When 10 people were killed and 63 injured in connection with the car crash at Santa Monica’s downtown farmers’ market victims were paid a total of $22 million.
But it’s a fraction of the $1.7 billion one woman believes she deserves to make up for a myriad of health problems she blames on the city’s new parking meters.
If the city denies the claim, which is traditionally a precursor to a lawsuit, and the case heads to court, Denise Barton's theory will be tough to prove.
Studies have failed to prove conclusively that exposure to such low frequency radiation, like the radio waves broadcast from antennas, microwaves and cell telephones, pose health risks, according to UCLA’s Chief of Radiology, Christopher Cagnon.
"Anything is possible, but the risk has never been proven—ever," Cagnon said.
The physicist wasn't familiar with the particulars of Barton's case, but dismissed it as "frivolous."
In addition to the $1.7 billion, Barton's claim also seeks $1.7 million a month, an amount she says represents the value of her life.
"This is just blatant negligence," she said. "The city didn't do enough research."
The city only tracks settlement amounts, but Deputy City Manager Kate Vernez said she believes Barton's is one of the largest claims in Santa Monica's 126-year history. The farmers’ market settlement has so far been its priciest.
Barton contends her symptoms started in April, when the city began installing the sensors in meters near her apartment. The sensors are below ground and communicate wirelessly with the meters to record parking data and prevent meter-feeding. They were first installed on selected blocks in downtown in March 2011 under a pilot project to replace old coin-only parking meters.
Microwave and radiowaves, which heat cells, are at the opposite end of the electromagnetic spectrum from more powerful forms such as gamma rays and X-rays. The latter can break chemical bonds and have been proven to permanently damage body tissue and injure cells.
"Radio waves are not known to have any effect on people at any level," said Don Jose, a Pennsylvania-based attorney who specializes in radiation litigation. He called Barton's claim "a nut case."
In a phone interview, Barton surmised the ailments might also be due to smart meters. She said doctors have instructed her to contact the utility company.
"I'm sensative to to radiation due to cat scans, some with injections of radioactive dye, as a child," she wrote in the claim.
She pointed to reports of Northern California cities signing moratoriums against smart meters after backlash from the public who feared for their health. Anti-smart meter folks say the health risks of radiowaves haven't been disproven, either.
"You can’t rule anything out," said UCLA physicist Cagnon.