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A cyclist in La Jolla, California, will be receiving a $235,000 settlement after filing a lawsuit over injuries she sustained as a result of hitting a pothole while cycling. This was no ordinary pothole though, as it measured approximately 3 inches deep and 15 inches wide. The cyclist, Cathleen Summerford, injured her head, pelvis and lower back after hitting the pothole and flipping over her handlebars.
One critical fact in this case was that the City and County of San Diego, where La Jolla is located, had been provided with multiple complaints about potholes on the roadway that Ms. Summerford was injured on. As such, because the city had knowledge of the road conditions, a negligence case could be established.
Could've and Should've, But Didn't? Then Pay-up
Generally, municipalities are responsible for keeping their roadways, bike lanes and sidewalks safe for cars, bicyclists and pedestrians. While there is a certain level of caution each of these is supposed to exercise, a municipality can be held liable for injuries caused by dangerous conditions on roadways that could or should have been corrected.
When a government entity responsible for keeping the roadways in good repair fails to exercise reasonable care in making a repair, they can be found liable. However, in order to prove liability, a plaintiff will have to prove that the entity had notice, or should have had notice, of the condition, and did nothing to fix it.
While a plaintiff is tasked with the proving that the responsible entity had notice of the dangerous condition, there are many ways to do so. In the San Diego case, notice was simple to establish as there had been multiple lawsuits filed against the city as a result of the road conditions in that area.
In other situations, a potential plaintiff can make an FOIA request to the city for complaints or other documents that would establish knowledge of the road condition. Additionally, experts can be retained who can opine as to the age of a pothole or other dangerous road condition. If it's a dangerous condition that has existed for some time, then it may be assumed that the entity in charge should have known about it in their exercise of due diligence in monitoring road conditions.