A raised section of concrete in a storm drain alongside a bike lane is at the center of a $10 million lawsuit filed by a Carmel Valley man, who alleges the defect caused him to crash his bike and suffer debilitating injuries.
Michael Cizauskas, 59, filed the lawsuit against the city of San Diego and other defendants in August 2017 in San Diego Superior Court. The accident that caused his injuries occurred in May 2016. Kane Handel, Cizauskas' attorney, said she expects a trial date to be set during in the next few weeks.
At issue is an American sweet gum tree planted near the spot where the accident occurred. According to the lawsuit, roots from the tree pushed up both a nearby sidewalk and the storm drain, leading to a section of concrete being raised two to three inches. The lawsuit alleges that the city and other defendants either knew or should have known about the dangerous condition and fixed it.
Cizauskas, an experienced bike rider, was on a ride from his Carmel Valley home to La Jolla Shores beach - a distance of 11 or 12 miles - when the front tire of his bike hit the raised edge of the concrete slab, in the 12500 block of Carmel Canyon Road. The raised section of concrete was at the edge of the bike lane where Cizauskas was riding.
According to Cizauskas, the accident occurred about 3 p.m. when the bike lane was in shadow, concealing the hazard from view.
"I didn't even see it," he said. "I smashed into it and my bike lurched upward."
He landed on his left side, breaking his left leg, separating his shoulder and hitting his head, which knocked him unconscious and caused a concussion. Since the accident in May 2016, he has undergone five surgeries, one on his shoulder and four on his leg, and he continues to walk with crutches and suffer from chronic pain.
He said he remains unable to put his full weight on his leg, can't work at his job as a contractor, and also can't enjoy his former active lifestyle, which, along with bike riding, included such activities as surfing and skiing.
"My qualify of life is very poor," he said, because he can no longer work, exercise, or even take his dog for a walk.
His injuries have also affected his state of mind, said Cizauskas. "It's very depressing to have to sit around all day long."
Named in the lawsuit along with the city of San Diego are West Coast Arborists, Inc. and Landscapes USA Inc., which handle tree and landscape maintenance for the area where the crash occurred under contract with the city.
Gerry Braun, chief of staff with the San Diego City Attorney's office, said the city will not comment on the case because of the ongoing litigation. Attorneys for the two companies did not respond to requests for comment by press time.
The lawsuit seeks $10 million in general damages for pain and suffering, and additional damages for medical costs and lost wages.
Handel, who specializes in personal injury cases, said one city employee testified in a deposition that he had reported the potentially hazardous situation to the city streets department due to the tree's roots pushing up the nearby sidewalk, but no action was taken. The employee also said he had contacted the tree care company, but a representative told him the tree was healthy and not a candidate for removal.
Handel said city employees - such as those who painted the bike lane markings - should have been trained to spot such hazards. City street sweepers also passed by once a week, she said.
"Everybody in the world (went) by this and no one did anything about it," she said.
After the bike crash, Cizauskas said he reported the hazardous situation to the city, and a crew came out and repaired the raised section of the storm drain.
For now, Cizauskas' wife, Melissa, a Realtor, is the primary breadwinner for her husband and the couple's 16-year-old daughter. Cizauskas said in spite of what he's been through and still faces - he may need another operation on his leg - he remains optimistic that he will eventually recover from his injuries.
"As close as I can get to my old self, that's my hope," he said.