Sidewalk lawsuit brewing

Another sidewalk lawsuit is brewing against the City of Gilroy, after the City rejected a claim for $1,700 in damages from a woman who allegedly tripped on uneven sidewalk on El Caminito Drive, west of Santa Teresa Boulevard, causing her to suffer from fractured and splintered bones in her left arm.
After falling in February, Gilroy resident Christine Chase sought medical treatment at Kaiser Permanente San Jose the night of the fall, and one week later was hospitalized for two nights for surgery to place metal plate screws in her arm.
On March 22, Chase asked the City for $1,722 in damages for medical expenses, loss of earnings (Chase is a registered nurse at Santa Clara Valley Medical Center), and pet care for her dog while she was in surgery.
City staff recommended City Council reject Chase’s claim, and planned for it to be rejected in a vote where several other items were bundled together with no discussion, but at during the meeting, Councilman Bob Dillon moved for it to be discussed in closed session.
“Did you read her injuries?” Dillon later said on the phone. “I wanted to at least talk about cutting her a check. What did she ask for, just $1,700?”
Dillon would not say how that closed session discussion went, but Council’s decision was made clear after a conversation with Robert Kopelson, Chase’s San Jose-based attorney, who said the City sent Chase a formal rejection letter for her claim shortly after that meeting.
City Administrator Tom Haglund deferred questions to LeeAnn McPhillips, human resources director, who confirmed that the City rejected Chase’s claim but would not comment on any specifics of the case.
According to Kopelson, the formal rejection letter is a legal move by the City to express any legal action Chase may take.
Kopelson said had the City not sent a written rejection, the claim would have still been deemed rejected by law, and Chase would have had two years from the date of her fall to form a legal case, or to settle out of court. But the rejection letter — which Kopelson asked the City not to write – will force Chase to file suit (if she chooses to do so) within six months from the date of the rejection.
“I think that was shortsighted on their part,” Kopelson said. “This is such a short time frame, and it forces us into an expressed legal case where we would have to name the City in a suit.”
With more time, he said, Chase could possibly negotiate with the City and the homeowner of the sidewalk in which she tripped to settle out of court.
“I have handled three or four similar sidewalk cases with San jose and Los Gatos where I made that same suggestion, and they said ‘Yeah that makes sense, maybe we can resolve it.’ And in fact, I think all of those cases ending up settling without a lawsuit,” Kopelson said.
Kopelson called the incident a “classic case of a tree dangerously pushing up the sidewalk.”
In her claim for damages, Chase said she fell at 9:15 p.m. due to “uneven sidewalk not marked,” which was “not visible due to poor lighting.”
In March, the City took a $450,000 hit, after a 70-year-old man won a lawsuit for tripping over a patch of jagged, uplifted sidewalk on Martin Street in front of Garlic City Billiards two years ago.

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