RELEASED: May 4, 2011
SAN FRANCISCO - Personal injury attorneys Richard Schoenberger and Douglas Saeltzer, partners in the San Francisco law firm of Walkup, Melodia, Kelly & Schoenberger, received the 2011 "Trial Lawyer of the Year" award from the San Francisco Trial Lawyers Association. The Association's Board of Directors specifically honored them for a record-breaking verdict obtained in a San Mateo County case involving a seriously-injured pedestrian.
Schoenberger and Saeltzer obtained a $12.2 million jury verdict on behalf of a teenager who was struck by a car while crossing Highway 82 and Ludeman Lane in a marked crosswalk without a light. Emily Liou, then 17, suffered severe brain damage and has been in a permanent vegetative state since the accident in 2006.
"We presented evidence that Caltrans [the agency responsible for the highway] has known for years that marked crosswalks at certain multi-lane and busy uncontrolled intersections are dangerous ... because they give pedestrians a false sense of security," Schoenberger said. "This seems counterintuitive, but statistics taken from study after study bear this out."
A study commissioned by the City of San Diego in the 1960s discovered that twice as many pedestrian accidents occur in marked crosswalks at uncontrolled intersections as in unmarked crosswalks. A Caltrans sponsored 1994 study by the department of civil engineering at California State University-Chico reached the same conclusion.
A 2002 report by the Federal Highway Administration said that marked crosswalks should not be used on roadways with four or more lanes of traffic, a raised median, and greater than 15,000 vehicles a day. The crosswalk where Liou was struck crosses six lanes of traffic and a raised median. The roadway sees more than 25,000 vehicles a day.
Schoenberger and Saeltzer demonstrated that under California mandates to improve pedestrian safety, Caltrans' exposed pedestrians to an unreasonable risk of harm. Four other pedestrians had been killed or injured in that same crosswalk in the previous ten years, but Caltrans had never studied the pedestrian accident rate at this or any other intersection. The Walkup firm did and found it to be very high.
Schoenberger and Saeltzer are graduates of UC Hastings College of the Law. They focus their law practice on personal injury, wrongful death and government liability cases. Schoenberger had previously been nominated for the award as a result of his work on a consumer product case in Santa Clara County.
With this award, the Walkup firm has achieved a first-ever back-to-back win. In 2010, partner Michael Kelly was the award's winner.