A lawsuit has been filed by Menlo Park physician Dr. Jean W. Gillon over an incident in the early morning darkness of Dec. 29, 2012, in which a Mercedes Benz she was driving collided with at least one of four Webb Ranch horses that had gotten loose and wandered on to the northbound lane of Interstate 280 just north of Alpine Road.
A civil complaint filed in Superior Court on behalf of Dr. Gillon accuses Webb Ranch of negligence and complains of "serious" personal injury as well as property damages, hospital and medical expenses, and the loss of income, earning capacity and "household services." Dr. Gillon, 61 at the time of the accident, is seeking damages in excess of $25,000, according to the May 10 complaint. Her attorney is Anthony L. Label of San Francisco.
Tom Hubbard, Webb Ranch's corporate president, was not available for comment on the lawsuit.
Webb Ranch "owed duties to operate their business with due care to ensure that horses do not escape and create a danger to plaintiff and the public," the complaint says. Webb Ranch "breached their duties by, among other things, allowing their horses to escape from the property and run loose on a major freeway, creating a serious hazard."
In the accident, according to reports at the time from the California Highway Patrol and Mr. Hubbard, three of the horses were struck and killed shortly before 5 a.m. by a 2006 Toyota Prius driven by Richard Stein, 65, of Sacramento. Dr. Gillon came along after that collision and ran into one of the downed horses lying in the slow lane. A fourth horse was found uninjured in the grass on the side of the road.
Both Mr. Stein and Dr. Gillon were taken to Stanford Hospital, according to the CHP report. The scene of the accident was about 520 feet north of the Alpine Road interchange, the CHP said.
About Dr. Gillon
Dr. Gillon is a general and vascular surgeon in private practice and at Sequoia Hospital, according to an online bio at her website. The home page includes a banner saying that she is currently recovering from her injuries and that her office will be closed until further notice.
Dr. Gillon grew up in Palo Alto, attended Castilleja School in Palo Alto, and received a bachelor's degree from UC Berkeley in 1972, the bio says. With a medical degree from Brown University, she was a surgical resident at Brown and Stanford universities, and for seven years worked in the trauma service at San Francisco General Hospital, where she became an associate professor, the bio says.
About the horses
Of the horses that died, two were thoroughbreds and the third was a quarter horse, all geldings, Mr. Hubbard said. The uninjured horse was a wild mustang repatriated from open range land.
The paddock at Webb Ranch for these four horses has two gates, one of which was found with an unfastened spring-clip on the chain that locks the gate, Mr. Hubbard said at the time. The chain may have been left unsecured by someone tending the horses, he said, but an open gate would not commonly result in the horses wandering out to the freeway. Most escaped horses are found where there's fresh grass, he said. "When they get out in the night, they go to the closest spot that they can eat grass," Mr. Hubbard said.
Horses in a group can develop a herd mentality, he noted. These horses had been at the ranch for at least a year and possibly as long as five years, Mr. Hubbard said. This is the first such accident since the ranch opened in 1922, he said.
It's not unheard of for a horse to open a secured paddock, Mr. Hubbard added. "Over time, they're standing just there (watching) and they can figure out how to unlock a gate."
Horses sleep at night but don't sleep the whole night through, Mr. Hubbard said.
As to the route they took to get from the paddock to the northbound lane, that is unclear and with no tracks to go by, will probably remain so, Mr. Hubbard said. Alpine Road is the obvious route, particularly with the automatic gate not functioning at the time.
But the ranch also has a private road that runs alongside San Francisquito Creek and under I-280. If the horses took that route, they would have come out near the fruit stand on the east side of the freeway and could have easily found the on-ramp to the northbound lane.