The city of Hermosa Beach agreed last week to pay $800,000 to settle a lawsuit filed by a Manhattan Beach woman who was critically injured five years ago in a traffic accident on Aviation Boulevard.
Half of the money will be used to purchase an annuity for Paula Homan, 34, who is still recovering from head injuries suffered in the crash on Dec. 19, 1980, said Stephen Ball, one of Homan's attorneys.
The annuity will pay Homan $2,315 a month for the first year, increasing annually for 44 years to keep pace with inflation, Ball said. Homan could receive more than $3 million from the annuity over her lifetime, he said.
Homan will also receive a $50,000 cash payment, with the remaining $350,000 from the settlement paying for medical bills and attorneys' fees, he said.
Homan, a graduate student in fine arts at USC at the time of the crash, was in a coma for six weeks after the accident, Ball said. She still suffers memory loss and has difficulty walking, he said.
The suit filed in Torrance Superior Court claimed that faulty placement of traffic signals at Prospect Avenue and Aviation Boulevard contributed to the accident. Because of the unusual angle of the intersection, Homan's attorneys said, drivers heading north on Prospect can see both sets of traffic lights at the intersection--those controlling traffic on Prospect and those controlling traffic on Aviation.
Ball said Lucia Rodriguez, an uninsured and unlicensed driver from Mexico, became confused when she approached the intersection as she drove north on Prospect about 9 p.m. Ball said Rodriguez thought she saw a green light, when in fact the traffic light was red for vehicles northbound on Prospect.
"Rodriguez just blew the red light and hit our client," Ball said. Homan was heading west on Aviation.
Don Ruston, the attorney representing Hermosa Beach, disputed Homan's version of the accident, saying that her attorneys were trying to pin the blame on the city because Rodriguez, who was not injured, could not afford to pay any damages. He said witnesses at the scene said Rodriguez went through a red light, but that the woman claimed it was yellow. Rodriguez, who Ball said was not cited for running a red light, had been named in the suit but was later dropped as a defendant.
"They were doing a typical 'deep pockets,' " said Ruston, referring to a situation in which the burden to pay a plaintiff falls on one defendant if a second defendant is unable to pay damages. Ruston said the city agreed to settle the case for $800,000 because a sympathetic jury could have awarded Homan several million dollars.
"We don't think anything is wrong with the intersection, but we were afraid we would be paying a lot more with the sympathy and all," he said.
He said the intersection's signals have not been changed.
The case was scheduled to go to trial in Torrance last week. Ruston said the city's insurance carriers, who agreed to the settlement, will pay the entire amount.