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Muni collision produces 57 claims

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The Muni light-rail collision at the West Portal station in July that injured dozens has resulted in the filing of 57 claims — typically the first step toward a lawsuit.

The City has settled with five of the people who filed claims, paying out a total of $27,662, according to documents from the City Attorney’s Office. The rest of the filings, however, could take years to settle and at a price that’s yet to be known.

The July 19 collision occurred when Muni operator Henry Gray, a 30-year veteran of the agency, collapsed — union officials said he suffered from a medical condition — while piloting his L-Taraval train in manual mode. Gray is still employed by the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency, but he’s no longer operating vehicles, according to the transit agency.

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Trains are required to operate under automatic settings while in the West Portal tunnel, per agency regulations. Under automatic control, the L-Taraval train would not have been able to rear-end the K-Ingleside light-rail vehicle that was stopped at the West Portal boarding platform.

Filing a claim is the first step in the legal process for compensation. The City Attorney’s Office considers a claim and decides whether to accept it and make a settlement or issue a denial, which can lead to litigation.

“The City has an obligation to compensate people for the harms it causes,” said Matt Dorsey, spokesman for City Attorney Dennis Herrera. “But it also has an obligation to taxpayers to make sure it handles the claims process thoroughly and responsibly.”

Many of the 57 individuals neglected to attach a dollar amount to their claim, which is not unusual. By not indicating a specific amount, claimants can keep their options open during the expected negotiating process.

Tuesday marked the end of a six-month period in which individuals could file personal claims against The City regarding the crash.

The number of claims filed is greater than the 47 reported injuries.

Dorsey said it was too early to tell if future payments would come from a catastrophic-insurance plan managed by the SFMTA, which runs Muni, or from The City’s litigation reserve fund.

The final payday from the accident is expected to be pricey, but it’s unlikely to be the most expensive accident in the history of Muni.

In 2003, a 4-year-old girl was fatally struck by a Muni utility vehicle. The family of the girl was awarded $21 million as a result.

 

Steps toward a lawsuit

Claims are the first step in seeking compensation from a government body, such as a city, county or state agency. Generally, before a lawsuit can be filed against such an agency, a claim must be filed.

•Claimants have six months from the date of the incident to file their claim.

•The government entity has 45 days to investigate and make a determination of how to proceed.

•The agency can either settle with the claimant or make a formal denial.

•If the claim is denied within 45 days, the claimant has six months to file a lawsuit in court.

Source: City Attorney’s Office

wreisman@sfexaminer.com

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