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Family: City negligence caused mom's death

Original post made on May 18, 2009

The daughters of Phyllis Seidman, the Palo Alto resident who was fatally struck while crossing Cowper Street in her wheelchair Dec. 2, 2008, have filed two claims against the City of Palo Alto in an amount exceeding $2 million.

Read the full story here Web Link posted Monday, May 18, 2009, 4:18 PM

Comments (36)

Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 18, 2009 at 5:16 pm

And what has the city done to improve safety on this and similar intersections on Embarcadero since the accident? Nothing. Perhaps if the city put up some no right turn signs this would never happen again. As it stands, another accident could happen tomorrow because of the dangers here.

This may be less about laying blame, but more about making our streets safer.

Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 18, 2009 at 5:17 pm

I mean right turn only signs, not no right turn signs. Turning left or crossing Embarcadero is the problem.

Posted by stretch
a resident of another community
on May 18, 2009 at 5:24 pm

Since when is it not the driver's fault for hitting a pedestrian (unless the pedestrian jumps out from behind a parked car, which I don't believe was the case here)? Sure, sue the City - it's a hell of a lot easier than making someone take responsibility for their inattention/speeding/ignorance!

Posted by EcoMama
a resident of Community Center
on May 18, 2009 at 5:35 pm

Such a sad, sad situation. I wonder what the law actually says here; there are "ramps" from the sidewalk to the street, but no crosswalk is present (and there are no pedestrian crossing signs). I don't walk or bike across any of those roads right where they meet Embarcadero anymore; even people turning right are a danger, as they often can't see people/bikes crossing until it's too late -- and the speed on Embarcadero, which is posted at 25 (but de facto is 35) is excessive and a huge issue. In my opinion, there should be no foot or bike traffic there at all with crossing points instead at lights or at Lincoln or Coleridge, which are a block in on either side -- it's just too dangerous. My heart goes out to the family of the victim, though I can't understand their motivation behind suing the city for money; I could understand if they were suing to force a safety fix, but the article doesn't indicate that they're asking for that.

Posted by Gerald
a resident of Downtown North
on May 18, 2009 at 6:46 pm

That intersection is a death trap, especially for pedestrians. And I still don't understand how the driver hadn't noticed a person sitting in a wheelchair trying to cross the street in daytime, not at night, and not even at dusk. I wouldn't want to have that driver within 10 miles of my friends and family.

Posted by anon
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 18, 2009 at 7:22 pm

What is the matter with you people? Whatever happened to personal responsibility? Are they suing the maker of the SUV as well?

A tragic situation, of course, but one person hit another person. The driver may be negligent, but it has nothing to do with the city. Get real.

Posted by Greg
a resident of Downtown North
on May 18, 2009 at 7:39 pm

Are they suing the SUV driver, too?

Posted by resident
a resident of Charleston Meadows
on May 18, 2009 at 9:04 pm

When anyone gets hit by car , law says it is drivers fault. If driver is under influance, offcorse it is. But now when traffic is bumper to bumper and big big suv's allover , everywhere construction work ,densily populeted cities like palo alto when someone gets hit or killed that time city planners and the athorities who approove those plans should be held responsible because they do not care for peoples sefty but they care only how much money they will make by bringing more revenue. Palo Alto is a very small city but growing like a big town. Very sad that we have to give our lives in greedy , heartless peoples hands. This only way to go , sue the city.

Posted by Old Palo Alto
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on May 18, 2009 at 9:05 pm

The next intersection where someone will be injured and/or killed is the turn into Town and Country off El Camino near Scott's Seafood. I've never seen such a dangerous situation. Both the city and the property owner/managers should be sued once it happens. And it will happen, I sit at Scott's in the morning and watch near collisions frequently.

Posted by blame game, no shame
a resident of Midtown
on May 18, 2009 at 9:09 pm

FYI, The surviving daughters sold the mother's free and clear 1930's house on Guinda for OVER $1.6M in February,... in a down market. Now they want the citizens of Palo Alto to pony up another $2 million for "loss of income".
The P.I. lawyer representing them probably gets 40%.
Council, deny the claim and expose the daughters for their unabashed greed at ordinary PA citizens' expense

Posted by what?
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on May 18, 2009 at 10:49 pm

while I think that intersection is scary, suing the city for lost income seems bizarre.

