Chris Chandler, age 62, was hit by a car and killed crossing El Camino in Atherton.  The driver said he never saw Chris. The police blamed Chris for riding his bike into traffic without looking. 

We proved that Chris was killed because the crosswalk was essentially invisible to oncomingChandler Family motorists and that Caltrans should never have installed it.  On Monday, a jury awarded Chris’ family $9.5 million, holding the California Department of Transportation 90% at fault for Chris’ death, and finding Chris blameless. 

Marked crosswalks in uncontrolled intersections give pedestrians a false sense of security — pedestrians believe that vehicles will yield to them in the crosswalk when, in fact, the drivers of the vehicles may be unable to see the pedestrians due to surrounding traffic  . . . Caltrans was aware of studies discouraging the marking of crosswalks in busy uncontrolled intersections and was aware of accidents elsewhere along El Camino. . .

According to Caltrans’ witnesses, there are 28 other crosswalks on El Camino in San Mateo county that are just like the one where Chandler was killed.  Caltrans knows that they are all dangerous but, as a matter of policy, won’t fix any particular crosswalk until it learns of at least three people who are killed or injured at the intersection in question.  Although there had been numerous accidents where Chandler was killed, the statistics never made it into Caltrans database.

Local authorities all along El Camino have pleaded with Caltrans to fix the crosswalks, but Caltrans refuses to act.  We’re hoping that Caltrans will hear the jury’s message and fix the crosswalks now before someone else is killed.


Study – Safety Effects of Marked Versus Unmarked – 2005 by mikedanko on Scribd

Last month Governor Brown signed into law Assembly Bill No. 1371. The new law requires motorists to leave a three foot buffer when passing a cyclist traveling in the same direction. The motorist may not cross a double yellow line; if there isn’t enough room, the motorist cannot pass. Brown had vetoed previous versions of the bill.  

A driver of a motor vehicle shall not overtake or pass a bicycle proceeding in the same direction on a highway at a distance of less than three feet between any part of the motor vehicle and any part of the bicycle or its operator.  

The fine for violation of the law is a measly $35. If a collision results, the fine goes up, but only to $220.  Other states have similar laws. The trouble is that they are seldom enforced, unless a cyclist presses the issue. 

 Ride share companies do not want to be held to the same standards as taxis.  While many customers enjoy the ease, availability and reliability of rideshare services, some lawmakers have concerns about companies such as Uber, Sidecar and Lyft.  Most services that transport passengers for hire are classified as common carriers. Taxis, buses and trains are considered common carriers. 

 By law, common carriers must use the “highest care and the vigilance of a very cautious person.  They must do all that can be done under the circumstances to avoid harm to passengers and property."  But a typical driver only owes a duty of ordinary care to a passenger.  Enhanced duties allow an injured passenger to recover more easily from a taxi driver and the taxi company. The ride share services have fought the common carrier classification.  They want to be held to the lower ordinary care standard.  

That’s a trick question.  While many of us have been taught that pedestrians have the right-of-way, that’s not always true.  A pedestrian must also exercise reasonable care. Such care includes obeying traffic signals, using crosswalks, and not darting into the street.  Also, a pedestrian may waive her right -of-way.  For example, if she motions to a driver to proceed, then the driver may rely upon such "waiver" (pun intended) and proceed. 

When a pedestrian is struck by a driver and suffers personal injury,  if necessary, a jury will decide whether the pedestrian had the right-of-way and acted reasonably.

Two years ago Chris Chandler was killed by a southbound motorist as he tried to cross El Camino at Isabella in Atherton.  After investigating the design of the crosswalk, we filed suit against Caltrans on behalf of Chris’ family.  We’ve been arguing in court that the crosswalk is dangerous and that Caltrans should either fix it or remove it before someone else is killed or injured.  We’ve now been litigating the case for a year and half.  But Caltrans denies that there is any problem with its crosswalk, and refuses to do anything to make the intersection safe. We’re waiting for the court to give us a trial date. Maybe Caltrans will listen to a jury.

This past Sunday, two years to the day that Chris was killed, two pedestrians were struck by a southbound SUV as they tried to cross El Camino at the same intersection in the same crosswalk. Both were seriously injured.

