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.