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Lawsuit filed after teen struck on El Camino

Original post made on Aug 21, 2012

A Menlo Park family is suing a motorist and a number of public agencies, including Menlo Park and Atherton, for negligence and the "dangerous condition of public property" as a result of 2011 accident that injured teenager Courtney Schrier.

Read the full story here Web Link posted Tuesday, August 21, 2012, 1:41 PM

Comments (34)

Posted by not arrested, a resident of Atherton
on Aug 21, 2012 at 1:59 pm

The driver was "not arrested or cited at the time of the accident", but has he been arrested or cited since then? Too often, the traffic cops assume that these incidents are victimless and don't spend much time investigating, but obviously they are not.

And does anyone else really hate when the media calls tragic events like this "accidents"? If the driver was speeding or distracted or drunk or driving recklessly when he hits a pedestrian in a crosswalk, then this is not an accident.


Posted by neighbor, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 21, 2012 at 2:29 pm

Sounds like complicated situation and tangled lawsuits - hard to say if going after deep pockets (taxpayers) ir whether the suits have merit...


Posted by Milo Doe, a resident of Green Acres
on Aug 21, 2012 at 2:37 pm

So,@not arrested, what exactly would you all it if not an accident (which is the general term used by the insurance industry and media in describing such meetings of vehicles). I suppose you'd call it an assault & battery? Presumption of guilt there.... it's an accident until legally declared otherwise.


Posted by not arrested, a resident of Atherton
on Aug 21, 2012 at 3:14 pm

Most newspapers now use a term like "collision" when guilt has not been determined. "Accident" implies no fault, when that may be false.


Posted by Accidents-Happen, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 21, 2012 at 3:31 pm

> Too often, the traffic cops assume that these incidents are
> victimless and don't spend much time investigating

Police departments don't generally publish much information about traffic accidents, particularly within a few hours of the incident. It's not even clear how many actually track the hours spent on each investigation, so that that could be published at some point.

Accident reports are not public documents, leaving only a handful of people with authorization to the information found in these documents.

From reading media accounts of accidents locally, the number of people not cited is pretty high. Without information released by each local agency it would be only a guess, but maybe as many as half of the media reports seem to suggest that the drivers were not ticketed at the time. Whether the subsequent investigation results in charges is an open question.

Certainly when a car hits a pedestrian, one might tend to think that the car's driver is at fault. But from watching pedestrians, and cyclists, around Palo Alto, one comes to see that stop signs and traffic lights are often ignored by these folks. It could take quite a while to reconstruct an accident, unfortunately. So, it makes no sense to charge the car's driver without all the facts in order.


Posted by local gurl, a resident of Greenmeadow
on Aug 21, 2012 at 4:53 pm

There is a difference between being criminally responsible (i.e., breaking a law and being arrested) and responsible for civil damages (i.e., being negligent in the operation of the car and thus responsible for the harm caused). I'd file a lawsuit too if my child was injured and I was unable to afford his care. That is why we insist that drivers be insured.


Posted by paly parent, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Aug 21, 2012 at 5:24 pm

The girl was crossing at a crosswalk therefore the car should have stopped as should have all the traffic on El Camino at that point. Drivers tend to ignore pedestrians on El Camino in Atherton in particular (and downtown PA, pedestrians ignore the cars and the traffic lights...)


Posted by robit noops, a resident of Greenmeadow
on Aug 21, 2012 at 5:37 pm

I would say that 85% of palo alto/menlo park/atherton drivers are negligent.


Posted by Anon., a resident of Crescent Park
on Aug 21, 2012 at 7:01 pm

I really cannot think of days where I go driving anymore and do not see some sort of big thing in terms of bad illegal driving.

The other day I was turning onto a larger thoroughfare as my light turned green and I could just see a car coming from my left and waited because I could tell he was not going to stop, and sure enough he just slammed through the intersection.

Then almost every day that I am driving on Homer in the late to middle afternoon there is a women who turns the wrong way on one-way street Homer in the block just north of Middlefield and drives the wrong way down the street to connect with Middlefield.

Not to mention the people who do not come to a stop at a stop sign, or who drive without their lights on or those who do not signal or those who merging onto 101 South drive up the right side of the highway to cut in front of big crowds of people who have been waiting their turn.

And then there are most of the people who are not doing anything wrong per se, but are driving while texting or talking on the phone and not paying attention and either not in control or driving so slow they are holding up traffic.


Posted by The Kerrigans, a resident of Atherton
on Aug 21, 2012 at 9:56 pm

Its an accident until proven otherwise. Prayers go out to the family of the young lady as I will be lighting a candle at Natavity for her. El Camino Real is a major hywy and need to make sure we have both sides of the story, for instance when I am driving out of nowhere you see teens/menlo college students run across the street with their head phones or playing on their personal electronics. Further investigation will bring out the truth.


