The city of Sacramento quietly paid a family an $ 11 million settlement last year – one of the largest payments in the city’s history – after an elderly woman and her grandson been struck by a car in a crosswalk.
In January 2018, QuiChang Zhu, 72, and her grandson Jian Hao Kuang, 6, were using a crosswalk to cross Freeport Boulevard at Oregon Drive, according to a lawsuit filed in Sacramento County Superior Court. The intersection – located between South Land Park and Hollywood Park – has no traffic lights.
A sedan driver traveling north on Freeport Boulevard struck the couple, killing Zhu and causing serious injury to Kuang, including catastrophic and permanent brain damage, according to the lawsuit.
The crosswalk had been around for years in the busy hallway, but before the incident, it appeared the city had removed most of the paint, but left footprints or depressions where the painted rectangles were, according to the trial.
“In fact, the markings left at this crossing had the dangerous effect of being visible to pedestrians, giving the impression that the crossing was still intended to be a signposted crosswalk, but was not visible to motorists approaching on Freeport Boulevard, ”the lawsuit said.
In addition, the city also removed pedestrian warning signs and painted advance warnings on the roadway, according to the lawsuit.
The intersection, which is near Sutterville Elementary School and Centennial Christian Kindergarten, no longer appears to have any footprints or depressions.
City council must approve all bylaws over $ 100,000. The council discussed the case in camera on January 28, 2020, but no settlement was announced at the subsequent public meeting. The Sacramento Bee obtained the settlement agreement, finalized in February 2020, through a California Public Records Act request.
City prosecutor Susana Alcala Wood said the settlement would fund a special needs trust for Kuang. He will not be able to pursue regular employment, according to the lawsuit.
“As a Sacramento City Attorney, it is often my responsibility to help reconcile the extremely tragic events that befall the residents of our city,” Alcala Wood said in a statement to The Sacramento Bee. “This case – which involved the death of a grandmother and the serious injury of a young boy as a result of a traffic accident – is certainly one of the most tragic. Our hearts go out to the Kuang family for the pain they have gone through and the losses they have suffered. The Family Settlement Agreement was designed to include a special needs trust that ensures Jianhao Kuang is taken care of throughout his life. Meanwhile, the City remains committed to following all federal and state guidelines regarding the design of our streets and doing everything in our power to improve their safety. “
The settlement would be the city’s biggest payout since a $ 15 million payment to the family of a girl who died at Camp Sacramento in 2016.
The city did not announce the settlement in public
City council holds closed-door meetings, such as the one in which the by-law was discussed, when speaking about issues in public could put the city, the public and taxpayers at a disadvantage, city spokesman Tim said. Swanson.
“One example is the pending litigation issues, as a public debate on the city’s legal assessment could benefit opposing counsel,” Swanson said in an email. “In addition, public debate on certain issues could violate solicitor-client privilege. If there was no report on action taken by Council as a result of this closed session, it would be because Council took no action to report on the item in question, or the Brown Law did not require disclosure at that time.
Because the council discussed the case before the plaintiffs signed the settlement agreement, state law did not require the city to announce the settlement in open session after leaving the closed meeting. said David Snyder, executive director of the First Amendment Coalition.
However, even if they are not required to, cities should announce the regulations in public meetings when they are final, especially large payments, Snyder said.
“In terms of policy, I think any city should publicly disclose a payment of this size, especially when it comes to (one of) the biggest ever made here,” Snyder said. “That’s a lot of money that could have been used otherwise to repair city streets, solve the homelessness crisis, improve municipal services. The public at least has the right to know the amount and the underlying circumstances that led to such a payment. “
Likewise, the council discussed a separate case on August 10, 2021, involving a man shot by police, but did not announce a settlement in open court afterwards. Three days later, the plaintiffs signed a $ 3.25 million settlement agreement.
The settlement of Kuang was included in a 320-page municipal staff report from June 2021 regarding the adoption of the city budget, but was not included in the actual budget.
The lawsuit alleged negligence / bodily injury, wrongful negligence / death and unsafe condition of public property. The plaintiffs were the two children of Kuang and Zhu. He named the city, Sacramento County and Gurdeep Chand Sidhu, 22, the driver, as accused.
Sidhu paid the family a settlement of $ 100,000. The county was never served with the lawsuit and never paid a settlement, a county spokeswoman said.
This story was originally published October 14, 2021 5:00 a.m.