California property owners are required to make sure that their visitors are kept reasonably safe within their premises. This requirement includes the duty to fix dangerous conditions that the owner is aware of (or should have been aware of). If a visitor comes to harm within the premises in which the owner failed to fix dangerous conditions, the owner can be held liable for damages.
The scope of this requirement is quite wide, and a telephone company in California discovered that even they must submit to this rule. The case of Joseph C. Wessling v. Pacific Bell Telephone Company, et al. illustrates that if a bicycle rider is hurt due to a manhole on the road, the company that owns the manhole may be held accountable.
Facts about the Bicycle Accident Case
In the early morning of October 12, 2012, a 44-year-old man named Joseph Wessling rode his bicycle with his fiancé in Santa Cruz County. They were cruising on the bicycle lane on Freedom Boulevard in Aptos, with Wessling traveling in front of his fiancé.
A manhole was located on this bike lane, and its cover was 3 inches below the level of the road. The manhole was big enough to reduce the bike lane to a width of 2 feet for bikers who wanted to avoid riding on the lower-level manhole cover. Wessling attempted to swerve around the manhole cover, and as a result he inadvertently entered the adjacent traffic lane.
This sudden incursion caused a car on the road to hit Wessling, and he suffered serious injuries. His injuries included multiple rib fractures, a skull fracture, and fractures to the clavicle and scapula. He also endured permanent loss of brain tissue. These injuries led Wessling to resign from his job, and afterwards he was only able to work part-time. He hired a bicycle accident lawyer and they initiated litigation.
Wessling filed a lawsuit seeking damages from 3 defendants. These were Sandra Thomas who drove the car that hit him, Santa Cruz County, which was responsible for street maintenance, and the Pacific Bell Telephone Company which owned the manhole cover.
The Verdict on the Bicycle Accident
The plaintiff maintained that the 3 defendants were all in some way liable for the accident. Thomas was negligent because she drove too closely to the bike lane when she passed Wessling. Santa Cruz County as the owner of the road failed to maintain the bike lane properly, which the plaintiff allege it failed to do. Pacific Bell as also considered negligent because they failed to keep the manhole cover level with the road.
Thomas argued in turn that she was unable to avoid the collision as it was Wessling who hit her car while she was driving in the middle of her traffic lane. Santa Cruz countered with the argument that the remainder of the bike lane was safe. Pacific Bell admitted its failure to maintain the manhole cover properly, but they also maintained that their negligence was not the most substantial factor in the accident.
The Santa Cruz County and Thomas were both found not liable for the accident. The jury issued a verdict against Pacific Bell, placing their at fault percentage at 75%. Wessling was considered 25% at fault. Pacific Bell did not appeal the ruling when they agreed to a $4 million settlement with Wessling.
If you suffer a bike accident on the road due to a road condition such as a pothole or manhole cover, an experienced personal injury lawyer can help get the damages you need from the liable parties, so that you can get financial assistance to help cover your lost wages and medical expenses.