The Board of Supervisors recently agreed to a $3.3 million settlement for a cyclist hit by a city truck in San Francisco in November 2019.
This is the third multimillion-dollar settlement for a non-fatal automobile collision involving a city employee this year. The city paid out 26 non-fatal car collision settlements totaling $850,000. Twelve of the settlements totaled less than $100,000.
The City Attorney’s Office refuses to explain the logic behind their settlement sums.
“We believe the proposed settlement is an appropriate resolution, given the inherent costs of continued litigation,” said Jen Kwart, director of communications and media relations for the City Attorney’s office, of the Valencia Street settlement.
“All of the discussions surrounding why a certain amount of money is awarded [are] confidential,” said Melissa Hernandez, a legislative aide for Supervisor Dean Preston, chair of the Government Audit and Oversight Committee, which approves settlements before they are voted on by all nine supervisors.
The other two vehicle settlements approved this year were for Jose Chavarria and Merrill Beth Ferguson. Cavarria received $3 million plus $33,607 in waived medical bills. An unmarked police car while being pursued by the officer hit him. He was in a coma for weeks with skull and pelvic fractures, kidney and liver removal, and mental and psychological trauma. Ferguson’s settlement was accepted in March for $7.5 million. Ferguson sustained severe brain damage and a jaw fracture that required surgery.
Alexis Krup sustained a debilitating traumatic brain injury because of a collision with a Public Works pickup truck. The truck failed to signal before entering the bike lane to make a right turn. The accident occurred at the junction of Valencia and 20th streets. According to court documents, Krup’s injuries will keep him from working full-time for the next five years. It will result in a considerable loss of lifetime earning ability, and he will need future medical care.
At the time of the accident, Krup was a Ph.D. student in Biomedical Sciences at the University of California, San Francisco. Krup is now a postdoctoral scholar at Calico Life Sciences. The firm, formed by Alphabet, studies the biology of human aging. According to Joseph Breall, a personal injury attorney in San Francisco, forensic economists estimate settlement payments. They take into account pain and suffering, past and future medical bills, lost wages, and loss of future revenue.
Breall represented the survivors of Rui Xia Zhen, a 67-year-old caretaker of the elderly killed by a Public Works truck in 2020. In 2021, the Supreme Court authorized a $2 million settlement for the family.
“The settlement will be lower for an older, low-wage earner,” said Breall, “because they don’t make a lot of money to begin with.”
“The devil’s in the details,” he added, saying that a 50-year-old doctor would likely receive a larger sum than a 20-year-old, as the future earnings of the latter are unclear.
“Each case is kind of its own little universe,” concurred Kathleen Morris, a professor of law at Golden Gate University who previously worked as an attorney at the City Attorney’s Office for nine years.
“Sometimes a case can be worth millions even when there are no deaths because, for example, the plaintiff is relatively young and high-earning and has been injured badly enough that future damages and medical bills are expected to be massive,” she added.
It’s unclear if this year’s high settlements represent a trend toward larger awards or merely involved victims whose unique situations resulted in higher cash values. Having a lawyer appears to help. An unligitated vehicle collision claim assigned to the Government Audit and Oversight Committee has a proposed settlement of $39,223.