News

Jury: Caltrans 90% responsible for Atherton crosswalk fatality

Family awarded damages of $9.5 million

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.

Related stories:

Political leaders call for Caltrans to act on El Camino hazards

Atherton repeatedly asked Caltrans to make crossings safer

Jan Chandler: The verdict doesn't bring Chris back

Comments

2 people like this
Posted by Roberto
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Jul 29, 2016 at 11:34 am

Roberto is a registered user.

So CalTrans just lost over $20M if I read this correct, but did offer $20k. Seems about right. California does not employ a reasonable sense standard. We, taxpayers, pay that price. This cross-walk has and is been a source of many accidents and far more 'close' calls. Nothing new, they just wait until the fines are so hefty and possibly court requirements to make changes. I feel for the families as this was a preventable accident(s). The state made the choice not to address (and still has not fixed, planned, but not fixed).


5 people like this
Posted by Dangerous
a resident of Atherton: other
on Jul 29, 2016 at 12:28 pm

I am so sorry for these accidents - I have seen so many near hits at this exact location and I can't believe nothing has been done to improve peoples safety - there is an inherent blind spot when you are the car driving along El Camino that you just cannot see the pedestrian and are not sure why the other cars have stopped - it's just crazy unsafe!


5 people like this
Posted by Apple
a resident of Atherton: other
on Jul 29, 2016 at 12:40 pm

A new pedestrian beacon was just installed at the Almendral intersection. Next year, pedestrian beacons will be installed on the Isabella and Alejandra intersections. These should make El Camino much safer for pedestrians.


4 people like this
Posted by whatever
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Jul 29, 2016 at 5:41 pm

For $20 million CalTrans could have installed a traffic light controlled sidewalk in at every ECR intersection in Atherton. Saving several lives and a number of injuries. Gov't works in strange ways.


2 people like this
Posted by TB
a resident of Menlo Park: Menlo Oaks
on Jul 29, 2016 at 9:50 pm

As thankful as I am that there's a marked crossing at Middlefield & Linfield, I am terrified of a similar tragedy taking place there. Please add a light to that intersection or remove the crossing.


12 people like this
Posted by aware
a resident of Atherton: other
on Jul 30, 2016 at 4:10 pm

Teach your children never assume cars will stop for people in a crosswalk. Wait for no cars or make eye contact with the drivers and Aways assume there will be another car in the blind spot on a multi lane road. [part removed.]


10 people like this
Posted by Clem
a resident of another community
on Aug 1, 2016 at 9:47 pm

@aware, victim blaming does not add value to the discussion. I drive over that crosswalk three times a week and its design is inexcusable; I have witnessed several close calls.


Like this comment
Posted by David Roise
a resident of Menlo Park: Allied Arts/Stanford Park
on Aug 2, 2016 at 5:31 pm

El Camino Real is unfortunately a fine example of a "stroad", a term the Strong Towns organization (see Web Link) has coined to describe a hybrid between a "street" (think Santa Cruz Avenue in downtown Menlo Park) and a "road" (think Foothill Expressway in Los Altos or Central Expressway in Mountain View). See Web Link for a description of stroads and why they should be eliminated, not the least because they are demonstrably dangerous, expensive, and financially unproductive.

I personally would prefer to see El Camino Real become more of a "street", at least in Menlo Park. If Atherton residents would prefer ECR to become more of a "road", they should consider significantly limiting access (for both pedestrians AND cars) and re-engineering the road for expressway speeds. Adding pedestrian beacons without a complete re-design of the stroad to decrease traffic speeds will make absolutely no difference in pedestrian safety. As Strong Towns points out: if you need a sign to tell people to slow down, you designed the street wrong. #SlowTheCars


2 people like this
Posted by Apple
a resident of Atherton: other
on Aug 3, 2016 at 9:18 am

@David
Atherton wants ECR to be a "street." I believe they have a proposal to remove one lane of traffic in each direction to be replaced with a bike lane and sidewalk. The town wants make ECR more accommodating for non-drivers and safer. A key point to remember is that Atherton's constituency are its residents who vote and pay taxes to the town.

OTOH, Caltrans wants ECR to be a "road". Its constituency is drivers. They fund Caltrans through gas taxes, bridge tolls, etc. and make their desires well-known by complaining about road conditions. Caltrans' goal is to make travel up and down the peninsula as fast and efficient as possible.

What you have here are two constituencies with conflicting goals. They each control a political entity that has significant, but incomplete control over ECR.

Caltrans owns ECR. They have final say over what changes happen to it. Atherton exerts influence over what happens to ECR because a stretch of it is within the town. Caltrans have to work with the town to get any changes as well.

And that is why we have a stroad and will always have a stroad.


Like this comment
Posted by Atherton Resident
a resident of Atherton: West Atherton
on Aug 22, 2016 at 11:22 pm

The widow had said that "the money from the settlement is not what she really wants. "It doesn't bring him back." and that "she hopes, however, that the verdict will get Caltrans' attention. "The whole reason we did this is to get Caltrans to start listening to people and not pretend they have to wait" to make safety improvements."

If she really felt this way then she would give the $9 million back demanding that it be used specifically for the lights that she really wants to save lives.


Like this comment
Posted by Keith
a resident of Atherton: other
on Sep 9, 2016 at 11:17 am

@Atherton Resident: You're suggesting that the family give the money back to Caltrans? It's not the obligation or duty of the surviving family members to use the money they received for THEIR loss to fund Caltrans to do what Caltrans should have done YEARS ago.


Like this comment
Posted by Duke - Atherton resident
a resident of Atherton: other
on Feb 16, 2017 at 7:51 pm

When will these lights be installed at the crosswalk at Isabella Ave.?

Earlier this week I witnessed a near fatal accident when a car driving north on El Camino did not stop for a teenager crossing the street in the crosswalk. This is an extremely dangerous crosswalk and Caltrans has a moral and legal obligation to install lights ASAP.


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