Today’s question is from Alex of San Francisco, who asks:
Q: “Muni ran over and killed my uncle. What do I have to do to take legal action?”
A: In a case against Muni, you must file a notice of claim within six months pursuant to Government Code Section 910 or you may lose your rights to proceed with a lawsuit.
The way a case of this type is investigated is through The City’s hit-and-run detail. The unit is notoriously biased and, indeed, its investigators work for the City Attorney’s Office, which represents Muni. I have found its reports are frequently written in favor of Muni. In essence, The City is investigating itself.
One of the first things that should be done after a tragedy like this is to demand that The City preserve any and all evidence. Buses are outfitted with cameras, some looking inward and some outward. The forward-facing camera activates with a sudden change of speed or impact. It is often the most helpful. There is a camera behind the driver that often captures the right-front side of the bus and one that looks over the driver’s right shoulder, catching the left-front side of the bus. The articulated buses have significant blind spots that Muni drivers should be aware of.
Make a public records request for the 911 calls, driver calls, communications with central control (Muni’s dispatch center), and the computer-automated dispatch (CAD) reports and audio tapes. Witnesses can be identified by getting the 911 tapes that record the name and number of those who call in immediately after the incident. This often yields evidence of eyewitnesses who may not be included in the police report. CAD reports are computer logs and voice recordings of all communications with the Police Department and Fire Department.
Ask for your relative’s clothes to be preserved and returned to you. Often evidence as to what happened is on the clothing. The bus driver should, within two hours of the incident, have been tested for drugs and alcohol. This is a federal law.
The next of kin should ask for copies of the autopsy report, photographs and death certificate. This evidence can tell much about how the collision happened. This type of evidence can be very disturbing, so I would either have someone with some distance from the tragedy obtain and open them (though the request must come from the next of kin), or have them sent to a legal representative so you are not emotionally devastated by what is contained in the photographs.
Often, the police report will say the decedent “fell under the bus” or “walked into the side of the bus.” This is especially true when there is a turn being made. (Most often right turns.) This is a false representation, because what often happens is that a pedestrian will see the bus making a slight left turn and think that the bus is turning left, and then suddenly the bus swings back to the right. The pedestrian thinking the bus is going straight or turning left walks into the roadway and then the bus suddenly sweeps right. Drivers are looking to the left to make sure they do not hit oncoming traffic, then they sweep their eyes to the right and often they don’t see the pedestrian before they hit them or, by that time, the pedestrian is in their blind spot. This overshooting the corner, making a slight jog left, then a right, is called a buttonhook turn and often leaves the bus sweeping from left to right, entrapping the pedestrian.
Obtaining evidence can be quite a daunting task. The 910 form can be found on The City’s website. Given the seriousness of the case, you should get the assistance of a trial lawyer to help obtain and analyze the evidence to see if Muni has liability or not.
Christopher B. Dolan is owner of the Dolan Law Firm. Email questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.