Mother Denied Claim for Son’s Death in San Juan Capistrano

On August 16, 2011, Bryan Ferguson of Dana Point was riding in a Jeep when the driver, Alexander August Goodrich, ran a red light on Del Obispo Street and crashed into an outbuilding of Marco Forster Middle School.

Ferguson was killed in the car crash, and Jo Anne Ferguson, his mother, has asked the city of San Juan Capistrano to pay damages in excess of $25,000, as she holds them responsible for the crash. Ms. Ferguson claims that the design of Del Obispo Street may have contributed to the crash, and therefore the city is at fault.

Goodrich was arrested for the accident, but not until January, when he was charged with vehicular manslaughter with gross negligence, plus hit-and-run with property damage. He pled not guilty, and his preliminary hearing is scheduled for this Friday, April 20, according to the Orange County Register.

Unfortunately, the law firm representing Ms. Ferguson made a mistake, albeit not an intentional mistake, but one that could cost Ferguson her claim. If a person wishes to file a suit against a city or other local government entity must submit a written claim for damages directly to that city or entity within six months of the incident, according to state law. Ferguson's deadline for filing such a claim was February 16, 2012.

Although Ferguson's law firm, Schumann, Rallo & Rosenberg of Costa Mesa, filed a claim within the deadline, according to the Orange County Register, they filed it with the state instead of the city. The mistake was not caught in time; actually, the only reason the mistake was noted was when the state sent a rejection letter, which arrived at the firm's office on February 21, five days after the deadline.

And that's not all. Even though Orange County has accepted Schumann, Rallo & Rosenberg's request to file a late claim, which is very generous, they require more information before they will even investigate the incident. And, to make matters worse for Ferguson, City Attorney Omar Sandoval, who represents San Juan Capistrano, has recommended that the claim be denied. He wrote in a staff report that the road had no obvious defects, according to an insurance adjuster who visited the site shortly after the incident. In his opinion, this removes any responsibility from the city.

What do you think about this situation? Do you think Jo Anne Ferguson has the right to sue the city, when the driver has already been accused of vehicular manslaughter? Del Obispo Street has not recently been changed or altered, so could it conceivably be responsible for the crash? Ortega Highway is a notoriously dangerous road; do you think that someone could sue the city if a family member was killed on that road? Do you think the city should deny the claim? Or do you feel that this mother who lost her son deserves the funds for damages from the city?

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This is not an attorney-client communication, and as such no advice is being offered in this article. Any and all communications related to the Glew & Kim Law website and MarijuanaLawyer.com website should be deemed and considered advertisement. This article is purely opinion, and the basis of this and any opinion was formed subject to the reporting by the actual news agencies, the information from which was used as source material.

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