On a training ride in 2016, Catherine Williams hit a three by four foot pothole and went down hard. (The pothole had been previously reported to the Dept. of Transportation & Public Works, and was repaired immediately after the incident.) She suffered severe injuries, including brain damage. She sued the County in 2017, and in December of 2018 a jury awarded her $1.85 million for medical bills, lost income, pain and suffering.
In August 2019, we learned that the county had filed an appeal against the judgement, which we protested.
In the Appellate Court on September 17, 2020, each side had fifteen minutes to answer very specific questions from the Justices.
The argument put forth by appeals attorney Nadia Sarkis, representing the County, focused on the length, speed, and purpose of Williams’ ride, claiming that as she was engaged in an “extreme sport” and was not an “ordinary user” of the road, she assumed the “inherent risk of the sport.” In other words, she should have known she could get hurt riding a bike and that County liability for poor road condition therefore does not apply to her.
The Justices’ line of questioning really hammered on this idea that the County’s liability varies based on the speed and purpose of a cyclist’s ride on a given day. One Justice gave Sarkis some hypotheticals and asked in which cases the County has duty. They included a woman riding at the same speed and distance but to work; a teenager riding the same speed but on her way to soccer practice; a 65-year-old woman riding the same speed on an electric bike she bought after having a knee replacement. They all seemed somewhat incredulous only Williams’ incident, but not the rest of these situations, should release the County from liability for the cyclist’s injuries and questioned the whole idea of defining “ordinary” versus “extreme” bicycling.
(Sarkis had quoted a study on “average” speed and distance for recreational versus transportational cyclists and implied that anything above “average” was “extreme.” The speed and distance of Dr. Williams’ ride were certainly those of a fit and serious rider, but nowhere near what any of us would consider “extreme.”)
On September 28, the Appeal Court upheld the judgement and cycling advocates around the state breathed a sigh of relief.
On October 13, the County filed a petition for a rehearing – in other words, an appeal of the appeal. On October 22, the court denied their petition.
The County has until November 7 to appeal the decision to the California Supreme Court. Sign the petition below to urge them NOT to do so!