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Man Who Fell Off Bike on Western Avenue Suing City

Attorneys for Mill Valley resident say Petaluma's inability to maintain its streets caused a man to break his ribs and clavicle, damages from which he is still recovering a year after the accident.

A man who fell off his bicycle during a race through Petaluma last August is suing the city and says that the poor condition of the road is directly responsible for his injuries.

Christopher Minick, a 60-year-old Mill Valley resident, was participating in the Holstein Hundred Charity Bike Ride when he hit a pothole on Western Avenue, just west of Hill Drive and fell of his bike.

The crash resulted in a broken clavicle, six broken ribs, a broken wrist and required surgery and a six day hospital stay. In fact, Minick is still undergoing treatment a year after the fall, said his attorney, Chris Dolan.

“Mr. Minick is an experienced cyclist who was wearing a helmet at the time of the accident,” Dolan said. “Despite that he has injuries that will plague him for the rest of his life, including bleeding of the brain...The city has an obligation to provide roads that are safe for the public.”

Since the accident, the Department of Public Works has patched up the pothole and many others in the area.

The lawsuit was filed on June 28 at Sonoma County Superior Court and seeks unspecified damages that will likely total more than “six figures,” Dolan said.

The suit contends that the city “had the power to prevent, fix and guard against the dangerous condition” and that the potholes on the roadway “created a substantial and reasonably foreseeable risk of serious injury.”

Claims and lawsuits against the city for road conditions make up roughly a forth of all legal actions by residents, a number that increased by 70 percent between 2009 and 2010, according to Ron Blanquie, the city’s risk manager.

That’s due to deep budget cuts that have left virtually no money for road repairs within city limits.

“There is a general weakening of the city infrastructure, the ability to do maintenance, to make repairs and respond to conditions,” Blanquie said. “If we had the money to fix everything, we’d love to do that, especially from a risk management point of view. But there are limited resources.”

According to the Metropolitan Transportation commission Petaluma streets are among some of the worst in the Bay Area and received a failing grade in 2010. In the study, Petaluma roads received a score of 55 points, below Bay Area's average of 66 out of 100. 

Do you think the city of Petaluma should pay cyclists and pedestrians who are injured while walking or cycling on city streets? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

SP July 31, 2012 at 05:28 AM
The only way to get the attention of the city and make it a true priority is through litigation...and I despise litigation. If you would like to see a more recent half hearted effort demonstrated by City wisdom, come take a drive on Magnolia near the cemetery. Beautiful new sidewalk and then they paved 1/4 of the road to make it even more uneven and left all of the potholes. It looks like the sidewalk was funded by some type of grant or state program but the road is now even worse We are hopeful, yet doubtful, that they may pave the other 3/4 for the few hundred yard and improve safety...it is just a matter of time before there is a bad accident on that stretch.
John Davis July 31, 2012 at 06:11 AM
He fell off of his bike in front of my house. He was going too fast down the hill. If he had been riding at a safer speed this accident probably would not have happened. Hundreds of riders have ridden the same street and not crashed, but because this guy did he is going to blame the city of Petaluma. Bike racing is a dangerous sport. He assumed risk by participating. He doesn't even remember what happened because he hit his head. The city should charge him to recover the cost of the police and fire department personnel who responded and carted him off to the hospital.
SP July 31, 2012 at 01:32 PM
I don't disagree, but what about when it is a kid that doesn't yet know better? I am an athletic guy and rolled my ankle in a pot hole on Keller. I felt like a dummy but Petaluma really does need to work on the streets. The streets shape shift after each rain. If we can get $650,000 grant for a DUI Task Force, I would hope we could fix the pot holes - there isn't anything cute about them.
James Vogel July 31, 2012 at 02:33 PM
Leave it to people from Marin to sue for their own stupidity.
JACQUI KING July 31, 2012 at 03:55 PM
And yet Petaluma continues to turn away 100's of dollars to allow a small Flea Market to take place in Walnut Park. The Flea Market costs the City nothing and brings money into the local economy. