Case details

Bus’s unsafe turn caused collision, bicyclist claimed





Result type

Not present

back, chest, chest flail, fracture, neck, rib, shoulder, transverse process, vertebra
At around 5:28 p.m. on Nov. 10, 2016, plaintiff Daniel Palmer, a contractor and competitive amateur cyclist, was riding his road bike at approximately 23 mph in a dedicated bike lane on southbound Coolidge Drive, within the campus of the University of California, Santa Cruz. As he approached a driveway leading to a dirt parking lot, a university shuttle bus operated by U.C. Santa Cruz employee Zachery Ross attempted to make a right turn onto the driveway. The bicycle and shuttle bus collided, causing Palmer to lose control of his bicycle and hit a curb. Palmer was ejected from the bicycle and propelled into a tree approximately 12 feet away. He sustained to his neck, chest, and a shoulder. Palmer sued Ross and the owner of the shuttle bus, Ross’ employer, the Regents of the University of California. Palmer alleged that Ross was negligent in the operation of the shuttle bus and that the Regents was vicariously liable for Ross’ actions. Palmer claimed that Ross failed to activate the bus’s turn signal and turned the shuttle bus right in front of his bicycle in an attempt to enter the driveway. Palmer’ counsel argued that Ross was negligent for violating the bicyclist’s right of way and making an unsafe turn. The plaintiff’s accident reconstruction expert testified that as a result of the curve in southbound Coolidge Drive and the length of the 40-foot bus operated by Ross, the bus driver’s field of vision, just before his turn, was restricted to approximately 100 feet behind him. The expert also testified that the bicycle, travelling approximately 37 feet per second, would cover that 100 feet in three to 3.5 seconds, which would not allow the bus driver to see, perceive and react to the presence of the bicycle. Thus, the expert opined that there was no way the bus driver could have made a safe right turn into the intended driveway at the location of the accident. Plaintiff’s counsel introduced into evidence a safety memorandum that was prepared by the U.C. Santa Cruz Transportation & Parking Services department eight years before the subject accident. Counsel noted that the safety memorandum addressed bus turning maneuvers into the subject driveway and directed that the preferred practice was for buses to continue straight past the driveway, due to the known presence of bicycles coming down Coolidge Drive, and make a U-turn at the next light, so that buses could approach the driveway coming uphill and make a left turn. Plaintiff’s counsel contended that the memorandum indicated that the preferred practice was the “safest” way to enter the driveway at issue. However, plaintiff’s counsel noted that Ross testified that he had never — in the eight years since the memorandum was prepared — followed the instructed safest route to enter the driveway. Defense counsel denied that Ross or the Regents were liable for the accident. Counsel argued that Ross properly had the bus’s turn signal activated prior to the accident and that Palmer was negligent for failing to have a light or reflectors on his bicycle at the time of the accident, which occurred approximately 28 minutes after sunset. Defense counsel contended that the vehicle code required bicycles to have a light on either 30 minutes after sunset or when a bicyclist would not be visible at 1,000 feet. Defense counsel also argued that Palmer was negligent for riding his bicycle too fast within the bicycle lane. In regard to the safety memorandum, defense counsel argued that the alleged directive to continue straight past the driveway, make a U-turn, and make a left into the driveway was merely a suggestion that bus drivers were free to either follow or ignore and that other safety memos issued by the transportation department were directives., Palmer sustained displaced fractures of nine of the ribs on the left side of his body, six of which were fractured in multiple places, resulting in a “flail” rib injury where a section of the rib cage is essentially free floating. He also sustained a fracture of the acromion process of a shoulder and a transverse process fracture of the cervical spine at C5. Palmer was subsequently brought by life flight services of a helicopter to Stanford University Medical Center, in Stanford, where a chest tube was inserted to evacuate blood and fluid from a punctured lung. He then remained in the intensive care unit for five days before being transferred to the main hospital floor. However, upon being transferred, Palmer developed an infection and blood clot in his lungs. As a result, he was taken to surgery with the intention of removing the infection and plating several of the fractured ribs. However, due to the large amount of infection found, the plating procedure was aborted. Palmer ultimately remained hospitalized for a total of 19 days. Although the rib fractures healed, they failed to heal in an anatomic alignment. Thus, he was left with a permanent deformity and a loss of lung capacity. Palmer was an elite amateur cyclist, previously ranked 10th nationally in his age group in road cycling. However, he claimed that due to the physical and psychological effects of the accident, he will never be able to return to any type of competitive cycling. The parties stipulated that Palmer’s past medical expenses totaled $162,526.56 and that the property damage to Palmer’s bicycle totaled $10,472.55. Palmer also sought recovery of non-economic damages for his past and future pain and suffering.
Superior Court of Santa Cruz County, Santa Cruz, CA

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