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City sues homeowner, claiming tree contributed to major-injury accident


Photo By: Julie Davis Berry/Special to the Town Crier
Photo Julie Davis Berry/Special To The Town CrierMark Choo stands by the tree adjacent to his home on Fallen Leaf Lane, which the city of Los Altos contends may have contributed to a major-injury accident last November, when two women were hit in a crosswalk while attempting to cross Homestead Road.

Los Altos Police Chief Tuck Younis and former City Manager Doug Schmitz went to Mark Choo’s Los Altos duplex March 28 to inform him that the city intended to pursue a lawsuit against his family. The suit alleges that a large tree adjacent to Choo’s property obscured visibility, contributing to a major-injury accident Nov. 22.

According to police, the accident occurred at 7 p.m. when two women, Purvi Mehta and Achanna Dekate, were attempting to cross Homestead Road in the crosswalk at the corner of Fallen Leaf Lane. A car traveling northbound on Homestead, driven by Conny Marx, stopped to let the women cross the street. However, the car following Marx’s, a Land Cruiser driven by 19-year-old Katherine Edgecumbe of Los Altos, failed to stop and, according to court papers, slammed into Marx’s car, which subsequently hit the two women.

Both pedestrians suffered serious injuries that appear to be permanent and progressive in nature, according to their attorney, Scott Dunning.

On the day of the accident, Choo, who lives in one of the apartments in the family-owned duplex on the corner of Fallen Leaf Lane and Homestead Road, said he was in his backyard when he heard a loud bang and women screaming. A trained emergency medical technician, he called 911 as he ran outside, where he found the two pedestrians in the roadway, both apparently badly injured.

“I helped the woman closest to me until the ambulance came,” Choo said. “I never heard how badly they were hurt or any other details of the accident until I got a visit from the Los Altos police chief and a city official March 28.”

He said they have not trimmed the tree since the family purchased the duplex eight years ago because there are electric lines running through the branches.

“PG&E comes out every 18 months or so and trims the tree. They told us not to touch it,” he said. “So what are they going to do next? Sue PG&E?”

Choo contends that the tree does not obstruct the crosswalk, that he had never been notified of an obstruction before the accident and that he and his neighbors are surprised by the lawsuit.

“I think the city suing us is just a case of passing the buck,” said Choo, who carries homeowners insurance.

According to Los Altos City Councilman Ron Packard, “the onus cannot be on the city to go to every owner’s home and inform them of a tree problem.”

“But when this accident happened and the decision was made by the attorney representing Los Altos to include the homeowner in litigation, we felt it was only right to personalize the situation and visit the homeowner and tell him in person,” Packard said.

San Francisco attorney Greg Thornton is representing the city of Los Altos in the pedestrians’ lawsuit. He claims that due to the extent of the women’s injuries, their attorney is “spreading the blame around” to get the maximum amount of money to help with future medical bills.

“They contend that this is a dangerous intersection, but there have been no accidents at this particular intersection,” Thornton said. “We don’t think it is dangerous, and we don’t think the tree was not maintained.”

Thornton added that the lawsuit against Choo is one of “indemnity – not for wrongdoing or for intentional acts.”

According to Thornton, under Gonzales v. The City of San Jose, the state maintains that it is more important to remedy the injured party than to inconvenience the various insurance companies.

“Basically,” he said, “if the jury finds that Edgecumbe was solely at fault, the city and the Choo family are off the hook.”

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