Bicyclist Injured by Sewer Grate Placement ($47,500)

Denise Fullerton secured fair compensation for a 46 year old man who was injured while riding his bicycle along side a County Road, near his home. He was riding along the paved and marked shoulder, as there was no bike path nor sidewalk. He came upon a misaligned street sewer grate, into which his front tire dropped and became wedged. He was thrown from his bicycle, flying over his handlebars and landing on the asphalt.

The Plaintiff sustained a fractured left mandible (jaw), a fractured right scapula (shoulder blade), and a laceration to his chin. He underwent surgery on his jaw, after which his jaw was wired shut for six weeks. He lost a molar as a result of the impact, although it could not be removed until the jaw wiring was removed. The scapular fracture healed leaving a ridge of scarring material, which causes catching and clicking as he rotates through shoulder movements. He continues to suffer limitations and pain with the use of his shoulder and his jaw. Medical expenses exceeded $25,000, all paid by an ERISA-governed health insurer.

The round sewer grate had at some time in the past been wrongly positioned with the open slats running parallel to the curb, rather than angled or perpendicular. The City and County were both aware that such alignment was incorrect and unsafe, most especially to bicyclists. The grate appeared to have been misaligned for well over a year, undiscovered. The County owned the road, performed spring and fall street sweeping, and removed debris from sewer grates and catch basins. The County claimed they did not inspect grates nor have a duty to maintain them, including their proper alignment. The City also removed debris, and claimed a practice of inspecting grates for proper alignment and necessary maintenance, but focused on City, rather than County, roads. Liability was hotly contested, with both the City and County claiming immunities. Summary judgment motions had been scheduled and briefed by the time of the mediation hearing.

The case was settled at mediation, with all parties recognizing a serious risk at the pending summary judgment motion. The City paid $27,500, and the County paid $20,000. From the total $47,500, the ERISA insurer agreed to accept $6,300 to resolve all medical expenses in full. The City and County also agreed as a part of the mediated agreement to implement a written policy governing the maintenance and inspection of storm sewers on County Roads.

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