In March 2017, San Diego bicyclist Clifford Brown was awarded $4.85 million in a sidewalk lawsuit, three years after a severe accident. The cause was a tree-damaged sidewalk that launched the rider off his bike. His injuries included broken teeth and torn spinal ligaments. The crash also possibly triggered a stroke, which left Brown in need of long term medical care.
It is not the only such sidewalk lawsuit to be slamming the city of San Diego. The city has paid over $11 million dollars in similar lawsuits over the past five years. Damage sidewalks and streets have caused injuries to bicyclists, pedestrians, and motorists alike. Leaving residents to ask if the city is doing anything to prevent similar incidents.
The answer is that it has, but the problem is that it may not be enough in the eyes of jurors. The past two months have seen multiple sidewalk lawsuits filed, all of which potentially worth millions.
To Sacramento natives walking down the streets of Midtown, stories like those in San Diego may raise alarm bells. Aging trees have warped parking spaces and sidewalks, and the city seemingly cannot keep up.
Bicyclists and pedestrian commuters are growing in number, but San Diego’s infrastructure remains inadequate
With oil prices rising, gas stations are clawing towards high prices per gallon. The financial strain, combined with a growing acceptance of climate change, has inspired many to seek alternate ways to get to and from work. Inevitably, accidents can and do happen, no matter how careful people, or in spite of lawmakers best efforts.
In Brown’s sidewalk lawsuit, the 7-inch bump that sent him flying was only one such obstacle of many. The jury agreed with his claims that more proactive measures should have been taken to fix the sidewalk.
Critics of the sidewalk lawsuit payouts claim the money should go towards repairs
City Councilman David Alvarez was one voice of concern in the wake of the 2017 lawsuit. Rather than using taxpayers’ dollars to pay off settlements “we can actually be fixing our sidewalks to avoid this.” At the time, he urged the council to head off other such lawsuits by taking action on sidewalk repairs.
As of today, San Diego’s sidewalks are in need of over 80,000 known repairs. With the rush of lawsuits being filed, those repairs could face delays in funding.
The city faces just under $40 million in sidewalk repairs in 2018, a step down from the $52.7 million backlog from three years prior. However, at the current rate of repairs, the city will not catch up with the current needed repairs until 2029. More seven-figure lawsuits could delay that even further.
As the city deliberates on action, the lawsuits keep coming.
A San Diego man’s family is suing the city for wrongful death and failing to maintain a sidewalk. After the man’s Segway struck a 4-inch concrete stub, the rider was thrown to the ground, breaking multiple ribs and causing damage to his internal defibrillator. The victim, Jeff Hassert, would die of cardiac complications shortly after their 2016 accident. This lawsuit is one of five filed in the last two months. Each one claims the city’s inability to maintain safe infrastructure as a key factor.
In Sorrento Valley, one accident caused by an open trench inside a bike lane rendered the victim a quadriplegic. Uneven sidewalks in University Heights caused serious injuries to another resident. A woman walking near a restaurant at Liberty Station was injured walking on a path that lacked a sidewalk. Another man in Clairemont is suing after a deep pothole in a bike lane permanently disabled his nervous system.
The precedent set by Clifford Brown’s nearly $5 million-dollar reward may yet prove costly. Each of these new lawsuits could result in a sizeable reward to the victims. The circumstances are all similar: physical injuries, in many cases with long-term permanent consequences, caused by poorly maintained sidewalks. No matter what the city does to address the damaged sidewalks and pothole-ridden streets, it will be too late for some victims and their families.