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The Daily Journal
Gabe Friedman

Elizabeth Dominguez, a 4-year-old San Franciscan, died instantly and violently when a city worker driving a Muni repair truck plowed her into a pizza parlor in the city’s Mission District.

At the time, her mother, her classmate, Monica Valencia, and Valencia’s grandmother were walking the two young girls home from school.

They hired Brian Panish, of Panish Shea & Boyle, and filed a civil suit. The city decided to fight it.

“They took the position that there was no liability, that he didn’t run the red light and that it was some other car’s fault,” Panish said.

The jury held the city liable and awarded $27.4 million in civil penalties for the family. Dominguez’s parents received $20.5 million for her death, for witnessing the death and the value of the relationship. Monica Valencia received $3.5 million and her grandmother received $3.3 million. Dominguez v. San Francisco, CV03-CGC422963, (S.F. Super. Ct., filed July 31, 2003.)

However, the San Francisco city attorney’s office successfully challenged the noneconomic awards as excessive, Judge James McBride found that the jury had been too sympathetic to Dominguez’s family and reduced the awards to the parents from $20.5 million to $15 million.

Under the jury’s award, Sylvia Lopez received $10 million for the past and future suffering from seeing her daughter crushed. She and her husband received an additional $5 million for the past and future value of their relationship with their daughter. The judge reduced the latter award to $3.5 million for each parent and $8 million to Lopez for witnessing the event.

According to the court documents, the two girls and the grandmother had crossed the street at 24th Street and Potrero Avenue when the Muni repair truck driver negligently sped through the intersection. He collided with another car, which pushed his truck up onto the curb, colliding with Elizabeth and “traumatically amputating her brain from its stem.”

Panish said that paramedics who arrived at the scene testified in court that they needed counseling after seeing the young girl’s body embedded in the wall. A city probation officer told Panish in a video deposition shown to jurors that she saw the Muni driver run the red light, though she refused to testify in court. Finally, the Muni driver testified but refused to apologize. The city also refused to apologize, Panish said.

Panish also had requested a letter of apology signed by San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom but never received it. Still, he said the jury understood how traumatic the event was for the family.

“It was the most emotional trial I’ve ever been through,” he said.

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