News

Unsafe lane change

Cyclist wins lawsuit against Cal Trans over a faulty road.

by

comment

After ten days of testimony, and two and a half days of intense deliberation, jurors ruled that Cal Trans and the San Luis Obispo Bike Club are liable for damages in the case of Carol Sirott, 56, who fell from her bike on Highway 1 during a bike club sponsored event. The area is part of the Pacific Coast Bike Route. The suit alleged that the state had failed to adequately maintain the road. An award amount is to be decided by Judge Martin Tangeman on May 12.
 

CRACKING ASPHALT:  An example of the faulty bike lane along highway 1. - BY CHRISTOPHER GARDNER
  • BY CHRISTOPHER GARDNER
  • CRACKING ASPHALT: An example of the faulty bike lane along highway 1.
# On Sept. 18, 2004, Sirott was participating in the bike club’s Annual Lighthouse Ride when her tire caught in a ridge between the bike lane and the highway, catapulting her onto the asphalt, resulting in a broken collarbone, major nerve and muscle damage, herniated neck disks, and her left shoulder blade detached from her ribs. “It has completely changed my life,� Sirott says. “I am always in pain, and according to my doctor, I will always be in pain.� Sirott has endured two surgeries and is slated to undergo three more.
 
Over 1,200 riders participated in the event that started and ended at Cuesta College. From there, Sirott traveled southbound on Highway 1. She planned to take Los Osos Road to Morro Bay and then connect back onto Highway 1 towards the historic Piedras Blancas Lighthouse. Sirott had successfully completed the 100-mile ride numerous times before. Shortly after Sirott passed the California Men’s Colony, her bicycle tires entered the grove in the road.
 
Attorneys for the state are considering an appeal. “Our feeling was that the road conditions were not unsafe,� says Bruce Behrens, chief counsel for Cal Trans. “There was only a third to a fourth of an inch drop-off between the bike lane and the highway,� which Cal trans does not consider excessive.
 
Bruce Collier, a member of the bike club does not agree. “She fell as a result of a gap in the pavement. The state knew of the problem for two years. During the 2004 Lighthouse ride, two cyclists fell within 590 feet of each other. Both were transported by ambulance to Sierra Vista Hospital. Wolf Eisen, a member of the bike club, went down in the same area a few months before that.�
 
Eisen says his accident occurred while he was riding in another bike club-sponsored event, when he attempted to navigate around an SUV stopped on the shoulder of the highway. “Because of the difference in height, I fell sideways and rolled a couple of times,� Eisen says. The driver of the SUV transported Eisen and to Sierra Vista Hospital where he was treated and released.
 
In January 2004, the bike club sent a letter to Cal Trans saying that the southbound section of Highway 1, where Eisen fell, was dangerous and in serious need of repair. “It took Cal Trans two months to reply,� Sirott says. “They claimed to have investigated conditions and found them within the 45 millimeter standard, though the standard is 10 millimeters. Cal Trans doesn’t care. They say they want safety but they certainly haven’t shown that.� Sirott’s suit claims that Cal Trans was aware of the highway’s dangerous condition and failed to remedy the situation.
 
Earlier this year, attorneys for Cal Trans filed a motion to include the bike club in the suit. The motion claims that in 2004, the bike club applied to Cal Trans for a permit to conduct the Lighthouse ride, on which Sirott was injured. The state required the club to provide insurance that protected the state from liability during the ride. The motion claims the bike club withdrew its application and received a full refund.
 
“I don’t think we applied for an application,� Collier says.  “We don’t need a permit to ride on public roads. We were unaware we were named in the suit. If they don’t inform us, then how can we defend ourselves?� The court divided liability between Cal Trans at 75 percent, the bike club at 20 percent, and Sirott at five percent. Members of the bike club plan to attend financial distribution hearing on Friday.
 
 Sirottt says that “experts� testifying at trial for the state were unaware of California’s bike safety standards and thought they didn’t apply to the Central Coast section of highway.
 
John Forester, the author of California’s current cycling safety standards, testified that state mandated bicycle safety standards did apply in Sirott’s case.
 
“The bottom line,� says Sirott, “is that they knew about the danger and had time to fix it.� ∆

Karen Velie can be contacted at kvelie@newtimesslo.com.

Tags

Add a comment