Del Mar pays $3.5 million to settle suit over bicyclist’s death

The stretch of Camino Del Mar where Villa's accident occurred is popular among cyclists.
The stretch of Camino Del Mar where Villa’s accident occurred is popular among cyclists.
(Luke Harold)

The city of Del Mar paid $3.5 million to settle a lawsuit by the family of Brian Villa, a detective with the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department who died after a 2017 bicycle accident on Camino Del Mar.

Villa, 54, was riding through Del Mar on Sept. 9, 2017, as part of the 100-mile Amtrak Century race from Irvine to San Diego, according to a lawsuit filed in 2018 by his wife, 14-year-old daughter and 12-year-old son. They alleged that he struck a small rut in the road on Camino Del Mar, about a quarter mile north of Carmel Valley Road.

A witness said in a court deposition that he saw Villa’s handlebars wobbling. Then his front tire lurched to the right, launching him forward onto the ground. According to the San Diego County medical examiner, Villa died of blunt force head and torso trauma.

His family filed a liability claim with the city of Del Mar, but it was denied in April 2018. They alleged in the lawsuit that the road “was a bikeway but not maintained with the intention of providing a smooth, consistent roadway surface,” and that “routine maintenance was not done to ensure a uniform surface, free of ruts, gaps, and obstructions.”

“Mr. Villa would not have suffered fatal injuries had these defects been remedied,” their complaint read, adding that he was wearing full protective gear.

Attorneys representing the city of Del Mar argued that it was “pure speculation” that the rut caused Villa’s injuries, court documents show. They said that theory “was entirely concocted” by Villa’s co-workers at the L.A. County Sheriff’s Department and by his family’s attorneys.

“This small, three inch wide, one foot long, one inch deep separation in the road did not pose a substantial risk of injury to cyclists riding along Camino Del Mar while exercising due care,” wrote attorneys William C. Pate and Lesley A. Riis, of Devaney Pate Morris & Cameron.

Pate and Riis also argued that the city had no record of prior complaints about the conditions of the road, and that race participants are aware of the risks. They also mentioned the deposition by the witness, who was ambivalent as to whether the rut caused Villa’s fall.

The case was headed for a jury trial before the two sides agreed in May to settle. The payment from the city was made in a lump sum on June 29.

“Although the City agreed to settle the case, this should in no way be seen as any admission of liability on the City’s part,” Del Mar interim City Manager Ashley Jones said via email. “Given the exorbitant cost of defense in this case, we felt it was in the City’s best interest to resolve this matter rather than continuing through the courts.”

Jones said that the city’s liability insurance covered $3.4 million of the settlement, and the city paid the remaining $100,000 from its general fund.

The city could not confirm whether the settlement is the largest it’s ever had to pay, but Jones said “it is certainly one of the largest.”

An attorney from the Los Angeles-based Homampour Law Firm, which represented the Villas, said the family did not want to comment.