The city of Tacoma has been ordered to pay $242,000 to a bicyclist who smashed his face into the asphalt after hitting a crack in a city-maintained bike lane three years ago.
Pierce County Superior Court Judge Stephanie Arend issued her ruling this week in the case of Eugene Smith v. City of Tacoma.
Smith, an avid cyclist, was hurt Nov. 10, 2010, while pedaling on the bike lane adjacent to South Alaska Street, court records state. He was headed to church choir practice when his bike’s front tire wedged into a longitudinal crack in the asphalt, records show.
“These defects grabbed his front wheel, causing him to go over the bike, hitting his head and face hard on the asphalt, requiring him to be hospitalized for three days with a fractured eye bone, separated shoulder, chipped teeth and a bruised body,” his attorney, Richard Levandowski, wrote in pleadings.
Levandowski argued the city was negligent for several reasons:
• It ignored design advice that called for lateral supports to be built into the bike lane to help prevent heavy traffic from damaging the lane’s subsurface.
• It put a temporary patch on the lane instead of replacing the damaged asphalt.
• It removed cones and barricades it had used to mark the damage because they were blocking a nearby bus stop.
“The city engaged in gross negligence with respect to the hazardous cracks and depressions in the dedicated bike lanes,” Levandowski wrote.
The wreck cost Smith more than $60,000 in medical expenses, lost wages and other costs, his attorney said.
The city admitted it messed up and was liable for Smith’s injuries but, in arguing over damages, said Smith was partly at fault.
“Mr. Smith knew that that particular crack existed because he had seen it before,” assistant city attorney Jean Homan wrote in pleadings. “He had traveled the Alaska Street bike route at least 30 to 40 times since it had been constructed. However, on this night, Mr. Smith failed to pay attention to the crack, and he fell.”
Levandowski countered that the law doesn’t require people to “keep eyes glued to the ground immediately in front at all times.”
“It is reasonable that a person will pay less attention to a surface condition on a public way when dedicated for that particular use,” the attorney wrote.
Homan further argued that Smith’s injuries were not long-lasting.
“While the city acknowledges the difficulties of Mr. Smith’s injuries and in no way attempts to minimize them, it is true that Mr. Smith did not need long-term treatment and has made an excellent recovery,” Homan wrote.
The city fixed the damaged bike lane in June 2011, about five months after Smith complained about his wreck, court records show.
It also has satisfied the judgment, the records show.Adam Lynn: 253-597-8644 firstname.lastname@example.org