Caltrans denies driver's claim for damage from falling debris on Bay Area bridge

Melanie Woodrow Image
Saturday, February 10, 2024
Caltrans denies driver's claim for falling debris on Bay Area bridge
Caltrans denies California driver's claim for damage from falling debris and tells him he had to let them know about it before it happened.

SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) -- More denied Caltrans Claims. ABC7 News recently told you less than 4% of Bay Area Caltrans pothole and other damage claims were approved by the agency between 2020 and mid-2023. A Fremont man whose claim was denied decided to do some digging and reason might surprise you.

Marco Vailetti says a chunk of concrete nearly took him out while driving over the Richmond-San Rafael bridge last summer.

"And it hit me right about here. It just scared the hell out of me," said Vailetti.

Shattering Vailetti's windshield.

MORE: Less than 4% of Bay Area Caltrans pothole, other damage claims approved in recent years: data

"If it did come through, I mean it was like aimed straight at my chest. It would have probably killed me instantly," he explained.

The impact showering him with shards of glass.

"I was lucky I was wearing my sunglasses and I didn't get any glass in my eye, otherwise I probably would have been blind," he continued.

Now, Vailetti can't believe what he's seeing. More than five months after he filed a claim with Caltrans for the damages to his car, the agency wrote back letting him know based on its own investigation it determined its not liable.

"To me, it's total negligence from state of California. It's a state-owned bridge and they should own up to it," said Vailetti.

MORE: San Francisco woman left with $1K+ car damage from storm-induced pothole

ABC7 News data journalists recently crunched the numbers and found Caltrans wasn't owning up to most claims approving less than 4% of claims filed between 2020 and mid-2023.

The rejection letters are vague so Vailetti called to find out why his claim was denied.

Caltrans left him a voicemail.

"For debris type claims you have to have prior notice of a debris falling, like falling into your vehicle essentially, sir. It's like debris, debris claims are fairly difficult to prove because we need to have prior notice essentially. You need to have prior notice of a condition and then address it timely in order for Caltrans to be liable for damages."

Prompting Vailetti to call back and leave a voicemail of his own.

VIDEO: Here's where concrete chunks on Richmond-San Rafael Bridge came from, fell

VIDEO: Here's where falling concrete on Richmond-San Rafael Bridge came from (1 of 4)

"If I get something coming down from a bridge, how can I get prior authorization? Shall I call ahead and say hey, at 7 o'clock on a Thursday night we're going to have a piece of concrete coming down from your bridge before that, that is totally ridiculous."

In turn, he received another voicemail from Caltrans.

"Unfortunately, sir, we have already conducted the investigation - um, again if you wish to dispute the claim itself, you know you're welcome to do so through small claims court."

Something Vailetti is considering.

"I'm sorry if this is the way we are in the state of California, I'm sorry to say this state is doomed," said Vailetti.

MORE: Third falling concrete incident in a year on Richmond- San Rafael Bridge raises questions

A week after the incident, Vailetti bought a camera for his vehicle hoping to catch Caltrans on camera if it ever happens again.

"We pay taxes and we expect them to maintain the bridges, we expect them to maintain the roads."

A Caltrans spokesperson tells ABC7 News you can call up to find out why your claim was denied, but that option isn't explicitly stated on these rejection letters. You only have six months from the time of the incident to amend your claim with Caltrans but in the case of Vailetti, by the time Caltrans rejected his claim, that deadline had already passed. Once denied by Caltrans, claimants have another six months to file in small claims court.

Take a look at more stories by the ABC7 News I-Team.

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