Negligence claimed in pedestrian injury

Parents of brain-dead teen ask Millbrae, county and Caltrain to compensate

MILLBRAE — Even while Emily Liou’s parents cling to hope that a cutting-edge surgery can return their brain-dead daughter to the young woman they knew before she was struck by a car, the family has filed a claim against Millbrae, the county and Caltrans alleging negligence in the accident.

Liou, just 17 at the time of her accident, was struck by a vehicle at the intersection of Ludeman Lane and El Camino in March. She has laid in a “vegetative” state ever since, according to her family’s attorney, Douglas Saeltzer.

Saeltzer, who has named all three agencies in the claim, says he believes Millbrae officials, Caltrans — which owns that section of El Camino Real — and the county were aware of the dangers posed to pedestrians crossing in the area. They “were negligent and careless in the design, construction, maintenance, inspection, repair and control of state Route 82 [El Camino Real] at this intersection,” Saeltzer said.

Not only has the accident caused the family grief, but Liou’s father, a San Francisco State University professor, was forced to take a sabbatical from his job to care for his daughter, Saeltzer said. He has taken his daughter by plane to China for a “cutting-edge” surgical procedure costing hundreds of thousands of dollars that the family hopes will bring Liou back, Saeltzer said.

San Mateo County officials, who have received the claim, have recommended denying it, on the grounds that the road lies within Millbrae — and hence is under the jurisdiction of the city — and is maintained by Caltrans. Millbrae has forwarded the claim for $30 million to its insurance carrier, which is investigating, said Ron Popp, Millbrae’s Public Works Department manager.

The dangers of crossing El Camino in Millbrae have come to a head in recent months, with City Council members pushing for improvements to the area, which is one day envisioned to offer a pedestrian-friendly design with easy access to the nearby Millbrae BART station, officials said.

Pedestrians must run for their lives when crossing El Camino Real, Millbrae City Manager Ralph Jaeck said.

“Since that tragic event this spring [Liou’s death], we really want to see some improvements and we’ve got a couple of projects in the works,” Millbrae Mayor Robert Gottschalk said. In addition, local police have been conducting decoy operations trying to catch people who fail to stop for pedestrians, he said.

The city is designing a signal at El Camino and Victoria Avenue, where there is a median but no crosswalk, Popp said. The signal, estimated to cost $750,000, should be installed before 2008, Popp said, noting the difficulty of installing traffic improvements along El Camino, because it is managed by Caltrans.

A lighted crosswalk will also be installed at El Camino at Millwood Avenue — the site of two serious accidents — before the start of the school year, Popp said. That project will cost about $75,000 and could begin in the next three to four months, Popp said.

The family’s claim, filed Sept. 19, must be denied by the agencies within 45 days before a lawsuit can be filed.

ecarpenter@examiner.comBay Area NewsLocal

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