The city of Morgan Hill has authorized a $30 million settlement to the families of two children who were severely injured in a July 4, 2016, traffic collision.
One of the kids suffered a traumatic brain injury as a result of the crash, and thus will require special medical care and educational support for the rest of his life, according to the family’s attorney, Ayhan Menekshe.
The plaintiffs argued that the city was responsible for unsafe conditions at the intersection where a car struck the kids. “This accident robbed his childhood and future from him and his family forever,” the lawsuit says of plaintiff Michael Patton, who was 13 at the time of the crash. “Everything he was; everything he would and could have been has been taken away from him permanently.”
Patton and his cousin, Mateo Cervantes, were hit by a white Jeep on Monterey Road while they were crossing eastbound at Fourth Street on the Fourth of July three years ago. The vehicle dragged Patton about 60 feet before coming to a stop. Cervantes, who was 6 at the time, was launched at least 30 feet through the air due to the impact from the Jeep. Cervantes suffered numerous injuries, including compound fractures.
The children were traveling with about a dozen family members and friends to watch the fireworks show from the Community and Cultural Center at the corner of Monterey Road and Dunne Avenue. Most of the group was on foot. Patton, on his bicycle, and Cervantes, on a scooter, were traveling slightly ahead of the group, per the complaint filed through the Santa Clara County Superior Court.
When the two children reached the crosswalk at Monterey Road and Fourth Street, they waited for permission to cross, reads the lawsuit. With permission from one of the children’s mother—who was pushing a baby carriage behind them—they began to cross. However, their attorneys argued, the intersection was dangerously unlit and surrounded by hazards that blocked visibility for pedestrians and motorists.
These hazards included a temporary red-mesh barrier on the Monterey Road median, which the city had installed for that morning’s Independence Day parade. Just days before the accident, city crews removed two speed bumps on both sides of Monterey Road, which had long been in place to slow down vehicle traffic approaching the Fourth Street intersection. The bumps were reinstalled the next day, but city staff said at the time that this was not in response to the accident.
These factors created a “perfect storm” of hazards, the families’ lawsuit argued.
As the boys began to cross the northbound lane of Monterey Road, the Jeep, driven by Jacquelyn Fontaine, struck both children at about 9:10pm. Fontaine did not see the children crossing and did not apply the brakes before colliding with the children, reads the lawsuit. “This was a very violent and high-speed impact,” according to the complaint.
The lawsuit argued that Fontaine, who was named as a defendant along with the city, was unable to see the children or a “yield to pedestrians” sign due to the visibility hazards.
When the Jeep came to a stop, Patton’s body was trapped under the vehicle and he was convulsing in repeated seizures, according to the lawsuit. Emergency crews had to extricate him from the wreckage.
Police reports at the time noted that Fontaine stayed at the scene and cooperated with authorities, and she was not suspected of impaired driving. Morgan Hill police also noted that the two children were not wearing helmets.
Patton’s and Cervantes’ families filed the initial lawsuit against the city and Fontaine in November 2016. Morgan Hill’s attorneys at one point argued that the city is protected by immunity; however, the city ultimately settled the case this past August.
Under the settlement, the city agreed to authorize a $30 million settlement without admitting fault. Much of that amount will be paid out in installments as Patton and Cervantes grow up.
“This accident was a terrible tragedy, and no amount of money will make any of the parties whole,” Morgan Hill City Attorney Don Larkin said. “We are grateful that none of the parties will have to go through what would have been a long and difficult trial.”
Most of the settlement amount is covered by the city’s insurance policies through ABAG PLAN Corporation, Larkin said. The city is on the hook for $100,000 of the settlement. Larkin added that the payout was authorized by the city’s insurance companies, which “made a business decision to accept a demand to settle for the full limits of our insurance policies.” Those limits came out to about $30 million, minus the city’s expenses.
The children’s families also settled with Fontaine for $1.5 million, according to a press release from Menekshe Law Firm, which represented the plaintiffs. “On behalf of our client, we are satisfied with the outcome of this case and feel that the settlement will provide necessary help to seriously injured plaintiffs,” Menekshe said.
The 2016 crash followed months of public discussion about the safety of downtown streets for motorists, pedestrians, cyclists and others. A traffic signal that is now operational at Monterey Road and Fourth Street had been approved by the council, but not yet installed, at the time of the accident.
Since the 2016 collision, the city has installed other safety measures on downtown streets, including more lighting at crosswalks and a button signal for pedestrians at Third Street, as well as re-striping and narrower vehicle lanes on Monterey Road.