Case details

Bicyclist: Bus drifted toward her while passing parked police car





Result type

Not present

arm, crush injury, elbow, fracture
On Sept. 14, 2011, plaintiff Laila Brenner, 30, a nonprofit partnership coordinator, was riding her bicycle west on Broadway Street, toward the intersection with Columbus Avenue in the city and county of San Francisco. As she attempted to pass in between a San Francisco municipal bus, which was on her left, and a San Francisco Police Department vehicle, which was parked in a “no parking” area adjacent to the curb of westbound Broadway Street, she fell to the street near the rear of the bus. Brenner claimed she fractured her left arm in the accident. Brenner sued the city and county of San Francisco. She alleged that both the bus operator and the police officer who parked his patrol vehicle in a right turn only lane were negligent in the operation of their vehicles, and that the city and county were vicariously liable for their actions. Brenner contended that the bus operator violated a section of the California Vehicle Code, which states that the driver of a vehicle overtaking another vehicle or a bicycle proceeding in the same direction shall pass to the left at a safe distance without interfering with the safe operation of the overtaken vehicle or bicycle. Thus, Brenner claimed that the bus operator failed to pass her at a safe distance. She also claimed that the driver of the police vehicle contributed to the accident by illegally parking in a right turn lane. Brenner further claimed that the bus operator was negligent and struck her bicycle because the operator was unaware of the bicycle being beside the bus and because the bus operator steered the 8.5-foot-wide bus to the edge of a 9.5-foot lane when passing the police vehicle. Defense counsel noted that at the time of the accident, the officer who parked the SFPD vehicle was on duty, but not responding to a call for service, and parked his car at the curb about half-way between Romolo Place and Columbus Avenue to buy a bottle of water. Meanwhile, the subject bus operator, an experienced municipal bus operator, was driving a 60-foot articulated diesel coach on the 8X route and had turned left from Kearny Street onto Broadway Street, and stopped behind traffic that was waiting for the red light at Columbus Avenue to turn green. At that time, the bus was in the right lane of the only two westbound lanes on Broadway Avenue between Kearny Street and Romolo Place. Defense counsel contended that while the bus was stopped, Brenner, who was riding her bicycle west on Broadway Street, began attempting to overtake the bus in the congested traffic by pedaling between parked cars and the right side of the stopped bus. However, counsel contended that as Brenner started her attempt to pass the bus, traffic in the right lane, to the left of Brenner, began moving and before Brenner reached the front of the bus, the bus was traveling faster than Brenner was pedaling. Thus, defense counsel argued that Brenner had only overtaken about two-thirds of the length of the bus when it began moving faster than she was pedaling and that at the intersection with Romolo Place, Brenner was losing ground and was at about the mid-point of the bus. Counsel contended that on the west side of Romolo Place, the right lane of westbound Broadway Street becomes two lanes: a through lane and a right turn lane next to that. Thus, counsel contended that as Brenner pedaled past Romolo Place, she rode straight into the left side of the right turn only lane while the bus was beside her, to her left, in the right through lane, moving about 5 mph faster than she was. Defense counsel noted that Brenner admitted that although she continued pedaling in the right turn only lane alongside the bus, she intended to cross Columbus Avenue, rather than turn right. Thus, counsel contended that when Brenner saw the police car parked in the right-turn-only lane a block away, she moved further left, toward the moving bus, in order to pass the parked police vehicle on its left. Counsel also contended that after the front of the bus passed the parked police car, the bus driver allowed the bus to drift right in anticipation of moving further to the right into the far-side bus zone across Broadway Street. The municipal bus operator claimed that she allowed the bus to drift right because she never saw Brenner riding next to or near the bus. Defense counsel contended that Brenner then attempted to squeeze between the parked police car and the side of the accelerating bus as the bus moved to the right within its lane. Thus, counsel argued Brenner simply lost control and fell. Counsel further argued that at no time was Brenner in front of the bus or in control of the lane occupied by the bus. In addition, defense counsel argued that Brenner was at all times aware of the parked police car. Defense counsel contended that because the police officer was not responding to an emergency, the exemption from traffic laws and parking restrictions afforded by Vehicle Code § 21055 did not apply. Counsel noted that because the police car was parked blocking a traffic lane and in a posted “no parking” zone, the city needed to present evidence that the officer was not negligent. Thus, at trial, the city presented evidence that it was customary for police officers to utilize the right-turn-only lane for parking due to the lack of available parking in the North Beach area of San Francisco and the policy that officers remain close to their vehicles in order to be prepared to respond as needed. Defense counsel also argued that the police car parked in the right lane did not cause the accident because Brenner admitted to seeing the police car stopped in the lane from nearly a block away. In addition, the city argued that the municipal bus operator was not negligent because she is entitled to the full use of her lane and was not obligated to yield the through lane to the bicycle, either when the bike was sharing the lane on her right side or when the bike was in the right-turn-only lane and recklessly tried to overtake the bus., Brenner was taken to the hospital, where she was diagnosed with a crush injury to her left, non-dominant arm. It was determined that Brenner’s arm was fractured in three places, and that her left elbow and left thumb were also fractured. She subsequently underwent surgical repairs with the placement of hardware in her left elbow and hand. Brenner claimed that her medical bills totaled in excess of $74,000. She also claimed she missed two months of work, incurring a wage loss of $16,000. Brenner’s husband, Michael Garcia, initially sought recovery of damages for his loss of consortium. However, the loss-of-consortium claim was dismissed on the first day of trial.
Superior Court of City and County of San Francisco, San Francisco, CA

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