DUBLIN — The husband of a Dublin Unified School District (DUSD) trustee killed in March during a food giveaway at Fallon Middle School has filed a claim alleging the district is responsible for her death.
William Kuo, who was appointed to replace his 48-year-old wife, Catherine, on the board, alleges the district created a "dangerous condition" that resulted in his wife being crushed between two cars.
William Kuo's claim, the precursor to a possible lawsuit, was served to the district Aug. 16. Kuo also lists their children — Thomas, 15, and Natalie, 11 — as claimants.
"They've suffered an indescribable loss," their attorney, Nick Casper, said. “Catherine was a real shining light both in the community and in the family itself, and she's going to be dearly missed … They are always going to be living with this loss. They feel it every moment of every day."
The claim states DUSD was negligent for “failing to implement basic safety protocols” for the food giveaway, “creating an unreasonable, foreseeable risk of severe harm to volunteers.”
A district spokeswoman issued a brief statement but declined to answer questions about the Kuo family’s claim.
"Trustee William Kuo informed the district of his plans to file a claim," the statement said. "We have received the claim and have submitted it to our insurance carrier. At this point, the district has no further comment."
The district has 45 days from service to respond, either by settling the claim, rejecting it or not acting at all. William Kuo would then have six months to file a lawsuit.
Catherine Kuo, 48, died March 24 at Eden Medical Center in Castro Valley, where she was taken following the 11:45 a.m. accident. The claim said she died of "catastrophic blunt force injuries, including multiple severe injuries to her internal organs."
A mother of two who was elected to the board in November 2019, Catherine Kuo was volunteering at a U.S. Department of Agriculture "Farmers to Families" event, providing free boxes of food to needy families during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Police said Kuo was standing at the rear of a car when another vehicle behind her lunged forward and pinned her between the vehicles. Police called the crash a terrible accident. The Alameda County District Attorney's Office declined to file charges against the driver.
Casper said the program's organizers advised volunteers to wear masks and engage in social distancing but offered no other safety measures.
According to the claim, members of the public who wanted to pick up a food box entered the school on Kohnen Way and were directed to drive to the playground blacktop area. Motorists drove in a single-file line until they reached the front, where they were told to open their trunk. Volunteers then placed the food box inside.
When the accident occurred, Kuo was standing behind a 2018 Tesla, loading a food box into the trunk. At that time, a 2019 BMW pulled up behind. A DUSD employee advised the driver to open the rear hatch so he could load a box into it. The BMW suddenly drove forward, crushing Kuo between the cars, the claim said.
The claim states DUSD "created an unreasonable risk of harm" for instructing volunteers to place boxes in cars while standing between vehicles, failing to require motorists to turn off their engines and failing to maintain a minimum safe distance between vehicles.
"DUSD failed to communicate any of these safety protocols to volunteers and to members of the public in advance of the events or at the events, either through written, verbal or posted instructions," the claim said. "DUSD's failures to implement these safety protocols were a substantial factor that directly and proximately caused claimants' harm."
The claim also said DUSD was negligent for failing to train and supervise employees to utilize safety measures.
Casper said he had no information about whether Catherine Kuo had expressed concerns about safety that morning.
"Our investigation has informed us that (motorists) were never instructed to turn off the ignition, and for an unknown reason, that vehicle went into the back of the other vehicle, crushing Catherine," Casper said.
Other sites using curbside service during the pandemic, such as grocery stores and restaurants, utilized other methods of delivery, including asking customers to pull into parking spaces and to turn off their engines, Casper said.
"There is a basic duty of care. It's all about managing foreseeable risk," Casper said. "One foreseeable risk is having individuals between cars that are not turned off. A car behind it may have, for whatever reason, some issue where they hit the accelerator too early. You don't want to create a scenario where someone is between those cars. You want to manage those risks."
The Kuo family’s claim, which, as is typical, does not include any amount of damages sought. It claims the loss of their wife and mother's love, companionship, care and guidance and other factors in addition to financial losses and medical expenses.
Asked if it was “awkward” for a board trustee to file a claim against the district he serves, Casper said William Kuo would recuse himself any time trustees and district administrators discussed his case.
“I don't think he would describe it as being awkward,” Casper said. “He wishes for many reasons (that he) was not in the position he's in.”