Posted by not a highway, a resident of Atherton
on Aug 21, 2012 at 10:13 pm

El Camino Real is not a "major highway". It is lined with sidewalks, schools, businesses with driveways, residential cross streets, crosswalks with no stop lights, etc. The Atherton section is perhaps more of a speedway than most of the rest of the street, but that is no excuse for not paying attention. People who treat El Camino Real like a "major highway" are the problem, not the solution.


Posted by musical, a resident of Palo Verde
on Aug 21, 2012 at 10:51 pm

From time immemorial we always called El Camino Real the King's Highway. I cannot think of a more major highway in the area. Not to be confused with the term Freeway or Expressway. Ah, semantics.


Posted by Mr.Recycle, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Aug 22, 2012 at 12:22 am

Accident doesn't mean no fault, it means no intention.


Posted by Accidents-Happen, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 22, 2012 at 9:10 am

> And then there are most of the people who are not doing anything
> wrong per se, but are driving while texting or talking on the phone

Depends if they are talking/texting on hand-held phones, or using the hands-free headsets.

> Accident doesn't mean no fault, it means no intention.

Good point. But is this the legal definition, or just good use of common sense?


Posted by Elwood Blues, a resident of Menlo Park
on Aug 22, 2012 at 9:52 am

Elwood Blues is a registered user.

While I generally feel we have too many nuisance lawsuits in our society, this is one that may have more merit than most. This stretch of El Camino is very dangerous with no traffic lights but crosswalks that span many lanes of traffic traveling at high speed. There have been multiple serious accidents on this stretch of road, but no meaningful improvements to safety. Maybe this suit will motivate whatever agency is responsible to make some changes.


Posted by Wacky, a resident of College Terrace
on Aug 22, 2012 at 11:12 am

Those crosswalks across 6+ lanes of El Camino at that point are ridiculous and yes, bad design by the city,state, county (whoever designed and implemented them).

In CA it seems pedestrians feel an inordinate amount of license to step out into traffic simply because a crosswalk exists. In no other state of the union do I see pedestrians with such arrogant and unsafe behavior.

But it is encouraged here and I'm not blaming the girl at all. It's just that this portion of El Camino has really high average rates of speed because there are no traffic lights and the crosswalks have been placed out in the middle of nowhere.

Sane thing happened in south Palo Alto when some brilliant traffic engineer decided to put crosswalks where there were no traffic lights. DUMB.

Requiring a light to stop traffic wherever there is a crosswalk would fix this.


Posted by John Roberts, a resident of Stanford
on Aug 22, 2012 at 11:18 am

I thought the law was clear. Motorists have to yield right of way to pedestrians in crosswalks. If so, the driver was at fault. I don't see why he was not at least cited.


Posted by Accident vs. crash and taking responsibility, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 22, 2012 at 11:22 am

A better word to describe these incidents is "crash" which assumes no fault or intention but also does not assume innocence.

MOST crashes are caused by some road user(pedestrian, motorist or biyclist)making a bad choice: ignoring a signal or STOP sign, speeding, being inattentive, turning without taking time to look, backing up without looking, stepping into the street without looking, not properly yielding right of way, etc. These are not accidents. People are making choices and they are responsible for their choices.

Let's use the word CRASH instead of ACCIDENT which describes an outcome without assuming intent, fault, or innocence.

Let's also take responsibility, each of us, for sharing the road legally and courteously. When we don't the outcomes can be life changing as both the driver and pedestrian in this case have learned. Do you want to be the driver who hits a child because you were on your cell or speeding? Do you want to be the pedestrian who causes a crash by stepping into oncoming traffic without properly yielding right-of-way? Do you want to be the cyclist who causes a crash by running a STOP sign? This crash could easily have been caused by any one of us in a careless moment. Drivers must take special care because their vehicles have the greatest potential to do catastrophic harm to others. Driving is a priviledge, not a right.


Posted by ChrisC, a resident of College Terrace
on Aug 22, 2012 at 11:28 am

I don't know the geography of that section of El Camino, but in many spots along it and also on other major thoroughfares, even if one driver stops it's still very dangerous for the pedestrian. I have stopped while cars whiz through the other lane or lanes. I am really afraid then that my stopping will encourage the pedestrian to cross and then be hit by another non-stopping vehicle. Luckily, the pedestrians creep carefully out or wave me on. I'm also somewhat afraid of a motorist behind me ramming into my car as they have not noticed I'm stopping and do not see the reason for it either. And, these days many motorists are not paying attention to what is in front of them anyway.
I really, truly would like to know how to handle this situation. Anybody have ideas? I want to always stop when I see somebody trying to cross.