Posted by Hank
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on May 19, 2009 at 12:34 am

Well, I guess we will all have to bend over and wait for the expected utility increases as a result of this suit. Guess where the money from an anticipated settlement will come from?

You're damn right that we're the ones that pay. We fund our government, and so we'll be the ones opening up our wallets for this silly suit.

I'm appalled.

Posted by Bruce
a resident of another community
on May 19, 2009 at 9:53 am

Hard to believe - another gold digger suing the nearest deep pockets. Does it never end? Where is personal responsibility? Either the driver is at fault, or the person crossing the road. The situation is what it is; there are many dangerous intersections in the world and it is not the government's responsibility to prevent danger.

I continue to be amazed by pedestrians that brazenly walk out in front of cars without even looking at the driver. Yes, I stop. But what about the driver that is fumbling for their dropped soft drink? What about the drunk driver? I'm not saying the victim was at fault but our right of way as a pedestrian is only legal; physics rules otherwise.

Sometimes things just happen and no one is really at fault. Fault is, 99% of the time, a financial opportunity.

Posted by Crescent Park Dad
a resident of Crescent Park
on May 19, 2009 at 10:40 am

It's called a money grab, plain and simple. The city is a lot easier to sue than it is an individual with presumably less-than-city-deep pockets.

To avoid expensive court & defense attorney costs (and winning the case), the city will end up settling the suit for a smaller amount.

As for the first comments on no left turns - good idea at least for commute hours. However your remedy would not have stopped the accident from happening. According to the article above, the SUV was traveling on Cowper and crossing Embarcadero - no turn involved.

Posted by Walter_E_Wallis
a resident of Midtown
on May 19, 2009 at 10:42 am

Walter_E_Wallis is a registered user.

People in wheel chairs and powered mobility devices should recognize they are not as tall as a pedestrian, and take a lesson from dune buggies - mount a high visibility pennant on your chair on a flex mast that holds the pennant above 6 feet above ground level.

Posted by Joan
a resident of another community
on May 19, 2009 at 11:07 am

The intersection where Phyllis Seidman was killed is extremely dangerous.
I had a car accident there on a rainy afternoon in January. The overgrown bushes on each corner make the visibility of cars on Embarcadero difficult. I hope the Seidman daughters win their case.

Posted by dapessimist
a resident of another community
on May 19, 2009 at 11:10 am

I think every other street in this state is worthy of a lawsuit or two. Was California a training ground for rookie civil engineers back in the day?

Posted by Local
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on May 19, 2009 at 11:17 am

The City of Palo Alto has been negligent for not enforcing the speed limit. There is routinely traffic at 50mph on Embarcadero and Middlefield and the city does little to discourage speeding.

If people slowed down and obeyed the speed limits, the streets would be safer. Try crossing Embarcadero at any intersection as a pedestrian.

Posted by resident
a resident of Charleston Meadows
on May 19, 2009 at 12:13 pm

Overgrown bushes problem is every where. Homeowners and city both are responsible for that problem. Also big big suv drivers are also creating the dengers on streets. If they can not see the people on the streets because of car's hight why they drive that car and hurt or kill someone? Traffic ,big suv's, bikers , narrow streets and city's poor planning is becoming so dengeres that how meny people will have loose their lives or become permanantly disabled?

Posted by Chris Zaharias
a resident of Crescent Park
on May 19, 2009 at 12:52 pm

First off, my personal policy is to identify myself when posting on this site, as I feel we all should either have opinions we're willing to state publicly, or keep our mouth's shut.

My opinion is this: the daughters of the mother who died have every right to sue, and the city has every right and responsibility to defend itself, and given what I know about the situation, I hope the City of PA prevails.

Posted by Don G.
a resident of Community Center
on May 19, 2009 at 1:52 pm

This appears to be the family suing the deepest pockets around. Fallout will be some or all of the following:

1) money paid to the surviving daughters (most going to lawyer).
2) Speed bumps placed on Embarcadero and Middlefield
3) SUV's banned from city streets or profiled by PAPD (I don't knock the PAPD, they enforce the law not make the laws).
4) More traffic lights at each intersection on Embarcadero.
5) Barriers on most streets crossing Embarcadero except a few.

Come on! This was an accident. I recall several years ago a popular wheelchair bound man who used to sell cactus in front of Toys R Us was killed in San Jose on Winchester Blvd because the driver didn't see him.

