IRVINE : City Found Partly at Fault in Boy's Death

By Rene Lynch
(Los Angeles Times)

An Orange County Superior Court jury Tuesday awarded $576,800 to the mother of a 14-year-old boy killed at a dangerous intersection in the city, which was found partly responsible for the boy's death.

Teen-ager David Leidal, an honors student at University High School, was struck and killed as he rode his bike in the crosswalk at Michelson Drive and Yale Avenue on his way to school in September, 1988.

The attorney for David's mother, Betty, argued to jurors that the city was aware of speeding cars at the intersection but failed to heed numerous complaints. Attorneys for the city contended that the intersection is safe, and argued that the city could not be held responsible for a driver who ran a stop sign at the crosswalk.

Jurors held the city 25% responsible for the death but put most of the blame--72%--on driver Pejman B. Alaghamandan, who was 17 when he drove through the intersection without heeding the stop sign. Jurors placed 3% of the blame on the victim.

Irvine must pay about $200,000 of the judgment but may appeal the jury award. The driver, who was convicted of misdemeanor manslaughter, had only $15,000 in insurance at the time and may have to file for bankruptcy, his attorney said.

Juror Wendy Ramsbott, 29, of Laguna Hills said the case was a difficult one in which jurors had to decide the financial worth of a child.

"I'm a mother, and I can tell you this was a very difficult case," said Ramsbott, who sided with the majority of jurors who felt the city was partly responsible for hazardous conditions at the intersection. "How do you put a value on the life of a child?"

Steve King, 43, of Costa Mesa was among the minority jurors who felt that the city was blameless.

"I believe the city did more than its share to do what was required at that intersection," King said. "Any time you put cars on the road, you have fatalities. Cities can't be held to blame for that."

Attorney Suzelle Smith, who represented the victim's mother, had suggested to jurors that an appropriate award would register in the millions. Smith admitted disappointment but said she was also pleased that the city was found partly responsible.

"I am personally, absolutely delighted that the jury recognized the city of Irvine was one of the causes," she said. "Candidly, I think the verdict is low for a 14-year-old boy with a promising future."

Attorney Bill Haggerty, who represented the city, said he is considering an appeal. Haggerty said the intersection in dispute is safe, and noted that a study determined that 83% of Irvine's intersections are more dangerous.

"I don't feel victory at all--the city of Irvine was not responsible at all," he said, adding that he believed the emotional issue of schoolchildren's safety blurred jurors' judgment.