Posted by We all need to observe the law., a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 22, 2012 at 11:55 am

To Jon Roberts...It is a common misconception that pedestrians always have the right of way. Here is what the DMV Section 21950 has to say on this subject.

Right-of-Way at Crosswalks 21950. (a) The driver of a vehicle shall yield the right-of-way to a pedestrian crossing the roadway within any marked crosswalk or within any unmarked crosswalk at an intersection, except as otherwise provided in this chapter.

(b) This section does not relieve a pedestrian from the duty of using due care for his or her safety. No pedestrian may suddenly leave a curb or other place of safety and walk or run into the path of a vehicle that is so close as to constitute an immediate hazard. No pedestrian may unnecessarily stop or delay traffic while in a marked or unmarked crosswalk.

(c) The driver of a vehicle approaching a pedestrian within any marked or unmarked crosswalk shall exercise all due care and shall reduce the speed of the vehicle or take any other action relating to the operation of the vehicle as necessary to safeguard the safety of the pedestrian.

(d) Subdivision (b) does not relieve a driver of a vehicle from the duty of exercising due care for the safety of any pedestrian within any marked crosswalk or within any unmarked crosswalk at an intersection.

Amended Sec. 8, Ch. 833, Stats. 2000. Effective January 1, 2001.

Long and short, pedestrians, don't step into a crosswalk if there is a moving vehicle that is too close to stop in time. Drivers, exercise due care. Your vehicle is a weapon if you drive carelessly. You can be charged with manslaughter. That will change YOUR life.


Posted by imt, a resident of Walter Hays School
on Aug 22, 2012 at 12:11 pm

California State Law is clear that Pedestrians have the right of way in a cross walk. That motorists must yield or stop for pedestrians.
Drivers only stop at a crosswalk if a traffic light dictates to do so.
I have seen many pedestrians wait and wait and wait to cross the street when there is no light and Drivers clearly disobey the law and do not stop to allow pedestrians to cross. It is so sad how selfish and entitled people have become to think that a life is not worth stopping for.


Posted by Concerned parent, a resident of Midtown
on Aug 22, 2012 at 12:54 pm

My dau was hit crossing with the light on an El Camino sidewalk at Sand Hill. The car ran over her foot. In he police report, the lderly driver was described as having "unsafe driving skills". But the Cause was my daughter, riding her bike across the crosswalk, saying she was a vehicle moving in the wrong direction.

Any thoughts on why the police do not it'd the drivers?


Posted by Concerned parent, a resident of Midtown
on Aug 22, 2012 at 12:55 pm

Sorry - that's "cite".


Posted by businessdecision, a resident of another community
on Aug 22, 2012 at 2:41 pm

Sadly, some crosswalks are more equal than others. When I try to cross El Camino or Ravenswood by the train tracks, I am aware that I am creating a dangerous situation for the cars, even though I am in the right legally. The driver closest to me might be ready to stop, but behind him/her, there may be someone oblivious. I would suspect that drivers who don't stop for pedestrians are all too well aware that they might be rear-ended if they did. I don't know the answer, but I don't think it's lawsuits.


Posted by palo alto mom, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Aug 22, 2012 at 4:19 pm

Concerned parent - if your daughter was riding her bike, she is considered to be vehicle just like a car and is required to follow the same rules, therefore she caused the accident. If she was walking her bike, she is a pedestrian and cars must stop for her. Since cars can't cross El Camino at Sand Hill, (the must turn onto El Camino) how was she moving with the traffic?


Posted by Concerned parent, a resident of Midtown
on Aug 22, 2012 at 6:38 pm

She was heading towards MP on the sidewalk in front of the shopping center, and stopped at Sand Hill to cross, waiting for the light telling her "it was OK to cross". The principle is the same, whether she is walking or riding - the car had a red light, was taking a right on red onto El Camino, and had to yield to the pedestrian (who was walking in the opposite direction) and my daughter. To not distinguish between a several thousand pound machine, and a minor on a bike is illogical.


Posted by Concerned parent, a resident of Midtown
on Aug 22, 2012 at 6:56 pm

She was heading towards MP on the sidewalk in front of the shopping center, and stopped at Sand Hill to cross, waiting for the light telling her "it was OK to cross". The principle is the same, whether she is walking or riding - the car had a red light, was taking a right on red onto El Camino, and had to yield to the pedestrian (who was walking in the opposite direction) and my daughter. To not distinguish between a several thousand pound machine, and a minor on a bike is illogical.


