Palo Alto Shuttle suit settles for $125,000

Gunn High School student who fell through bus door in 2007 receives compensation

A Henry M. Gunn High School student who was thrown out of an unsecured city-bus door and tumbled onto El Camino Real in 2007 has settled a lawsuit for $125,000, according to court documents.

Rodolfo Flores and his mother, Virginia Garcia, reached an agreement with the Peninsula Corridor Joint Powers Board (Caltrain), Parking Company of America of Downey, Calif., and shuttle driver Martha Lorena Cachiro on June 8. A Santa Clara County Superior Court judge is scheduled to formally dismiss the case today (Aug. 12).

Flores, then 15 years old, was a passenger on the crowded Palo Alto Shuttle when the accident occurred June 4, 2007. The 22-seat bus is part of the city's bus system, which includes the Crosstown Shuttle, on which Flores was traveling.

Flores was one of 10 passengers who stood in the shuttle's aisle. As the bus made a left-hand turn onto El Camino Real, he was thrown against the rear doors, which flew open and flung him onto the roadway at 15 to 20 mph. He hit the back of his head and rolled into the intersection.

He was transported by ambulance to Lucile Packard Children's Hospital with a significant concussion, cuts to his head and internal bleeding in his skull, according to court papers. He remained hospitalized for four days.

Flores filed suit on Feb. 20, 2008 for an unspecified sum in damages. The City of Palo Alto was initially a defendant in the suit, but was later dropped from litigation.

Flores' attorney, John C. Stein, said previously that public buses have a mandatory interlock system so that if a door opens the bus should stop. According to his experts, the shuttle's rear-door wasn't locked. A wheelchair-lift mechanism that usually is in front of the door had been removed two weeks prior to the accident and could have contributed to the door failure, he said.

At the time of the accident, a Palo Alto Police Department spokesman said the shuttle's doors "were not built to (stay) secure with the force of a person's weight against it."

Flores began to complain of lethargy, intermittent nausea and learning-retention problems that affected his reading and math abilities for six months after the accident, according to medical reports filed with the court.

Flores "showed a disturbing tendency to lose track of details" when tested by having a simple story read to him, according to a neuropsychological evaluation by Dr. Ralph Kiernan, which was given to the court.

However, a 2009 medical report by his personal physician, Dr. Kellen Glinder, indicates he has made a full recovery since that time. Flores graduated from Gunn in June.

"I tried to make sure before we entered the settlement that things are OK with him. Sometimes these things show up years later," Garcia, his mother and his guardian in the lawsuit, said Wednesday afternoon. "God willing, he's fine. He says he's OK and I trust him."

She and Flores are "very happy with the results," she added. "According to the lawyer, it's as good as can be for the case that it is."

The case was difficult for the family, not only because of concerns about possible long-term problems for Flores but also because of medical costs the family incurred, she said.

According to the documents filed with the court, the settlement includes $29,144.15 for attorney fees, $8,673.41 reimbursement for out-of-pocket medical and other expenses incurred by Flores or attorneys and $3,000 for other expenses.

Christine Dunn, Caltrain spokeswoman, said any changes to the buses would be the responsibility of Parking Company of America, which has not returned a call from the Weekly.

Regarding the settlement, "As part of the process, Caltrain was removed from liability," Dunn said.

Garcia said Flores hopes to attend UC Santa Cruz to study biology, she said.

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Like this comment
Posted by glad
a resident of College Terrace
on Aug 12, 2010 at 10:41 am

I'm glad that the victim has recovered from his injuries. $125K sounds very cheap for that amount of medical care. I hope that the family did not have huge out-of-pocket expenses for his treatment.

Like this comment
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 12, 2010 at 11:14 am

This accident should never have happened. It does sound that there was a problem in that the door was not properly secured.

However, why was he standing anyway? The article says he was one of 10 people on a 22 seater bus. Why wasn't he seated in one of the seats?

I know these shuttles get overcrowded with students, and that is a different discussion. But, it seems to me that these students have never been taught how to behave on a bus. They should know that a door is not a good place to stand by or even lean on. A seat (with seat belts) makes a lot more sense. If they have to stand, then there should be straps from bars on the ceiling or handles on the edge of seats so that those standing can hold on.

I sympathise with the student and his family and hope that his recovery is complete. I also hope that this can be a lesson to everyone who uses a bus to know that it makes sense to hold on to something when standing on a bus if there is nowhere to sit, and that sitting is much safer than standing.

Like this comment
Posted by qq
a resident of Barron Park
on Aug 12, 2010 at 11:18 am

Geez Resident, maybe you have some brain damage.

The article says that the bus was FULL/CROWDED and 10 extra people aboard were forced to STAND. Not that there were 10 people aboard.


Like this comment
Posted by glad
a resident of College Terrace
on Aug 12, 2010 at 11:21 am

I agree with qq. Very disrespectful of "Resident" to blame the victim.

Like this comment
Posted by Dennis
a resident of Downtown North
on Aug 12, 2010 at 11:27 am

It would be nice to know if the City is acting to recover damages from the Parking Company of America as well as the manufacturer of the bus. re "Palo Alto Police Department spokesman said the shuttle's doors "were not built to (stay) secure with the force of a person's weight against it." These are important details and integral to the story.

Like this comment
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 12, 2010 at 11:30 am


I apologise and have reread the article. It does say that the bus was overcrowded in the first paragraph or so. It also states much later that he was standing in the aisle with 9 other passengers.

