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City Settles Farmers Market Case for $21 Million

By Jorge Casuso

May 22 -- The City of Santa Monica on Wednesday settled for $21 million the case stemming from the 2003 Farmers Market tragedy that killed ten people and injured more than 60.

The settlement came on the third day of jury selection in a case that involved the consolidated claims of dozens of victims against both he City and the Bayside District Corporation, the non-profit organization that runs the Downtown.

The City’s settlement payment will be made with insurance proceeds, City officials said. In return for the settlement payment, all of the plaintiffs will dismiss their claims against both parties.

“Considering the unique circumstances of this case, including the horrific loss and injuries, this is a good result for all concerned,” said Deputy City Attorney Jeanette Schactner. “The City believes that it has no liability. But, in a case this big, trial results are difficult to predict.

“The settlement eliminates the risks and difficulties of trial and allows the victims, their families, and the City to put this tragedy behind them and move forward,” Schactner said.

City officials, as well as attorneys for the plaintiffs, said the settlement averts a lengthy trial that likely would have dragged on for months.

“We are glad that the City of Santa Monica and Bayside District Corporation cooperated with us,” said Geoffrey S. Wells, an attorney for the Santa Monica-based law firm of Greene Broillet & Wheeler.

“Our clients were fairly compensated without having to endure a long trial that would only dredge up painful memories for them,” Wells said. “It has been a long journey for our clients, but at least now they can have a certain measure of closure and can move forward in their lives.”

George Russell Weller, the elderly driver, who plowed his car through the crowded market on July 16, 2003 was criminally prosecuted by the District Attorneys office and convicted.

But victims and their families filed numerous suits against the City and the Bayside claiming they were liable for failing to protect marketgoers when the 86-year-old driver tore through the crowded Downtown street at 60 miles per hour.

The plaintiffs argued that the City’s handwritten traffic control plan was inadequate. A Superior court judge disagreed, ruling that the City should not stand trial because it had a traffic control plan in place. But a State Appeals Court overturned the ruling.

Weller was convicted in 2006 of ten counts of manslaughter in the crash that made international headlines.





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