San Francisco settles 11 Muni lawsuits

January 4, 2011 7:02:24 PM PST
The San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency approved settlements Tuesday afternoon for 11 lawsuits filed against the city stemming from an array of mistakes and misdeeds by the city's bus, light rail and cable car drivers. In the end, it is San Francisco taxpayers who are footing the bill.

If you were there in person, you might not have caught it. With little discussion and a single vote the MTA board approved settlements for 11 lawsuits filed against the city totaling just under $2.5 million ($2,458,561.48).

"Everyone of them, we wish didn't happen, but some of it is just accidents happen," SFMTA Board Chairman Tom Nolan said.

But, there is more. The I-Team pulled the court records on the cases and found a litany of dangerous mistakes and outlandish behavior by city employees:

  • $95,000 to a woman stalked by a parking control officer
  • $52,000 to a woman in a wheelchair whose foot was crushed by a Muni bus' wheelchair lift
  • $20,000 to a man hit in the head by a Muni sign that fell in a strong wind
  • $5,214 to a passenger who slammed into a Muni bus windshield when the driver stopped short

"Sadly yes, sadly, this is the way Muni works," Muni Diaries founder Jeff Hunt said.

Hunt founded Muni Diaries, a popular blog that explores the difficulties of using the city's mass transit system.

"There's a lot of lip service thrown out, 'We strive our best to make it safe,'" Hunt said. "Sure, but at the end of the day, the drivers need to be as best trained as they can."

The biggest payout approved Tuesday by the MTA board was for the cable car that derailed in July 2008. The conductor and gripman got out to push, but were not able to stop the cable car before it jumped the tracks, seriously injuring several passengers.

The most seriously injured was a tourist from Texas, who will receive more than $2 million ($2,095,000). She was knocked unconscious, had a broken leg and several other broken bones.

"She flew off, a couple of people flew off actually," passenger Eric Kay said.

Another passenger from Texas and her son will receive $50,000 and a Fremont man is getting $75,000..

There are also settlements involving light rail crashes, including one in July 2009 which injured 48 people. The driver appeared to have fallen asleep.

"The driver's head was down he looked like he was asleep or passed out, I couldn't tell but he was not looking up he was not slowing down or breaking," witness Nancy Martin said.

But, MTA Executive Director Nat Ford says the city's mass transit is becoming safer.

"The good news is year to year, our claims are significantly down in terms of the number of claims," Ford said. "We're also looking at the financial impact; we're year to year about a million dollars lower in terms of claims annually."

The driver from the light rail crash is no longer employed by the MTA. All the other employees mentioned in this story still have their jobs.