What will it take before Caltrans gets it? Isabella and El Camino Caltrans has known for years that marked crosswalks like the one at Isabella and El Camino are more dangerous than crosswalks with no markings at all. It’s Caltrans job to make its roadways relatively safe for pedestrians. Yet, it does nothing to fix the dangerous situation it created.

El Camino is busy.  More than 20,000 vehicles per day pass through the intersection at Isabella. If Caltrans is going to paint a crosswalk there, it needs to install devices to warn and slow traffic, or install raised islands in the middle of the roadway where pedestrians can take refuge, or both.  Simply painting lines in the road and hoping for the best is inviting disaster. Such a crosswalk  provides a false sense of security for pedestrians, inviting them to cross in an area where it is unsafe to do so.

That’s been proven in study after study.  Here’s just one study by the US Department of Transportation, published in 2005.  It concludes that, for busy roads such as El Camino at Isabella:

Having a marked crosswalk alone (without other substantial improvements) was associated with a higher pedestrian crash rate (after controlling for other site factors) compared to an unmarked crosswalk.  Raised medians provided significantly lower pedestrian crash rates on multilane roads, compared to roads with no raised median.”


Study – Safety Effects of Marked Versus Unmarked – 2005

The Fisker Karma, a $100,000 hybrid, has been recalled twice for a possible fire hazard posed by its lithium-ion battery.  When Fisker recalled the car the second time, back in June, it played down the risk.  Fisker reported to the press:

To date, Fisker has not received any verified complaints, warranty claims or any other reports related to this condition, but Fisker is taking this action out of an abundance of caution,Fisker Karma

Not sure Fisker’s claim that it hadn’t received any reports of actual Karma fires was entirely true. Fisker was told in May that one of its cars caught fire and burned down its owner’s garage in Texas.  In fact, that owner ended up suing Fisker.

Well, today, another Fisker Karma caught fire in a parking lot in Woodside California.  (See photo at right.) Fortunately, the parking lot was only a hundred yards or so from the fire department.  

Looks as though Fisker still hasn’t got this problem fixed. In the meantime, Karma owners would be well advised to park their cars on the street.

Freight carriers have an obligation to the public to not create unnecessary dangers on the roads.  They can’t dodge those responsibiities by hiring an independant driver who has no assets or insurance and then, when there is an accident, claim it was the driver’s fault and not theirs.

Under the law, the freight carrier’s safety obligations are "non-delegable."  That means the carrier can’t pass the obligations off to a driver.  A freight carrier can thus be held vicariously liable for the negligence of the truck driver, even though the truck driver isn’t one of its emplyess.

 Three requirements must be satisfied to show a nondelegable duty in a trucking case:

  1. A carrier must be involved;
  2. The carrier must be providing transportation or service by a commercial motor vehicle weighing at least 10,001 pounds;
  3. The activity that lead to the accident must involve possible danger such as motor vehicles on public highways.

Requirements 2 and 3 are factual questions that are usually easy to meet.

So, who is a carrier? A carrier is a person or company providing motor vehicle transportation for compensation. The transportation includes services related to the movement of property, including arranging for the transport , as well as, receipt, and delivery. "Carrier" often includes a freight broker who puts shippers in touch with truck operators and who may also have some responsibility for the load.

The Houck sisters were killed when the steering in the PT Cruiser they were driving failed.  The car crossed the center median and hit a big rig traveling in the opposite direction.   

Two years ago, we wrote about the jury’s $15 million verdict against Enterprise Rent-A-Car in connection with the girls’ deaths.  As it turns out, the girls had rented the vehicle from Enterprise. What they didn’t know was that the Cruiser had been recalled because of problems with the steering. Instead of getting the vehicle fixed, Enterprise rented it to them anyway. Enterprise’s Northern California manager testified that it was company-wide policy to rent out recalled vehicles if recalled vehicles are the only ones left on the lot.

Enterprise PT Cruiser

One would think that, after the verdict, Enterprise would have changed its ways. But it hasn’t.

So last year, Senators Boxer and Shumer introduced a simple bill that would prohibit any car rental company from renting vehicles that are under safety recall.

And what did Enterprise do? It opposed the bill, of course. 

Houck’s parents took matters into their own hands.  Backed by a petition signed by 100,000 people, they asked Enterprise to sign a pledge that it would not rent cars that had been recalled until the cars were fixed. 

But Enterprise refused. In fact, so did Avis and Dollar Thrifty. Only Hertz agreed.

Quite an industry.