Posted by Bob
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on May 19, 2009 at 2:25 pm

There is a disabled gentleman in a mobilized wheelchair who drives the streets all over the north and northeast and midtown areas of Palo Alto....usually in the street, the middle of the street, and he has his dog with him on a leash. He does not have a tall flag on his motorized chair, I have never seen him on a sidewalk, and he has absolutely NO FEAR. I do not know his name, but if anyone does, could you just tell him to be careful and watch where he is going and not ride in the middle of the street especially on curves and get a flag - a big bright one. Thank you.

Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 19, 2009 at 2:37 pm

Does he have lights? I came across someone in one of these a few weeks ago at dusk and he was in the shadows and virtually invisible. His chair doesn't even have reflectors like bicycles.

Posted by Hank
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on May 19, 2009 at 3:52 pm

They're making a grab for YOUR MONEY. These safety things are great ideas, but in the end, if they get a settlement, it's coming OUT OF YOUR POCKET.

I guess that means if we're paying for that settlement, that, somehow we're all responsible for her death? If you feel responsible, feel free to drop a $20 bill on their doorstep, but leave the rest of us out of this whole thing.

The next time you pay that expensive utility bill, remember that some of that is going into an individual's pocket that has nothing to do with delivering gas and electricity to your residence.

Posted by George
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on May 19, 2009 at 4:26 pm

It's everyone else's fault. This was clearly a tragedy. I'm very sorry for Phyllis Seidman's family. Let's start there.

However, crossing Cowper at Embarcadero in a slow motorized wheel chair isn't a safe decision. When I have my small children with me, we surely don't walk down the sidewalks of Embarcadero, crossing at the intersections. We choose one of the interior streets where two and four way stops exist and the speed limit is 25 mph. If a car were to make a turn or cross Embarcadero quickly, I don't think my children would be able to see the oncoming danger or attempt to sprint across before a car hit them. I feel terrible about Mrs. Seidman's death, but she was driving a motorized wheel chair in an unsafe place.

After the fact, we can have an argument about whether we'd like to make Embarcadero safer for slow moving wheelchairs or children. This lawsuit is a money grab. If the daughters cared about the safety aspect of this alone they'd be lobbying for different signage alone. Embarcadero's speed limit probably should go up, not down, based on the 85th percentile rule. Last year there was a hearing regarding a 50th percentile rule which would have certainly boosted the speed limit: Web Link

Posted by PointOfView
a resident of Midtown
on May 19, 2009 at 8:52 pm

I'm reading postings in which people say both that the intersection's not safe, and also that the city has no responsibility for an accident there. If it's not safe, is it not the city's responsibility?

Is it reasonable to expect that everyone using that intersection realizes that actual traffic patterns there involve routinely violating the only traffic laws keeping that location safe?

Posted by palo alto mom
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on May 19, 2009 at 9:49 pm

I don't think this lawsuit is about money, its about public safety. If you actually read the whole article, Ms. Seidmans daughter feel " the city was liable for their mother's death due to "a dangerous condition of public property."" And that " the city had known of the condition that resulted in the accident but failed to take action."

Multiple accidents happen at that intersection with cars darting across Embarcadero to beat the speeding traffic. (A neighbors' nanny totaled a van that way a few years back). Stop blaming Ms. Seidman, she should have been safe to cross Cowper, period. She didn't wheel into moving traffic, the SUV hit her. The SUV didn't see her, probably concentrating on the traffic on Embarcadero. It was an accident that would not have happened if the SUV had to turn right onto Embarcadero instead of cutting across.

The intersection at Cowper and Embarcadero is dangerous. The city could easy make the intersection safer by only allowing right turns from Cowper onto Embarcadero, They could also make the intersection of Emerson and Embarcadero safer by extending the barrier. As it is, pedestrians cut across Embarcadero thru the traffic (sometimes standing in the middle of the street by the barriers) and cars heading west drive a bit in the wrong direction down Embarcadero to turn left onto Emerson.

Then there's the intersection at Paly...

Posted by Lost income?
a resident of East Palo Alto
on May 19, 2009 at 10:15 pm

To the tune of 2 mil? Really. Are they corporate CEOs? If so, they need to take a pay cut anyway. Brain surgeons? Wait, brain surgeons don't make that much. Crooked politicians? Hmmm, if not, they may have a future career...

