Uber passenger, as well as the driver of the Corolla. The Uber driver is reportedly severely injured and hospitalized at San Francisco General Hospital.
As I have described in a previous blog entry, Uber provides its passengers with $1 Million of uninsured/underinsured motorist coverage in addition to the mandated $1 Million of liability insurance. Thus, regardless of how fault for this accident is attributed, there are substantial insurance proceeds available to compensate the Uber-related victims of this horrific accident and their families, albeit never enough to truly compensate them for their devastating loss.
Tragically, on 9/21/15, a 39-year-old motorcyclist was killed in a chain-reaction accident on Highway 680 in San Ramon which reportedly began with a Honda rear-ending a big rig, spinning out and becoming disabled before colliding with the motorcyclist who was soon thereafter run over by a second big rig. As SF Bay Area motorcycle accident attorneys, we have handled strikingly similar accident cases on behalf of the families of the deceased motorcyclists. These cases typically involve complex issues of accident reconstruction and human factors analysis, insurance issues, and legal issues of comparative fault. We have overcome much finger-pointing, adverse police reports, and denials of fault by insurance companies, in obtaining for the families the justice and compensation they deserved.
Tragically, another life has been taken by an elderly unfit driver purportedly suffering from so-called “pedal confusion”, i.e., hitting the gas pedal instead of the brake. Kathy Baker, the beloved CFO of Lawrence Livermore Labs, was killed on 9/22/15 during her early morning workout at the LifeStyleRx Fitness Center in Livermore when an 80-year-old female Livermore resident (identified by ABC News as Mineko Deakin) drove her Mercedes ML350 SUV through the front of the gym and kept going, evidently mentally confused. Five or six others were reportedly injured.
Unfortunately, this scenario of an elderly person who, due to mental or physical disabilities brought on by age or illness, injures or kills innocent victims, is all too common and too little is being done to prevent such accidents. In my decades of practice as a car accident lawyer, I have found that drivers quite often drive long past the point at which they are competent to do so. According to ABC News, Ms. Deakin reportedly had approximately 18 months previously jumped the same curb and nearly run into the same fitness center but no police report was made due to lack of injuries or damage.
While much can be recovered by the victim’s family from the driver’s car insurance, umbrella insurance, assets, and under certain circumstances even from the driver’s physicians or the premises owner’s insurance, nothing can fully compensate the victim’s family for their immeasurable loss.
The Uber and Lyft ride-sharing companies, according to their respective websites, provide their passengers with $1 million of uninsured/underinsured motorist (UM/UIM) coverage, in addition to the statutorily mandated $1 million in liability coverage. This is highly commendable and beneficial to its passengers, and goes far beyond what is provided by taxi companies which almost never provide UM/UIM coverage. So, for example, if an Uber or Lyft passenger suffers severe injuries in a traffic collision due to the negligent conduct of an uninsured or underinsured driver of another car, Uber’s or Lyft’s UM/UIM insurance will cover you to the extent the other driver’s insurance is insufficient to compensate you for your injuries, up to $1 million.
The final 2013 crash data was recently published by the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA). The data reveals that in California, in 2013, there were 3000 total crash related fatalities, 29% of which involved alcohol-impaired driving. As compared to 2012, the number of fatal and injury crashes in the United States dipped only slightly, both absolutely and per vehicle mile traveled (VMT). The relative distribution between rural and urban remained unchanged. A whopping 49% of passenger vehicle occupant fatalities were unrestrained. And 41% of motorcyclist fatalities were not helmeted. There were 4,735 pedestrian fatalities in the United States in 2013 (13 per day) and 66,000 pedestrian injuries (181 per day). The statistics for bicyclists are equally sobering, with 743 killed and 48,000 injured.
A San Francisco City Employee, Priscila “Precy” Moreto, was killed in front of City Hall at approximately 11:00 a.m. on October 23, 2014, while walking in a heavily marked crosswalk as the result of being struck by a tourist bus shaped like a cable car operated by Classic Cable Car Charters. This tragically adds to the ever mounting toll of pedestrian fatalities in San Francisco.
According to City officials, the City had decided to install a light at that crosswalk due to its long history of traffic injuries, but that installation will still not happen until sometime in mid-2015. This highlights the fact that it takes sometimes years to install a mere traffic light in San Francisco following a decision to do so, as illustrated by the plight of several dangerous intersections along Sunset and other high-danger streets. This is particularly frustrating to me as an attorney who represents the victims of pedestrian accidents and their families, as these accidents are preventable and avoidable.
Update: The driver, Raymond Lucas, a 65-year-old Menlo Park resident, has been arrested on suspicion of vehicular manslaughter.
Update (2/20/15): Traffic light to be installed this summer where this accident occurred.