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Family of boys pinned against wall in Menlo Park car accident can't seek punitive damages from elderly driver

By Bonnie Eslinger, Palo Alto Daily News, Calif.
McClatchy-Tribune Information Services

April 05--A San Mateo judge ruled Friday that the parents of twin 6-year-old boys injured when a 90-year-old driver jumped a curb and pinned them against a wall in downtown Menlo Park cannot seek punitive damages from the elderly man.

As a result of the Oct. 17 accident, one twin suffered a broken arm and the other life-threatening injuries that required multiple surgeries and skin grafting, according to a lawsuit filed Nov. 14 by the Cadigan family against Edward Nelson of Woodside. The Menlo Park family sought undisclosed damages of more than $50,000.

On Friday, Superior Court Judge Lisa Novak said the Cadigans' lawyers failed to prove that Nelson's actions were intentional, malicious or involved a "willful or conscious disregard" for the safety of others. Her decision backed a similar ruling by Judge Joseph Bergeron on Jan. 28.

But the family's lawyers, Michael Kelly and Valerie Rose, filed a revised complaint on Feb. 3 stating that Nelson "knew or should have known" that because of his age and poor health it was not safe for him to drive. His license had been temporarily suspended after an accident the year before, according to the new motion.

In court, Rose said that Nelson, an attorney who uses a walker and a cane, had the wherewithal after the accident to call his insurance agent despite needing help to get out of his vehicle.

Novak noted that at the time of the accident, Nelson was a "validly licensed driver" and just because he needed support to walk or was assisted after the accident doesn't mean he should pay punitive damages.

According to Menlo Park police, Nelson was pulling his silver BMW sports utility vehicle out of a parking spot in front of the Walgreens on the 600 block of Santa Cruz Avenue at about 2:15 p.m. when he mistakenly pressed on the accelerator and jumped the curb. There was no evidence that Nelson was under the influence of drugs or alcohol. The boys were walking on the sidewalk with a caretaker and another sibling.

Nelson's lawyers have vigorously fought the lawsuit and in a Dec. 12 court filing stated that the children "so carelessly, recklessly and negligently conducted and maintained themselves so as to cause and contribute in some degree to the alleged incident."

But Nelson's legal team took a softer stance in a March 25 filing: "The defense understands full well the harm that was done to this innocent family. The Cadigans are entitled to reasonable compensatory damages for their injuries. But we do not agree that Edward Nelson should be punished for this sad and tragic accident," it read.

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The suit returns to court June 4 for a case-management conference.

Email Bonnie Eslinger at beslinger@dailynewsgroup.com.

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(c)2014 the Palo Alto Daily News (Menlo Park, Calif.)

Visit the Palo Alto Daily News (Menlo Park, Calif.) at www.paloaltodailynews.com

Distributed by MCT Information Services

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