San Francisco's Accident-Prone Transit System Leaving Residents Dead or Injured & Costing City Big Bucks

In the past six years, 42 plaintiffs have sued San Francisco's Municipal Transportation Authority (Muni) for harming or killing people who were injured by a city bus, streetcar or cablecar and/or received property damage from a MUNI vehicle, according to the San Francisco Chronicle.

Each of the plaintiffs has received a payout of at least $100,000.

Over the last six years, the city has paid out about $66 million in total for harm caused by the agency's transit fleet and on related court fees and expenses. About $26 million of the total bill stems from injury verdicts or injury settlements of more than $100,000.

In each of the last six years, between 1,042 and 1,512 injury claims were filed against Muni for alleged fleet accidents, according to the newspaper.

Half of the claims relate to a Muni vehicle striking another car and doing minor damage, like breaking a side mirror. The next largest category of claims results from injuries people sustained aboard Muni vehicles.

Each year there were 30 to 68 claims of Muni vehicles hitting pedestrians.

Unsafe Practices Cost City Lives & Money

The executive director of Muni, Nathaniel Ford, told the newspaper that safety is a top priority; not just because of the costs of injury claims, but also because of the toll accidents take on public, customers and fleet operators.

But money is always a factor.

And $66 million is a lot of money for a city to pay out.

So far this year, the paper reports that three pedestrians have been kills by Muni buses or streetcars. In 2007, there were eight deaths, up from four fatalities in 2006.

Accidents resulting in fatalities often are paid higher injury verdicts or injury settlements. The city wants not only to safe lives, but to protect its checkbook too.

Julia Friedlander, a deputy city attorney who represents the Municipal Transportation Agency, told the newspaper that although Muni realizes it must fairly compensate people injured in accidents, sometimes Muni pays out even if it doesn't believe it was responsible for the accident.

"Muni hasn't done something wrong every time the [agency] pays a big settlement or even a jury verdict," Friedlander said. "Sometimes juries want to compensate people who have been injured -even if Muni wasn't clearly at fault."

She said the decision to settle injury cases is based on many factors, which may include anticipated legal costs and jury sympathy.

Safety Attempts

In an attempt to curb accidents and better establish who is to blame, Muni installed surveillance cameras on some of its vehicles to monitor sudden breaking, turns or accelerations leading up to accidents. Muni also hired more street supervisors to oversee employees and enforce safety rules.

Ford told the newspaper that other safety initiatives were in the works, like creating a more formal safety tracking processes, increasing disciplinary actions for Muni workers who violate safety rules and creating a public safety awareness campaign. He further mentioned that Muni was collaborating with the local operators union to educate drivers better.

Irwin Lum, president of the local operators union in San Francisco, told the reporter that drivers need more training.

"Just because they train you for 35 days doesn't make you an operator," said Lum, who added that the public should also be aware of Muni vehicles, which can't stop "on a dime".

Lum continued to say that Muni operators may feel pressure to keep on schedule and management should create more realistic transit schedules to reduce accidents.

Muni Injury Verdicts & Settlements

Below are some examples of recent injury verdicts and legal settlements against Muni:

  • $3 million in a Oct. 13, 2004 accident;
  • $2.5 million in a Jan. 11, 2004 accident;
  • $2.38 million in a Mar. 11, 2004 accident;
  • $2.25 million in a Dec. 5, 2005 accident;
  • $1.03 million in a Aug. 21, 2005 accident;
  • $1.02 million in a May 1, 2003 accident; and
  • $675,000 in a May 24, 2002 accident.

If you've been injured in any type of accident, you have a right to receive fair compensation. Consider talking to a personal injury lawyer today.

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