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Lawyer says he’ll sue, despite client’s death

Michael Schneider

Despite the recent death of his client, Joseph “Matt” Wilson, Coronado, Calif., attorney Paul William Danielsen will proceed with Wilson’s claim against the city of South Lake Tahoe.

“It’s a slam dunk,” said Danielsen, who said he will file the claim within 60 days.

During its Dec. 2 meeting, the South Lake Tahoe City Council voted to deny Wilson’s claim which asserted the city was at fault for a May accident which left him a quadriplegic.

At the meeting, council member Tom Davis referred to the lawsuit as “frivolous” and claimed Danielsen was filing in hopes the city would settle for about $20,000.

Davis declined to comment Wednesday, saying only that he didn’t see how the city was liable and he was sorry that Wilson had died.

City Attorney Dennis Crabb said, as far as the city is concerned, the lawsuit died with Wilson.

Wilson, who would be 35, died Dec. 7 in a San Diego hospital. The San Diego Coroner listed the official cause of death as asphyxia due to compression of the neck because of acute alcohol poisoning.

The coroner’s report said Wilson often demanded beer at Paradise Valley Hospital and could drink up to seven alcoholic beverages at a time using a straw.

The driver of the car, David Cornett, was intoxicated at the time of the crash and was speeding around the curve where Tahoe Keys Boulevard becomes Ala Wai. He lost control of his 1959 Volkswagen Bug and hit a large landscaping boulder off the roadway, flipping the vehicle and pinning Wilson under him.

Cornett’s intoxication and speed were reasons cited by the council for denying the claim, as well as the council’s claim that there are adequate signs posted warning of the curve.

“There was nothing wrong with the intersection,” Crabb said. “There was a lot wrong with the driver.”

Danielsen claimed there was not sufficient warning of the curve as he said the sign that tells drivers to reduce speeds to 15 mph is hidden by a tree.

Cornett pleaded guilty to drunken driving causing substantial bodily harm and was given a five-year stayed prison term and a year in county jail.

Wilson, according to witnesses, was motionless and silent after the accident. He was taken to a Reno hospital by Care Flight, then transferred to a San Francisco hospital where he underwent spinal surgery.

Wilson never regained sensation or movement in his extremities and was eventually sent to San Diego to be near family.

Crabb said should the case move to a court proceeding, he has confidence of the “common sense folks” of the area to side with the city.

“I’ve never seen a jury or judge around here willing to say there’s a real serious problem with the streets or signs,” Crabb said.


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