Wednesday, 14 July 2010

PG&E Will Pay San Jose Mother $5 Million in Wrongful Death Lawsuit

It’s been a hard-fought victory for Lisa Bernstein, a San Jose mother who took on PG&E after her daughter was killed in an accident involving the utility company’s vehicle. She has agreed for a settlement of $5 million in a wrongful death lawsuit that she filed against the company, but PG&E has been forced to make compromises that it probably wouldn't have had she not been so persistent.

The accident that killed Bernstein's daughter occurred in 2006. Bernstein's daughter, a college student, and her boyfriend were killed in a crash when the car they were traveling in was struck by a PG&E utility truck. Later, prosecutors alleged that the truck driver, John Mayfield, who suffered from diabetes, had blacked out while driving. He had not checked his blood sugar levels, and that ultimately proved fatal to the two other persons involved in the accident.

Bernstein filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the utility company. She turned down a settlement offer when PG&E refused to support a law that would make companies more accountable for their errant drivers. She insisted on going to trial, not a decision that her attorneys supported. However, just before the trial, she chose to settle with the company for $5 million.

It hasn't been an easy settlement for PG&E to make. Under the terms of the settlement, PG&E agreed to record the resolution as a judgment. Typically in such cases, settlements are recorded as confidential. This makes it harder for California wrongful death attorneys to negotiate with the company in future accidents. The $5 million payout, according to Bernstein, is also higher than the typical value that is placed on a college student's life, which is around $2 million.

Bernstein is not giving up her crusade against PG&E, and their responsibilities towards their drivers and other motorists. She plans to seek legislation that would require companies with a minimum of 25 cars in their fleet to receive automatic notifications when one of their drivers receives a ticket. Currently, trucking companies and other commercial companies receive such notifications when their drivers are ticketed or involved in accidents. Bernstein wants that rule to cover more fleet owners.

She's also supporting a piece of legislation that would require diabetic drivers to test their blood sugar before they drive. She’s also making an effort to hit the company where it hurts. She says she'll use some of her settlement money to create an alternative energy sources foundation that would chip away at PG&E's monopoly.

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