Kin of woman hit by cable car file claim

Exactly six months after 76-year-old Joyce Lam was hit by a cable car while crossing the street, her family has filed a claim with The City in her death.

City Attorney’s Office spokesman Matt Dorsey said his office will not discuss the specifics of the claim, filed July 21, because they are in a 45-day review period.

Lam, an immigrant from China and the mother of a San Francisco Superior Court judge, died in San Francisco General Hospital on Jan. 24 after a cable car hit her Jan. 21. Her family filed a claim against The City on July 21, Dorsey said.

Lam was hit in the intersection of Mason and Filbert streets while she crossed westbound on Mason Street, police said. A cable car traveling south on Mason apparently hit her after cresting a steep incline that hinders visibility just before the intersection.

Lt. Mike Biel, who oversees the hit-and-run detail, which investigates fatal crashes, said at the time that there was no evidence to show negligence on the driver’s part. Biel was unavailable for comment Monday.

A witness and family friend reported that the cable car operator had rung his bell several times before hitting Lam, indicating that he saw her. “It seemed like the cable car driver was expecting her to jump out of the way, but she’s elderly and can’t get out of the way,” said her son David Lam, 53, on Monday.

A claim is a legal action that may precede a lawsuit against The City. It gives The City 45 days to determine liability and come to a resolution. If The City denies the claim, the claimant’s next step is a lawsuit. Attorneys do not usually comment during the review period.

Muni paid out $2.04 million after one of its vehicles ran over Klara Khaimskaya’s leg May 1, 2003. Muni spokespeople were unavailable for comment Monday.

David Lam did not say what, if any, damages the family is seeking from The City, but he said the family did not take the decision to make a claim lightly. “We agonized about it because we just wanted to forget about it, but we thought it was the right thing to do,” he said. “We just want someone to realize what happened and try to fix it. If we don’t do it, it will be forgotten.”

David Lam added that the family still grieves for its matriarch.

“Each of my siblings has had experiences where we say, ‘Oh, I’ve got to call mom,’ or ‘Oh, I’ve got to pick her up,’” he said.

David’s three brothers and one sister include a Superior Court judge, a social worker, an airport planner and a teacher. Among them, they have 12 children.

“We still miss my mother a lot, and it [the claim against The City] is kind of like a reminder,” he said.

A new traffic light recently approved for the intersection will be installed soon. David Lam said he hopes it will serve as a kind of memorial to his mother.

muni accidents

Number of Muni-related collisions in the past five years:

2000-01 3,043

2001-02 2,913

2002-03 2,966

2003-04 2,975

2004-05 2,437

Biggest payouts

During a two-year period, 124 claims worth more than $10,000 were paid out, including:

» $2.04M for running over Klara Khaimskaya’s leg on May 1, 2003

» $800,000 for hitting Hartford Cebsco, a pedestrian, on June 21, 2001

» $675,000 for hitting Joseph Ravicini, a pedestrian, on May 24, 2002

» $487,500 to John Bako for hitting a “fixed object” onApril 14, 2001

» $162,500 to Shirley Baker for hitting a “fixed object” on April 14, 2001

» $155,000 to State Farm Insurance for hitting a “fixed object” on Sept. 29, 2002

» $135,000 to Jerry Novak for a fall while getting off a Muni vehicle on Nov. 27, 2000

» $112,500 to Irene Balibrera for an injury while riding the bus on May 2, 2001

Source: City Attorney’s Office, MTA

amartin@examiner.comBay Area NewsLocal

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