Home Vehicle Accidents Modesto CA pays $1.25M to settle lawsuit over car accident

Modesto CA pays $1.25M to settle lawsuit over car accident

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Modesto added the yellow caution signs and flashing yellow lights to this crosswalk at Tuolumne Boulevard and Yosemite Avenue near Modesto High after a student was hit by a van in September 2015. The intersection is pictured in Modesto, Calif., on Wednesday, Jan. 19, 2022.

Modesto added the yellow caution signs and flashing yellow lights to this crosswalk at Tuolumne Boulevard and Yosemite Avenue near Modesto High after a student was hit by a van in September 2015. The intersection is pictured in Modesto, Calif., on Wednesday, Jan. 19, 2022.

aalfaro@modbee.com

The city has paid $1.25 million to settle a lawsuit that alleged it was responsible in a 2015 incident in which a driver hit a student in a crosswalk near Modesto High School.

The lawsuit alleges the city knew the marked crosswalk at Tuolumne Boulevard and Yosemite Avenue was dangerous and had a history of collisions but failed to make it safer by installing yellow caution signs and yellow flashing lights to alert drivers when someone was in the crosswalk.

Modesto denied the allegations against it in court filings. And the city denied any responsibility in its settlement agreement. Modesto sought in court to have the lawsuit dismissed, claiming it was not legally responsible. But it did not prevail.

The city spent $280,155 in legal costs and $79,104 in other costs defending itself, bringing the city’s total cost to slightly more than $1.6 million. The city paid the first $1 million from its own funds, and its insurance paid the balance.

The lawsuit was settled in October. The Bee learned about it through a California Public Records Act request it filed with the city for all payments it made in the fourth quarter of last year to settle claims and lawsuits against it.

The Modesto High student was in the crosswalk that spans the five lanes of Tuolumne Boulevard when she was struck by a driver about 7:45 a.m. on Sept. 21, 2015, as she was walking to school. The driver stopped after hitting the girl.

Veronica Dorado had just hugged her mom goodbye before entering the crosswalk, according to the lawsuit, and was about halfway across the street when she was hit. “(The driver) failed to yield the right of way to a pedestrian crossing the roadway within a marked crosswalk,” according to the lawsuit.

Oralia Dorado watched her daughter fly through the air from the impact of the collision and crash into the pavement, according to the lawsuit. Veronica was taken to Doctors Medical Center and was unconscious for a week. The police reported at the time that the girl had suffered major head injuries.

Blinded by sun’s glare

“She faces challenges and is working hard to overcome them,” said attorney Arturo Gonzalez with the San Francisco office of the law firm Morrison & Foerster in a Tuesday interview. The firm represented Veronica and Oralia Dorado.

Gonzalez said Veronica Dorado declined to be interviewed for this story. He said he believes she was a freshman at the time of the incident and is now 21.

Veronica Dorado was struck by Dennis Ruloph, a Modesto City Schools employee who was driving a district vehicle. Court records state Ruloph worked for the district as a painter. District spokeswoman Krista Noonan said Ruloph still is with district.

Ruloph testified in a deposition that his vision was impaired by the glare of the morning sun and the shadows from the trees lining the street as he drove east on Tuolumne and did not see Dorado, according to court records. Ruloph said he had reduced his speed and lowered the visor in his vehicle because of the conditions.

Ruloph was not cited or charged in the accident, according to records on the Stanislaus County Superior Court website.

A Bee story at the time the school board was considering the Dorado family’s claim cited an attorney’s letter saying Dorado suffered nearly fatal injuries, including brain trauma and fractured vertebrae. The letter said her brother and sister, who witnessed the crash, suffered emotional distress.

Veronica and Oralia Dorado sued the school district and the city in Stanislaus County Superior Court in December 2015.

Modesto City Schools settled its part of the lawsuit against it and Ruloph in November 2018 for $2.15 million.

Crosswalk’s configuration

Noonan said the district paid $250,000 and insurance covered the rest of the settlement and the district’s legal and other costs. The district denied any wrongdoing and entered the settlement to avoid litigation, according to the agreement.

The $2.15 million settlement included paying off liens filed by Medicare and-or Medi-Cal for Veronica Dorado’s medical care.

Judge Marie Sovey Silveira wrote in a July 2020 ruling against the city as it sought to have the lawsuit dismissed that while it was true Veronica Dorado was struck in a marked crosswalk by a driver who testified he did not see her, Dorado and her mother’s lawsuit raised other issues involving the city that could not be ignored.

The judge wrote the issues included “the absence of any other protections for pedestrians and significantly the history of past accidents in that very intersection and notice to the City of the dangerousness of that crosswalk as it was configured.”

The court file includes an October 2013 letter from then Modesto City Schools Superintendent Pam Able asking city officials to make the crosswalk safer. She wrote there had been four collisions involving student pedestrians in the past year at the intersection. She included a petition from residents who wanted safety improvements.

“Modesto City Schools is respectfully requesting the City of Modesto consider installation of lighted crosswalks or a flashing beacon system at Tuolumne Boulevard and Yosemite Avenue for pedestrian safety,” Able wrote.

Intersection’s 10th collision

The lawsuit stated Ruloph’s crash was the 10th one at that intersection since 2006 and while the city had allocated funding to improve the crosswalk’s safety, that funding had been diverted for a street paving project.

Gonzalez said fortunately no one died in these collisions. Modesto has upgraded the crosswalk. That includes curved metal arms extending over the crosswalk with yellow caution signs attached to them and yellow flashing lights that pedestrians activate by pressing a button before entering the crosswalk.

“My recollection is right after the accident, shortly afterward, the city made improvements to the intersection,” Gonzalez said.

Gonzalez said this incident was consistent with some of the others. It happened in the morning during the fall with a driver traveling east on Tuolumne Boulevard and whose vision was impaired by the sun’s glare. “The sun is terrible” at that time of the year, Gonzalez said.

AA Mohi Crosswalk 02.JPG
Modesto added the yellow caution signs and flashing yellow lights to this crosswalk at Tuolumne Boulevard and Yosemite Avenue near Modesto High after a student was hit by a van in September 2015. The intersection is pictured in Modesto, Calif., on Wednesday, Jan. 19, 2022. Andy Alfaro aalfaro@modbee.com

AA Mohi Crosswalk 03.JPG
Modesto added the yellow caution signs and flashing yellow lights to this crosswalk at Tuolumne Boulevard and Yosemite Avenue near Modesto High after a student was hit by a van in September 2015. The intersection is pictured in Modesto, Calif., on Wednesday, Jan. 19, 2022. Andy Alfaro aalfaro@modbee.com

This story was originally published January 24, 2022 7:00 AM.

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Kevin Valine covers local government, homelessness and general assignment for The Modesto Bee. He is a graduate of San Jose State University.





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