City rejects frivolous claim
Calling the allegations “frivolous,” Councilman Tom Davis and the South Lake Tahoe City Council on Tuesday denied a claim filed by a South Lake Tahoe man paralyzed in a Tahoe Keys traffic accident in May.
“We get a lot of frivolous lawsuits here,” said Davis. “But this one is as frivolous as I’ve seen.”
City Attorney Dennis Crabb said he will hold the filing attorney, Paul William Danielsen of Coronado, Calif., responsible for any costs incurred by the city to fight a lawsuit expected to be filed now that the claim has been rejected.
Danielsen did not return phone calls.
The claim, filed Nov. 6 with the city on behalf of Matthew Wilson, 35, stems from the May 9 accident. Wilson was a passenger in a 1959 Volkswagen Bug driven by David Cornett, 33, also of South Lake Tahoe.
According to police reports, Cornett entered the curve where Tahoe Keys Boulevard becomes Ala Wai, skidded off the roadway and hit a large landscaping boulder. Reports also said Cornett was intoxicated and speeding.
On Oct. 24, Cornett was sentenced to a five-year stayed prison term with a condition of probation being he spend a year in the El Dorado County Jail.
The vehicle reportedly came to rest on the driver’s side with Wilson pinned under Cornett. Cornett, after witnesses rolled the car back onto its wheels, reportedly began to walk away but was followed by witnesses and arrested by responding police officers.
Wilson, who broke his neck in the accident, also had head wounds and other injuries. He was transported to Washoe Medical Center by helicopter.
Before the helicopter took off, Wilson reportedly told police that Cornett was driving fast and “scaring … me.”
The claim alleges that the city failed to adequately maintain and trim vegetation which obstructed visibility and signs and failed to warn about the severity of the curve. The city is also accused of posting improper speed limits for the radius of the curve, failing to provide adequate lighting and failing to post adequate arrow markers.
Currently, a motorist approaching the curve will see a curved-arrow sign with a triangle-reflector pattern below it at Capri Drive, about 100 feet from the curve. The sign is blocked by tree branches until one is close to the sign.
As one enters the curve, there is another sign with a curved arrow, similar to the first sign. This one is completely visible and has another sign below it that warns drivers to negotiate the turn at 15 mph.
Danielsen claims the severity of the curve is not apparent to a reasonable driver exercising due care.
However, the city believes evidence shows that Cornett was not exercising due care at the time of the accident.
According to Cornett’s court file, his blood alcohol level was .2 percent, more than double the legal limit. Police investigators estimated that Cornett was traveling at an excessive rate of speed entering the curve, possibly as high as 50 mph.
Further, there was a letter in Cornett’s court file from Shawn Thomas, owner of Kingsbury Automotive and Supply, in which Thomas said Cornett’s vehicle had steering problems. Thomas wrote that the necessary parts to fix the vehicle were at his shop prior to the accident, but Cornett had not picked them up.
Davis said that claims that lacked merit used to be common until the city took a stance to fight all claims it considered frivolous. He said there are far fewer claims filed nowadays.
Anyone who seeks to sue a city is required by state law to file a claim first. The claimants typically file lawsuits after their claims are rejected.
Davis said he suspects Wilson’s attorney filed the claim in hopes of settling for about $20,000, but that the city has no intentions of settling.
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