Posted by Cur Mudgeon, a resident of Greenmeadow
on Aug 23, 2012 at 9:55 am

The person who commented on poor drivers is right. I was behind a driver who MADE A U TURN in the middle of the San Antonio-101 overpass! Astounding!

I am especially sensitive to ped/crosswalk accidents, having lost a family member in such an accident, on a two lane street, where a vehicle stopped for the pedestrian but an inexperienced driver drove around the stopped vehicle and struck said pedestrian.

That being said, pedestrians do not have the right to step off the curb without looking or respecting the fact that traffic is going anywhere from 35-45 mph. And WALK your bike--then you are not a vehicle.

Crosswalks that are distant from intersections with traffic lights or stop signs are especially dangerous. Maybe we should do what Laguna Beach did years ago--provide pink flags for pedestrians to wave as they cross the street?


Posted by True Blue, a resident of Adobe-Meadows
on Aug 23, 2012 at 10:41 am

True Blue is a registered user.

Leaving un-protected crosswalks on wide, busy roads with cars traveling 35+ MPH is just irresponsible. There should be a light which remains green for traffic all the time except for when a pedestrian presses the button to cross. Hopefully the Schriers will prevail and the responsible civic organization will fix these crosswalks before more people are killed or injured. Note that in the year that has passed since this accident nothing has changed with the crosswalk in question.

I don't care if it's a pedestrian or a person riding a bike, if they are in a crosswalk and crossing with the light, they should be protected from reckless and impatient drivers. The distinction between walking the bike or riding it is an inane technicality when it comes to protecting a human body from multi-thousand pound metal vehicles. Frankly, walking the bike across just means a longer time crossing and a bigger risk of being hit by a vehicle that doesn't stop behind the crosswalk line or pulls up to turn right without stopping or looking.


Posted by Resident, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 23, 2012 at 11:02 am

I agree that unprotected crosswalks on multi lane streets with posted speed limits over 25 is dangerous. Pedestrians crossing are hidden by cars which are stopped. Flashing lights inbedded in the street would be one solution along this stretch of ECR.

Bike riders should not cross on their bikes with pedestrian signals because they move faster than pedestrians. They often appear from shadows and move faster than a driver anticipates pedestrians to move. Likewise anyone crossing a street should cross at walking pace to give drivers time to see them. There is a reason they are called "pedestrian crosswalks", not non motorized vehicle crossing places. They are for pedestrians and walking.


Posted by illegal, a resident of Atherton
on Aug 23, 2012 at 11:10 am

If a car is stopped at a crosswalk, it is illegal (and obviously dangerous) for you to pass or go around them. Stop behind or beside them until you can figure out why they were stopped at the crosswalk. That is the law.

If crosswalks are not visible enough, then the city needs to put up more signs and/or lights to make them visible.


Posted by Crescent Park Dad, a resident of Crescent Park
on Aug 23, 2012 at 1:01 pm

FYI. At the site in question, there is only a sidewalk on the Northbound side of ECR (and a bike lane). There is no sidewalk (just a bike lane) on the Southbound side of ECR.

Also - there are only 4 lanes of traffic (2 in each direction) at that intersection.


Posted by Peter Carpenter, a resident of Atherton
on Aug 23, 2012 at 5:51 pm

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

"A pedestrian crossing the street on a crosswalk must use ordinary care to prevent injury from automobiles. "The care required must be in proportion to the danger to be avoided and the consequences that might be reasonably anticipated...Pedestrians must be alert to the fact that vehicular traffic approaching in multiple lanes, ebbing and flowing with signals, is always dangerous, and doubly so in the night time." [Mendelson vs. Peton (1955) 135 Cal. App. 2d 390.]"

El Camino at Alejandra Avenue is clearly a very dangerous location with "vehicular traffic approaching in multiple lanes, ebbing and flowing with signals, is always dangerous.."


Posted by palo alto mom, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Aug 23, 2012 at 7:48 pm

Concerned parent - I'm truly sorry your daughter was injured and cars should be careful of bike riders because in the bike vs. car battle, the bike (and rider) will lose... But a bike is supposed to ride with the traffic and even in a cross walk, they are a vehicle, not a pedestrian. Cars are not required to stop for bikes because they should be A. riding with traffic (in this case, the other side of El Camino) and B. should obey the traffic lights and stop signs. I'm sure this was not the case with your daughter, but bike riders in Palo Alto often seem to "play chicken" at stop signs in particular.

The "ok to cross" sign at Sand Hill was for pedestrians, not cars or bikes. It may not seem logical to you, but it is the law. To prevent this in the future, your daughter should walk her bike across busy intersections (she is then a pedestrian) or ride with traffic and obey the lights and stops signs as if she is in a car.


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