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Judge reverses tentative ruling in girl's Sebastopol crosswalk collision

  • In 2010, personal trainer Jayme Larson works with Julia Bertoli, 16, of Petaluma, who suffered brain damage and other injuries after she was hit by a car while walking in a Sebastopol crosswalk in 2009. (John Burgess / PD)

A Sonoma County judge reversed himself this week when he rejected Sebastopol's bid to be dropped from a lawsuit brought by the family of a young woman who was struck in a crosswalk in 2009 and suffered serious brain injuries.

Judge Gary Nadler had signaled his intent to remove Sebastopol from the case on the grounds that the city does not own or maintain Highway 116 or the crosswalk in which Julia Bertoli was struck by a car.

But after hearing from attorneys on both sides, Nadler ruled this week that Sebastopol may be liable to the extent the city may have contributed to a dangerous condition on state-controlled property.

The issue is whether the city had an obligation to trim trees under a maintenance agreement with Caltrans. Bertoli's attorney said shadows cast by the trees made it difficult for drivers to see pedestrians.

“The city said, and is still saying, that it was not their responsibility to deal with it, but the maintenance agreement says otherwise. And the judge agreed,” said David Rouda, a San Francisco-based attorney representing the Bertoli family.

Julia Bertoli was a vibrant 16-year-old, fluent in French and expert in horseback riding, when she was struck July 3, 2009, as she and her boyfriend and two other friends walked toward Analy High School to watch holiday fireworks. The collision occurred on Healdsburg Avenue, which is also Highway 116, at the intersection with Florence Avenue.

Bertoli, now 19, struggles to meet basic needs. She lives in Rohnert Park with her mother. Rouda said the young woman's medical bills have reached $2.5 million. The lawsuit seeks damages for her current and future medical care.

“She is facing a full lifespan in this condition and her parents are struggling to support her,” Rouda said.

The family has settled with several defendants. That included this week with Linda Chilvers, the driver of the 2003 Toyota Corolla that struck Bertoli. Chilvers, who was 65 at the time of the crash, had left work at the Sebastopol Library and was on her way home to Forestville.

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