A Fontana woman died and two children sustained critical injuries Tuesday night when her van was hit by a Hilton Hotel van, whose driver, police say, ran a red light. According to a news article in the Inland Valley Daily Bulletin, the 53-year-old woman, Sally Alvarado, was driving a 2002 Toyota Sienna with two boys ages 4 and 5, who are now reportedly in the hospital in critical condition.
Officials told the newspaper based on preliminary investigations that the driver of the Hilton Hotel van was at fault and that he failed to stop for the red light. The article said Alvarado was making a right turn from the off-ramp of the 10 Freeway in Ontario when the Hilton Ford van struck the driver’s side. The vehicle reportedly belongs to the Hilton Ontario Airport hotel. The van driver was taken to a hospital and was treated for minor injuries, the Bulletin reported. No charges had been filed yet.
Investigators are still looking at the evidence. They don’t know if the van driver ran the light because he was distracted or talking on the cell phone. Whatever the reason, a tragedy has occurred. One woman is dead and two little boys are fighting for their lives.
Red light running is one of the most common and yet one of the most dangerous traffic violations. According to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (http://www.iihs.org/research/qanda/rlr.html), a nationwide study of fatal crashes at traffic signals in 1999 and 2000 estimated that 20 percent of the drivers failed to obey the signals. In 2005, more than 800 people were killed and about 165,000 were injured in crashes that involved red light running. The victims who die in these crashes mostly turn out to be pedestrians and occupants in other vehicles who are hit by the red light runners.
Depending on the degree of carelessness or negligence, the driver of the Hilton van may face a vehicular manslaughter charge. But that is usually charged only after an elaborate investigation as it should be. Early this week I reported how the California Highway Patrol was seeking manslaughter charges against a truck driver that caused a traffic fatality and it seemed he was a lost less negligent than the driver of this Hilton van.
The families of the two boys and Sally Alvarado need to get a highly experienced personal injury attorney on their side immediately. I’d bet that investigators for Hilton and their insurance company have already been to the scene and gathering evidence looking to protect Hilton. They may even be trying to make contact with Alvarado’s family to get a statement from them before they can retain an attorney. I wouldn’t doubt that Hilton’s investigators are out at the hospital where the two boys are recovering from the accident trying to get to their parents before the parents have a chance to retain a personal injury attorney to protect their children’s rights.
From a responsibility standpoint, based upon the newspaper report, the Hilton Hotel is financially responsible for the injuries caused, because the at-fault driver was on-the-job at the time of the accident, and “about his employers business”. Under the common law doctrine of “respondeat superior” an employer is liable for the actions of their employee. When an employee commits a wrong, running a red light and killing/injuring people, the employer is just as legally responsible as the driver for the damages caused.
Another issue the parents of the two boys will eventually face is that any settlement with the driver and Hilton will have to be approved by Superior Court Judge in a hearing known as a “Minor’s Compromise”. By State law a minor’s legal right can not be negotiated away without court approval. The judge will want to know the injuries suffered, the settlement offered and how those funds are going to be secured for the minor’s benefit. If the judge does not feel that the boys are being treated fairly, he/she will not approve the settlement.
Usually Southern California Superior Court Judges want to see the settlement funds put into an annuity for the benefit of the minor, if there is a large sum or if the minor is under sixteen. They will want to see the annuity paying out money periodically during the time the child would be attending college. If there is more than enough to cover college expenses, the balance of the money would be paid out at 25 or 30 years old. The judge will also set the amount of attorney’s fees that the attorneys for the boys will receive from the settlement.
We presently have a “respondeat superior” case pending in the California Appeals Court. That case involved a Southern California Edison employee who blinded a teenager in one eye with a paintball gun while on duty for Edison on Edison’s property.
Call me if you have “respondeat superior”, minor’s compromise, or annuity questions. If you would benefit from a free consultation regarding any serious injury accident, give me a call.
Let’s pray these boys recovery fully and completely and remember the Alvarado family in your prayers.