Council denies injury claims

Three residents blame city for losses

The Gilroy City Council earlier this month rejected claims submitted by three people who said they were injured due to negligence or faulty construction or maintenance of public facilities.

At the Aug. 6 meeting, the seven-member council unanimously agreed to deny the claims of Alfredo Zepeda, who said a street sign in the downtown area fell on his head; Fernando Zepeda, whose claim says he suffered injuries from a Gilroy police K9 bite that resulted in loss of work; and Maria Elena Alvarez, who tripped and fell on a Welburn Avenue sidewalk that had buckled upward due to vegetation growth.

LeeAnn McPhillips, Gilroy’s human resources director and risk manager, declined to comment on why the city isn’t taking responsibility for any of the damages or injuries cited in the three separate claims.

“I am not able to discuss the confidential recommendation on each claim as it is possible that lawsuits may be filed following the council’s rejection of the claims,” McPhillips said in an email.

The filing of a claim for damages at City Hall is often a plaintiff’s first legal effort to seek recourse for injuries or property damage they think occurred on city property or due to the city’s actions. If a claim is denied, the victim or plaintiff can then go to the Superior Court to file a lawsuit.

Alfredo Zepeda’s claim for damages states that he was walking in the area of Eigleberry and Fifth streets May 5, 2017, when a street sign on the southeast corner of the intersection “spontaneously fell off of its post and onto the claimant’s head.”

As a result, Zepeda, a San Martin resident, suffered injuries to his head, neck, shoulders and back, reads the claim filed by his attorney Juan M. Simon. He was treated at Saint Louise Regional Hospital. He sought more than $25,000 in damages from the city, for medical expenses, loss of income, pain and suffering.

Zepeda and his attorney claim the city is responsible for creating “a dangerous condition” with the “inadequate” installation of the street sign and signpost.

Zepeda’s attorney did not return a phone call requesting comment.

K9 bite leads to injuries

Fernando Zepeda’s claim states he suffered extensive injuries to his arm when a police dog bit him during an incident on the 7200 block of Dowdy Street about a year ago.

Zepeda, who now lives in San Jose, said on his claim for damages form that he was hospitalized and lost his job because of the dog bite injuries.

The Gilroy Police report of the incident, which occurred Aug. 24, 2017, describes Officer Robert Zuniga’s response to a 911 call reporting a family altercation at the Dowdy Street address, where Zepeda lived at the time. Zuniga’s report says when he arrived to the scene, he saw Zepeda and female family members outside arguing verbally.

Zuniga saw Zepeda remove what appeared to be a handgun from his waistband, then run inside the apartment, according to the police report. Zepeda returned outside, then began to approach the officer in a threatening manner. He also allegedly verbally threatened Zuniga.

The officer told Zepeda to stop and lie down multiple times, but Zepeda continued to approach and “took a fighting stance,” according to Zuniga’s report. At one point, Zuniga called his K9 dog Scotty to subdue Zepeda. The dog bit Zepeda’s upper right arm, and the officer detained him as the suspect’s female family members tried to stop the officer.

The August 2017 police report adds Zepeda has an “extensive criminal history with multiple dangerous weapon violations and assaults.”

After he was detained, Zepeda told the officer he did not have a handgun at any point during the altercation. Officers who briefly searched the home after his arrest did not find a firearm.

Zepeda was charged with multiple offenses in Santa Clara County Superior Court in relation to the incident. He said when contacted briefly on the phone that he pleaded no contest to disturbing the peace.

The Dispatch was unable to determine if the two recent claimants Alfredo Zepeda and Fernando Zepeda are related.

Sidewalk accident

Alvarez, a 63-year-old Gilroy resident, tripped while walking on the sidewalk on the 500 block of Welburn Avenue, according to her claim. She tripped on a portion of the sidewalk that had been pushed upward by a tree root growing underneath.

The accident happened April 4, according to Alvarez’ claim. She was treated at Saint Louise Regional Hospital for injuries that include scrapes on her hands, knees and elbows, and soreness in her ribs.

The Dispatch was unable to contact Alvarez for comment.

The claims of Fernando Zepeda and Alvarez did not specify how much in damages they are seeking from the city.