Judge: Morgan Hill not liable in bicycle accident death

Morgan Hill is not liable for the accident that took the life of Morgan Hill resident Rory Tomasello on West Edmundson Avenue more than two years ago.

Shortly after Tomasello died as a result of injuries suffered in the Oct. 23, 2009 accident, his family as well as the driver who hit him sued the city, alleging the crosswalk in which the collision took place was poorly designed and is unsafe.

Santa Clara County Superior Court Judge Kevin McKenney ruled June 8 that the city is not at fault, and is protected from damages through immunity statutes.

The judge found that the city was “reasonable” in designing and constructing the crosswalk, and the plaintiffs did not show enough evidence indicating unsafe defects or conditions, city attorney Danny Wan said.

Furthermore, because the negligence of the driver who hit Tomasello, Sandra Arlia, 67 of Morgan Hill, was the “immediate” cause of the accident, the city is not responsible for damages, the judge wrote.

“The city has met its initial burden to show that the subject property had no physical defect that exposed its users to increased danger from third-party negligence,” the judge’s order read.

Arlia filed a similar claim, and the judge’s ruling applies to that complaint as well.

In criminal proceedings and a jury trial that ended in October, Arlia was found guilty to accidental vehicular manslaughter, a misdemeanor. She was sentenced to three years of formal probation and 500 hours of community service.

The accident happened in a crosswalk just east of the Centennial Recreation Center. Arlia was driving a Cadillac SRX when her vehicle collided with Tomasello, who was riding a bicycle through the crosswalk which connects two sections of pedestrian and bike path.

Tomasello was not wearing a helmet at the time. He was transported to an area hospital with a complaint of pain, and died there Nov. 2, 2009 due to a head injury he suffered in the collision.

“The accident was very unfortunate and many people had to suffer through the consequences,” Wan said in a press release. “However, the judge is correct that the city is not liable when it reasonably designs and approves its streets and facilities. It is everyone’s responsibility to be safe and care for others when using public streets and facilities.”

As a mid-block crosswalk, the site of the accident is unusual as it connects two sections of a paved pedestrian and bike path along Llagas Creek.

Since the accident, the city has installed additional safety measures at that crosswalk and others throughout the city. Those improvements include larger signs with flashing lights warning motorists of the upcoming crosswalks.

Tom Tomasello, Rory’s father, could not be contacted before press time. The family also filed a wrongful death civil lawsuit against Arlia shortly after the accident, and that suit is still being processed through the court.

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