Palo Alto has agreed to pay nearly $1.5 million to the victim of a 2006 vehicle crash involving a city worker who was using his cell phone while driving, officials disclosed this week.
Silvio Obregon had asked the city for more than $5 million after the rear-end crash on Oregon Expressway left him with debilitating spinal injuries, according to court documents. He alleged that city worker Rubin Salas ran into him at a red light because he was reaching for his cell phone rather than watching the road.
The case was closed in December after the sides reached a settlement earlier in the year. Salas no longer works for the city.
The payout is “the largest we’ve had in a long time on a personal injury claim,” said Assistant City Attorney Donald Larkin. Still, the amount was fair given the extent of Obregon’s injuries, he added.
The city is self-insured for the first $1 million in such cases, Larkin said. The remaining money, approximately $450,000, will come out of a pool Palo Alto shares with other self-insured cities.
“We have (city workers) in cars every day driving as part of their jobs,” Larkin said. “There are going to be accidents. We have to do all the training to be as careful as we can possibly be, but there are always going to be car accidents.”
The city also recently reached a tentative settlement for a much smaller amount in a lawsuit over a fatal 2007 accident on the Caltrain tracks.
Maria Nieblas of Sunnyvale was killed at age 21 when her Toyota Camry was hit on the tracks at the Meadow Drive crossing. Witnesses at the time said the car remained stopped on the tracks as the crossing bars came down and the train barreled through.
Her family sued Caltrain, Amtrak and the city, arguing the crossing wasn’t well-marked. The city disagreed, but reached a deal via mediation in December to pay $1,500 to avoid a longer legal battle, Larkin said. Caltrain and Amtrak will pay $50,000 each.
“To everybody involved, it’s a particularly upsetting case. … As tragic as the situation was, we didn’t really give a lot of credence to the (plaintiff’s) argument,” he said. “She obviously knew she was on the tracks.”
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