Poorly-designed streets, excessive use of force and car accidents caused by city officials are just a few examples out of hundreds of claims made against San Jose this past year.
The city spends millions of dollars in legal fees annually to resolve claims and lawsuits filed by residents and organizations. Most recently, the city faced two separate police brutality lawsuits—one as a class action and one filed by the family of a man killed by San Jose police in January.
Not every claim results in a lawsuit, as the city could opt for settlement to avoid further litigation.
San José Spotlight analyzed 12 months of claims made against the city. Here’s the top six most common allegations in San Jose out of 289 claims:
Since March 2020, San Jose received 76 claims for issues related to road conditions. It’s the most common claim filed against the city.
At least 43 claims alleged that poorly designed and maintained roads led to serious accidents and even deaths, the analysis shows. According to the city, 49 people died from traffic accidents in 2020.
In one instance, a resident sought $10 million in damages after his father was struck and killed while walking on the Almaden Expressway near Canoas Garden Avenue in 2019. The resident claimed road markings were “defective,” uneven and worn away, making it “at all times dangerous.”
About 20 people also filed claims for cars damaged by potholes.
Car accidents by city officials and police
The city received 75 claims for car accidents caused by officials these past 12 months, according to the analysis. At least two city officials drove into parked cars.
Among them, 39 claims involved police vehicles and 24 involved city-owned vehicles. Residents also filed 12 claims against fire trucks and vehicles owned by the city’s contractors.
In an August claim, one resident alleged that an on-duty police officer swerved and struck their car. The crash caused damages to the front and back driver doors, according to the claim. The claimant sought $5,700 in compensation.
In another claim, a resident alleged that a community officer caused a three-car collision in January 2020 after following them too closely on a highway. The claimant received a $10,000 settlement, according to the city.
One resident received a $2,300 settlement after a truck struck their car on a residential street last August. In an April incident, a city employee backed their truck into a parked car, leaving close to $3,000 in damages.
Police brutality and excessive force
Amid massive protests and calls to defund the police over the murder of George Floyd last year, demonstrators and residents filed 38 complaints against the city related to police brutality and excessive use of force.
Thirteen of them—about 34% of all excessive use of force claims—complained about law enforcement’s treatment of protestors last summer, including one that turned into a class action lawsuit last month.
Others alleged intimidation and racial profiling, according to the analysis.
One complaint alleges that in a July 2020 incident, police hit a resident with a baton and kicked them in the head multiple times after attempting to flee. The resident later suffered head trauma, as well as abrasions and bruises on his body.
For another resident, San Jose police allegedly began intimidating her after a 2019 arrest that left her traumatized and physically hurt.
In another incident in February 2020, one resident claimed a group of officers held him down, with one cop stepping on his head while another “was stomping on my chest causing chest pain.” A K-9 dog under an officer’s command also attacked the resident in the neck and throat, according to the complaint.
Trip and fall
Over 12 months, San Jose received 22 complaints for issues related to tripping and falling on city property, the analysis shows. Numerous claims involved sidewalks, and at least three trip and fall allegations involved slipping at San Jose airport.
In March of this year, a resident claimed they spent seven hours in the ER for injuries after tripping over a misplaced concrete sidewalk slab on Skyway Drive. The claimant didn’t specify an amount for damages, but stated they suffered from “mental anguish and embarrassment” and possible disfigurement above their mouth, among other things.
Another resident filed a claim seeking for more than $10,000 in damages after tripping over an elevated part of the sidewalk on Pine Avenue.
Twenty residents filed claims against the city for various infrastructure issues, including broken water pipes. In one claim, local restaurant Thai Chili Express on Santa Clara Street alleged that the city’s water main broke and flooded their storefront in December, causing damages upward of $20,000.
Residents also claimed damages caused by sewer backup, including local yoga studio Labarre Studios on The Alameda where waste matter allegedly clogged the building’s pipes and flooded its basement.
According to the compliant, the business spent 12 hours “trying to salvage the building,” before the city arrived the following day. The business sought $5,745 in reimbursement.