A jury has found the California Department of Transportation 90 percent responsible for the 2010 death of a 62-year-old man who was struck by a car in an El Camino Real crosswalk in Atherton.
After a two-week trial in San Mateo County Superior Court, the jury on July 25 awarded the family of Chris Chandler $9.5 million in damages.
The jury found the driver, Matthew Simon, who was 69 and lived at Stanford at the time of the accident, 10 percent responsible in the death of Mr. Chandler.
Mr. Chandler, a resident of the unincorporated area between Atherton and Redwood City off Stockbridge Avenue, was struck in the El Camino crosswalk at Isabella Avenue on Sept. 30, 2010.
The jury awarded $2 million in damages to each of Mr. Chandler's three daughters, Brittany, Tyler and Courtney, and $3.5 million to his widow, Jan.
Jan and Courtney both teach dance at Menlo School in Atherton.
The crosswalk in which Mr. Chandler was killed is one of two in Atherton where Caltrans promised in 2012, after two women were seriously injured in the same crosswalk, to install pedestrian-activated stoplights. The lights have not yet been installed.
Woodside attorney Mike Danko and Clair Choo of the Redwood Shores law firm Danko Meredith represented the family.
Mr. Danko said Chris Chandler had just brought water and supplies to his wife's dance class and was walking his bike across the street in the crosswalk when he was struck and killed. According to police reports, the accident occurred about 10:30 a.m.
The attorneys for the Chandler family argued that Caltrans knew that marked crosswalks without stoplights are actually more dangerous for pedestrians than unmarked crosswalks, yet did nothing to improve the conditions.
Three months before Mr. Chandler was killed, Caltrans was ordered by the court to pay $8 million to the family of Emily Liou, a 17-year-old who was struck in a similar crosswalk on El Camino in Millbrae and left brain-damaged and in a vegetative state. The total settlement in that case was $12.2 million.
"We presented evidence that 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," said Paula Welch of Danko Meredith. Drivers often can't see the crosswalk markings, she said.
"Caltrans was aware of studies discouraging the marking of crosswalks in busy uncontrolled intersections and was aware of accidents elsewhere along El Camino," she said. "But Caltrans refuses to remedy any particular crosswalk until someone has been killed or injured in that location."
Attempts by the Almanac to get a comment on the verdict from Caltrans have been unsuccessful. The attorneys for the Chandler family say Caltrans will have 60 days after it receives official notice of the verdict, which should be early next week, to file an appeal.
Ms. Welch said the law firm argued that Mr. Chandler walked with his bicycle into the driver's path because his view of the oncoming traffic was obscured by a truck slowing down as it approached the crosswalk.
The truck also blocked the driver's view of Mr. Chandler, she said. Expert witnesses testified the driver was going 42 mph in a 35 mph zone.
Mr. Danko said Caltrans twice offered to settle the case: the first time, for $10,000, and later for $100,000. "We would have settled for a fraction of what the verdict was," he said, calling the offers by Caltrans "an insult to the family."
Mr. Chandler was unemployed at the time of his death, so his family received no lost earnings damages, Ms. Welch said.
This was the second time the case had been tried, after a December 2015 trial ended in a hung jury. Mr. Danko said one of the jurors refused to deliberate. Both trials were before San Mateo County Superior Court Judge Steven Dylina.