Berkeley Residents Sue City Over Allegedly Negligent Sidewalk Maintenance

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Multiple unresolved personal injury claims have pitted several Berkeley residents against the city in an attempt to prove its alleged negligence in maintaining public streets and sidewalks.

In addition to the recently proposed $50,000 settlement for AC Transit employee Delmar Mitchell, two other active cases against the city represent at least another $50,000 in damages sought by plaintiffs.

One case involves Bay Area resident Maria Lazo, who is suing both the city and Pacific Bell Telephone Company after she fell through a damaged sidewalk access cover - a thin metal plate that covers electrical equipment - while moving a garbage can on Vassar Avenue in North Berkeley.

Lazo filed a complaint with the Alameda County Superior Court on May 21 alleging that she suffered personal injury as a result of negligence on behalf of the two entities.

However, Deputy City Attorney Matthew Orebic said in a Sept. 27 case statement that the city is not liable because the access cover was owned by Pacific Bell and that Lazo was "comparatively negligent" in failing to notice the opening.

Another resident, Florence McCrary, slipped on an "oily substance" outside of the Berkeley Adult School on San Pablo Avenue and suffered injuries to her right knee and foot. On Sept. 16, she filed a claim against the Berkeley Unified School District, requesting $9,000 for medical fees in addition to other damages.

All three plaintiffs report incurring wage loss, medical expenses and decreased earning capacity in their personal injury claims. Each is seeking more than $25,000 in undisclosed damages.

According to Councilmember Gordon Wozniak, the city reviews quarterly reports from the city attorney monitoring charges of negligence. Both Wozniak and City Attorney Zach Cowan said the city - which is self-insured for $350,000 against such claims, according to court documents - must take responsibility when liable. Liability claims for the city from the past two fiscal years range from hundreds of dollars to $125,000, according to the quarterly reports.

John Diamond, a professor at the UC Hastings College of Law who specializes in tort law, said in most cases the plaintiff is responsible for proving personal injury, whether with medical records or figures.

"When you're suing the city, there are issues of immunity and statutes that prevent certain charges from being brought against the city government," Diamond said.

Wozniak said whether or not the city is aware of personal injuries sustained due to city property, it is still obligated to maintain the streets.

"The balance is, in some ways, making sure we spend enough on sidewalk and pothole repairs to try to minimize these injuries, because it's better to keep people from getting hurt than to save money," he said.

Lazo's trial is scheduled for Sept. 12, and McCrary's next hearing for Feb. 1.

Tags: CITY OF BERKELEY, ALAMEDA COUNTY SUPERIOR COURT


True Shields is the lead courts reporter. Contact him at [email protected]



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