San Diego County just finalized a nearly $24 million settlement for a bike accident that happened in 2014. The cyclist was ultimately paralyzed and suffered a number of other significant injuries while riding on Fiesta Island, and sued the County in 2016 claiming that the city needed to take better care and consideration of road conditions.
Juan Carlos Vinolo was hit by a car being driven by an intoxicated driver on a one-way street blind turn. The driver, Theresa Lynn Owens, has been convicted of driving under the influence of methamphetamines and is presently serving a 19 year prison sentence. Vinolo claims that the road was made even more dangerous due to overgrown bushes and high berm issues that officials supposedly knew were issues, though they chose to not address them.
According to NBC San Diego, the $23.75 million payout is one of the largest the city has needed to pay to a single plaintiff in recent history. Despite this being the case, the civil jury assigned 27% liability to the city and 73% liability to Owens. City Attorney Mara Elliot explained that officials couldn’t be expected to keep intoxicated drivers off the road, let alone keep them from speeding down a one-way road in the wrong direction.
Before the crash, Vinolo is claimed to have been riding his bicycle with a large group of friends who would often train together for Fiesta Island races. City attorneys argued that riding quickly and in close proximity to other riders is a “hazardous recreational activity,” and that participating in those actions could be a legal disqualification from seeking damages.
In addition to Vinolo being paralyzed from the chest down due to a severed spinal cord, Fox 5 San Diego made notes of other injuries the cyclist suffered as a result of the accident, including a dislocated left clavicle, 8 broken ribs, and needing to spend 33 days in the ICU. Further, The San Diego Union Tribune described that Vinolo had also lost a kidney, was on dialysis for almost 3 weeks while the other kidney recovered, that the victim had damage to his liver, lungs and spleen, and that he needed to spend 70 days in the Sharp Memorial Rehabilitation Center in Kearny Mesa. Doctors also say that he’ll be in a wheelchair for the rest of his life.
“The city created, fostered and maintained Fiesta Island in such a manner to exponentially increase the risk of serious injury to cyclists that use the Fiesta Island Road,” the lawsuit says. This is further pressed upon in the suit, detailing that one week after the crash the then-mayor had announced a number of upgrades to the roads, like bush trimming and new sign installation. At the time, Vinolo’s lawyers estimated that the city could owe the plaintiff up to $60 million.
Vinolo’s wife, Emma Ibarragorri Gutierrez, is also taking part in the settlement, suing for loss of consortium. The couple is suing the city under government code section 835, claiming that public property was in dangerous condition.
As for the source of the money, it’s been reported that taxpayers will pay $3 million of the settlement fees and that the remainder will come from a money pool partnership from other local government agencies who are sharing liability.
The Tribune also noted that this is not an isolated incident for the community, citing at least two other similar cases related to road quality issues. An audit for the city said that San Diego might reduce the almost $25 million average it spends per year in lawsuit payouts. The audit also claimed that the city needs to invest in better employee training and stronger analyses of risks in order to take proactive measures.