CVN screenshot of plaintiff attorney Arash Homampour showing jurors an image of the accident location during his closing argument
San Diego, CA - A California state court jury on Thursday blamed the City of San Diego for a collision between a cyclist and a driver high on meth in a city park, teeing up a second trial to determine damages potentially in excess of $60 million.
The jury reached its verdict following four days of deliberations in a trial that began November 20. The full trial was webcast and recorded gavel-to-gavel by Courtroom View Network.
Plaintiff Juan Carlos Vinolo and his wife, Emma Gutierrez, sued the city of San Diego after the 2014 accident at Fiesta Island park, a popular location for road cyclists.
Shortly after rounding a corner, a driver on the wrong side of the road and high on methamphetamines slammed her car into Vinolo leaving him paralyzed from the chest down. Vinolo’s lawsuit claims that overgrown bushes and high berms created a dangerous “blind corner” on the single-lane road.
The jury agreed, finding the dangerous road condition was a substantial cause of the accident, and that the City should have been aware of the hazard it posed. They assigned 27 percent liability to the City for the crash and 73 percent to the intoxicated driver and co-defendant, Theresa Lynn Owens.
A new jury will determine sometime next year what damages the City owes to Vinolo and Gutierrez. Owens, who is serving a 19-year prison sentence, already defaulted in the case.
Vinolo’s attorneys, Arash Homampour of the Homampour Law Firm and Pejman Ben-Cohen of Carpenter Zuckerman & Rowley told CVN damages in the second trial could surpass $60 million.
They added that under California law, the City would have to pay 100 percent of Vinolo’s medical and earnings damages and then 27 percent of his and his wife’s general damages.
“We all feel vindicated by the verdict because the City was held accountable for its role in this tragic event that left Juan paralyzed,” they said. “While it was already the law, the broader effect of this verdict is a reminder to all public entities that they have a legal duty to make sure they inspect roads for and remove dangerous conditions.”
They argued testimony and admissions from the city’s own employees and experts convinced jurors that the City failed to take steps to make sure bikers traveling at high speeds in the park could see oncoming hazards, and that the City failed to evaluate the safety risks of Fiesta Island road despite knowing how many cyclists use it.
The City, represented by the City Attorney’s office, said in a statement to CVN they cannot be expected to prevent the consequences of an impaired motorist speeding the wrong way on a one-way road.
“This is a tragic case, but we disagree with the jury verdict that holds taxpayers responsible,” said San Diego City Attorney Mara W. Elliott. “The motorist who caused the accident was convicted of driving under the influence of meth, and is currently serving a 19-year prison sentence.”
The City also argued in court filings that Vinolo’s high-speed cycling in a tight formation met the legal definition of a “hazardous recreational activity,” which defense attorneys argued should preclude him from seeking damages.
Judge Eddie Sturgeon presided.
Gavel-to-gavel video of the full trial is available with a subscription to CVN’s online trial video library, which also features hundreds of civil trials and some of the top litigators in California and throughout the country.
The case is captioned Juan Carlos Vinolo, Emma Irarragorri Gutierrez v. City of San Diego, case number 37-2016-00016857-CU-PA-CTL, in San Diego County Superior Court.
E-mail David Siegel at firstname.lastname@example.org