Jury Holds City Partly Liable in Youth's '88 Traffic Death

(The Orange County Register)

A Santa Ana jury Tuesday decided the intersection of Michelson Drive and Yale Avenue in Irvine is dangerous and awarded $576,800 to the family of a boy killed by a car there in 1988.

But after three days of deliberations, the jury placed the bulk of the blame on Pejman Brian Alaghamandan, who barrelled through a stop sign at 40 mph and killed David Leidal, 14.

The city, sued along with Alaghamandan by Leidal's mother, Betty, will pay about $200,000. Suzelle M. Smith, Betty Leidal's attorney, contended that the city ignored residents' complaints that the intersection was dangerous before the accident. She had sought a multimillion dollar award.

"I am personally delighted the jury recognized that the city of Irvine was one of the causes of David Leidal's death," Smith said. "Candidly, I think the verdict is low for the life of a 14-year-old with a promising future."

"How do you put a value on the life of a child?" said juror Wendy Ramsbottom. 29, of Laguna Niguel. "We had a lot of debate on that."

Alaghamandan, now 23, pleaded guilty to manslaughter after the accident. The jury held him 72 percent responsible. But his insurance policy maximum is $I5,000, said Bill Haggerty, Alaghamandan's attorney.

While the remainder of the jury's decision could be entered against Alaghamandan, Haggerty said that would only force his client into bankruptcy.

Haggerty, while admitting his client's responsibility, had argued in court that Alaghamandan was a victim of the accident, too. Smith and Haggerty said drivers were not provided with enough warning of the stop sign.

David Leidal, who was riding his bicycle to school, was held 3 percent responsible and the city 22 percent.

While Smith said she hopes the decision will spur the City Council to install safety devices, Rick Quinlivan, who represented the city, said he doubts such steps will be taken.

"Eighty-three percent of the intersections in the city have accident rates higher than this one," Quinlivan said. "I don't feel the city had any responsibility at all."