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San Diego paying $1.75M to man hurt in Carmel Valley bicycling crash

Courthouse seal
(File photo)

Settlement comes as city faces criticism for not building bike lanes fast enough

San Diego is paying $1.75 million to a veteran bicyclist who suffered head, shoulder and leg injuries five years ago when tree-damaged pavement in a Carmel Valley bike lane launched him airborne.

The settlement with Michael Cizauskas is among the largest by San Diego for a bicycle crash. In 2017, the city paid $4.85 million to a Del Cerro resident who tore spinal cord ligaments after being launched by a buckled sidewalk.

The payout comes with public scrutiny of bicycle safety on the rise in the wake of multiple recent cycling fatalities on San Diego’s roads.

Because the city’s climate action plan calls for more people to commute by bike and on foot, San Diego officials have prioritized adding more bike lanes across the city in recent years.

In addition to the money from the city, Cizauskas will get $1 million from a landscape contractor and $30,000 from a tree contractor. Those payments will bring the total settlement to nearly $2.8 million.

Cizauskas suffered fractured bones and “traumatic brain injury” when he hit a patch of concrete that was raised about 2 inches higher than the surrounding concrete because of underneath tree roots.

A 40-year cyclist who was riding a bike he had built himself, Cizauskas landed on his head, hip, femur and shoulder while riding westbound in the 12500 block of Carmel Canyon Road. The crash occurred just after 3 p.m. on May 22, 2016, court records say.

He was taken by ambulance to Scripps Memorial Hospital in La Jolla. He has since undergone multiple surgical procedures, including a hip replacement and shoulder reconstruction.

His attorney, Kane Handel, said Thursday, Aug. 12, that Cizauskas has mostly recovered from the brain trauma, but that he will never be able to move around normally again.

A 2017 lawsuit filed by Cizauskas contends the raised concrete couldn’t be seen by cyclists headed west, partly because a large tree cast shadows in the area at some times of day.

The lawsuit contends the city should have been aware of the problem and prioritized repairing it. Handel said city officials were told about the raised concrete and did nothing.

“It’s unconscionable,” she said. “People report these things and the city still doesn’t do anything.”

Handel said San Diego focuses too much on building new projects at the expense of focusing on repairs to older infrastructure. She said it’s particularly frustrating because deteriorating conditions are causing life-changing injuries like those suffered by her client.

Mayor Todd Gloria said Thursday, Aug. 12, that nearly $300 million in new city infrastructure projects are part of a the solution.

“San Diego has a long, unfortunate history of neglecting its infrastructure needs,” he said. “That ends with this administration. We have much more to do, but this is a first step in the right direction.”

The City Council unanimously approved the $1.75 million payout Aug. 3. Superior Court Judge Richard Strauss had scheduled a July 16 jury trial, but Strauss recently approved a settlement.

The latest settlement comes in the wake of a city audit last year that found San Diego could significantly reduce the nearly $25 million a year it spends on lawsuit payouts if it invests in better employee training and deeper analyses of risks.

The audit found that San Diego spent $220 million total over nine fiscal years, from 2010 to 2018, handling about 20,000 claims and lawsuits filed during that time.

Auditors also recommended proactive measures like fixing damaged sidewalks and concrete in key areas and revamping dangerous intersections.


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