Wrongful Death Settlement of $5M Reached Over Accident With Utility Vehicle

Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E) agreed earlier this month to pay $5 million to the mother of a 20-year-old woman who was killed when one of their drivers passed out behind the wheel of one of their utility trucks.  

The settlement resolves a wrongful death lawsuit brought by Lisa Bernstein over the death of her daughter, Mary Bernstein. Mary and her boyfriend, Robert Conway, both 20, were killed in 2006 when a PG&E utility truck driven by John Mayfield smashed into their vehicle on an off-ramp for Interstate 280 in San Jose. Mayfield, a diabetic, said he blacked out behind the wheel, and pled guilty to involuntary manslaughter.

The death of her daughter launched Lisa Bernstein on a crusade against the company. She turned down a $3 million settlement offer after the PG&E declined to support new legislation that would increase corporate responsibility for automobile accidents caused by their drivers. The new settlement is for $5 million and came with an agreement by PG&E not to stand in the way of the legislation.

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Bernstein also got the company to agree to make the settlement a judgment, which will be accessible by future plaintiffs who bring lawsuits against the company. Even then, a judge had to convince Bernstein to accept the deal, according to a story in the Silicon Valley Mercury News.

Bernstein is crusading on a couple other fronts as well in the wake of her tragic loss. She is looking for a state lawmaker who will draft a bill that would require diabetics to perform a blood sugar test before getting behind the wheel of a vehicle, and she says she is going to use some of the money from the settlement to found the “Mary Bernstein Foundation for Alternative Energy Sources for Our Cities.”

The foundation will be a nonprofit organization, which Bernstein says would help to break up the powerful monopolies on energy held by PG&E and other large energy companies.


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