It also states that the door was not strong enough to hold a passenger's weight. That also sounds like trouble.

However, my original query still stands. Why are there no seatbelts and nowhere to hold for passengers? I was in Europe a few months ago on many buses - large and small. The buses all had seatbelts and the passengers all knew how to hold on if they had to stand.

One of the problems must be safety standards.

Like this comment
Posted by John
a resident of Charleston Gardens
on Aug 12, 2010 at 11:38 am

The shuttles are crammed full during the afternoon trips around town. The drivers, some of whom are language deficient, do not honor the occupancy signs, and let these kids cram onto the bus.

It's hard to believe that the City didn't know about this, but certainly the PAUSD did. Unfortunately, the PAUSD is not directly involved in the operation of these buses. Sadly, the District seems to be disinterested in any safety issues associated with students off campus.

While this matter may well have been associated with the door-interlock not working, if the drivers had said: "We're full, wait for the next bus" .. then this would not likely have happened.

This bus services provider does not seem to be very responsible, at least as represented by its drivers.

Like this comment
Posted by Concerned
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Aug 12, 2010 at 5:37 pm

I still think Caltrain/parking company/Police department/City of Palo Alto got away by paying peanuts ($125,000 some amount). The following statements are for the readers:

WHEN EVER SOMEONE IS INJURED ON PUBLIC PROPERTY AND HAD HEAD INJURY DO NOT I REPEAT DO NOT SETTLE FOR LESS THAN 1 (ONE) MILLION DOLLARS. PARTICULARLY WHEN THE ACCIDENT VICTIM HAS "with a significant concussion, cuts to his head and internal bleeding in his skull, according to court papers. He remained hospitalized for four days."

This type of problem can cause long term damage to memory, learning or internal bleeding and just to transport the patient to hospital again (airlift) itself costs anywhere from $10,000 yes ten thousand USDs $$$$.

What a raw deal the victim got. City collects so much in taxes, Caltrain charges $4.50 for train fare within a zone or something like that and look what a petty settlement they agreed for!

Like this comment
Posted by lol
a resident of Barron Park
on Aug 12, 2010 at 6:50 pm

>and $3,000 for other expenses.

That must be the PSP.

Like this comment
Posted by sageru~
a resident of Gunn High School
on Aug 12, 2010 at 6:54 pm

Hah, 10 people my ass.

If you can seat 22 people on the bus, you can definitely shove in another 33 people and make them stand. I've definitely stood in the stairwell a couple times before.

Like this comment
Posted by Rider.
a resident of Green Acres
on Aug 12, 2010 at 7:02 pm

No way there was 33 people. Usually its closer to 60.

Like this comment
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 13, 2010 at 8:16 am

Has anything been done since this accident to improve safety on the shuttles?

I do think people should be more vigilant about their own safety, but at the same time we are talking about shuttles which are full of kids before and after school. Is there anyway these shuttles can improve frequency at school times to prevent the overcrowding. With our schools slated to increase in numbers over the next few years, it is paramount that more transport to school be invoked. These 22 seater buses cannot deal with increase in number of school kids trying to squeeze onto them. They are not sardines.

If something isn't done to make these shuttles safer, it seems to me that there will be more accidents. If PAUSD and the City of Palo Alto isn't doing anything to improve safety then why aren't the traveling public? Palo Alto Weekly, you can do more to help us in this, please.

Like this comment
Posted by anon
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Aug 13, 2010 at 2:39 pm

I've been riding the shuttle for the past few years to and from school. There is no way the doors would stay closed if somebody fell against them. They flop around as though they're about to fall open when the shuttle is just driving normally.

Like this comment
Posted by Sue Dremann
Palo Alto Weekly staff writer
on Aug 13, 2010 at 5:47 pm

Sue Dremann is a registered user.

Before publishing this story, I contacted Caltrain and the Parking Company of America regarding any improvements to the buses or to new procedures to remedy this problem.

Caltrain referred comment to Parking Company of America. To date, the Weekly hasn't received a response from the company. We will continue to follow the issue and seek answers.

Like this comment
Posted by JustMe
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Aug 16, 2010 at 4:39 pm

Why are people being so rude to each other here? I mean, yeah, you may be factually right, but the rude and abusive posts are wrong in just about every other way. And by the way, haven't you ever made a mistake that deserved correction? Was resident's mistake correctly answered by such rudeness? I would call his mistake minor compared to the responses he got.

Like this comment
Posted by Shuttle Diplomacy
a resident of Midtown
on Aug 18, 2010 at 12:11 pm

The before and after-school shuttles are always overcrowded -- there is not enough capacity on the buses to accommodate all the students who want a ride (I know only about the high schoolers). Imagine being the driver of a 22-seat bus with hundreds of kids getting out of school at the same time -- that's not a language problem, it's a numbers problem. Maybe the little bus was enough when the shuttles just started, but it's time to take a look at the ridership. Of course students have other modes of transport, but the shuttle makes sense for many. The high schoolers are facing hours of homework after school and getting home shouldn't be such an ordeal for them or their parents.

So I say thank you and kudos to all the responsible agencies for providing such a great service; its crushing popularity is evidence of its success. It would be wonderful for the kids (and their parents) if the capacity can be increased during peak times or else (to paraphrase Yogi Berra) it'll be so crowded, no one will go there anymore.

Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

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