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Irvine to Weigh Appeal of Major Accident Award

Times Staff Writer

Irvine officials expect to decide within days whether to appeal a $4.4-million verdict against the city in connection with a crash that killed one man and left a second paralyzed from the waist down, Assistant City Manager Paul Brady said Tuesday.

An Orange County Superior Court jury on Monday awarded $3.5 million to Craig Harrington of San Clemente and $867,000 to the family of Ronald Baker of Riverside. Baker died on March 15, 1985, when his car collided with Harrington’s on Irvine Center Drive.

“This is the largest award by a court against the city of Irvine,” Brady said. “This is why we need to assess whether we’ll let it stand or appeal.”

City officials “will meet with all the legal counsel involved and determine where it’s in the city’s best interest” to appeal, Brady said.

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Claimed City Negligent

The attorneys for the plaintiffs had argued that the crash was caused by the city’s negligence in maintaining the road, which had a drop-off that contributed to the accident.

Rick Quinlivan, the attorney for the city, said Tuesday: “I feel that the evidence indicated that there was no problem with the edge.

“I think the technicalities (of the case) may have have played a role in their (jurors) conclusion . . . that blended with the natural sympathy you feel for somebody in that situation,” he said.

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Harrington’s attorney, Bruce Farrar, said that Baker was driving east on Irvine Center Drive when he inadvertently drove the right tires onto the shoulder.

“There really is no shoulder on that road,” Farrar said. “If you leave your lane of travel by as much as a foot, you will drop off the asphalt and onto the dirt.”

Lost Control of Car

Baker tried to turn left back onto the road, but he lost control of the car, Farrar said.

“It looked like a U-turn,” Farrar said. “He went across the westbound lane of travel where Mr. Harrington was coming and he and Mr. Harrington collided.”

The jury ruled that Baker was 49% responsible for the accident and the city was 51% responsible. The city has 60 days to appeal.

Lynne Baker, 35, Baker’s widow, said: “It was a long, hard case. The jury was fair, and they did their job. “Basically, my husband was killed by a hazardous condition,” she said. “I wasn’t at the accident at the time, but I know Ron was a good driver.”

Lynn Baker said she will use the money to pay for the family’s medical bills (not related to the accident), and to pay for the education of her sons, 3 and 7.

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“I would give all the money back if Tom was still alive,” Baker said. “He was a good family man, a good father and a good husband.”


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