While I am very saddened by the death of their mother, perhaps the City has some responsibility, the driver sure does. But personal loss of income in that amount? Puhleeze.

Posted by Change is Coming
a resident of Greenmeadow
on May 20, 2009 at 7:26 am

I do not believe this is a money grab. I think the daughters want Palo Alto to DO SOMETHING about these unsafe streets. There have been numerous accidents at the intersections along Embarcadero, and who knows how many near-misses. People have been complaining for years about the problem, but the City of Palo Alto hasn't even done something as simple as posting Right Turn Only signs at unlighted intersections where cars approach Embaracadero.

It is unusual to have a busy 4-lane expressway cutting through a quiet residential neighborhood. Over the years as the traffic has increased, so should have safety measures been increased. But it seems that general inertia took over.

While I dislike lawsuits in general, I think this lawsuit will bring about needed change in Palo Alto. I'm betting that no settlement will be accepted without major safety measures being part of the agreement.

Posted by Hank
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on May 20, 2009 at 10:26 am

Absolute nonsense (I have stronger language, but this is a family website). There are other ways to prompt the city government to make changes without taking OUR TAX MONEY that should be used towards services -- especially in these days of budget deficits.

Selfish. That's the only word to describe this action. Would their mother approve of their actions?

Posted by Ouch
a resident of Green Acres
on May 20, 2009 at 11:49 am

I tripped and fell, injuring myself on a Palo Alto city sidewalk. The sidewalk was lifted up out of the ground almost two inches. I had severe pain in my leg and could not get around the house for over a month, and I still suffer pain daily now in both feet as well as my knee.
I was denied a claim by my beautiful downtown Palo Alto City Attorney's office. They did, however, direct workmen to go and fill up the damaged sidewalk a few weeks later with tar to make it somewhat level again after I submitted the pictures with my claim of how badly the walk was.
What a hassel to try to get justice for yourself. I cannot believe they denied my claim. Guess they think just filling in the cracks in our sidewalks around town should be compensation enough..................

Posted by PointOfView
a resident of Midtown
on May 20, 2009 at 3:49 pm

"There are other ways to prompt the city government to make changes without taking OUR TAX MONEY that should be used towards services -- especially in these days of budget deficits."

It is not unusual for a lawsuit with financial impact to be the only way to get the attention of city government, but Palo Alto may be a more responsive city than most to requests for changes by its residents.

Is it?

Posted by Ada
a resident of Midtown
on May 20, 2009 at 4:46 pm

What a shame to file such a frivolous law suit! The daughters and their lawyer are clearly after money that we the taxpayers have to shell out. The money could have been better spent on education, charity and other more worthy causes.

Posted by elena
a resident of Charleston Meadows
on May 20, 2009 at 4:50 pm

[Post removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]

Posted by Richard
a resident of Midtown
on May 20, 2009 at 9:50 pm

Traffic safety is accomplished through a proper balance of the three E's: Engineering, Education and Enforcement. It is not reasonable to expect the City to "make intersections safer" through engineering alone, without assistance from drivers who behave safely. It is also not reasonable to expect that police enforcement alone will produce safe streets. State law does not even allow police to use radar on Embarcadero outside the school zones, so enforcement is difficult and limited, and that is not the City's fault. This sort of lawsuit is usually only effective when there is a hazardous condition due to neglect of maintenance or faulty construction, and I haven't heard of anything to indicate that was the situation here.

Posted by safe streets
a resident of Downtown North
on May 20, 2009 at 10:39 pm

I suspect the daughters decided that the best thing they could do to honor their mother's memory was to try to make Embarcadero a little safer. Writing a letter to the city would have earned them a form response; carrying around a petition would have gotten them nowhere. Filing a $2mm lawsuit, conversely, requires the city to take notice.

The daughters must realize that they don't stand to gain much financially from the suit. The likelihood of their being awarded anything is small. They may even lose money on legal fees. And they are surely aware that people are accusing them of greed or selfishness because of this suit.

My bet: they'll settle out of court in exchange for the city posting "right turn only" signs along the feeder streets.

Filing a suit like this takes no small amount of courage. From what I know of Phyllis Seidman, it's not surprising that her daughters would be willing to stick their necks out in this manner.

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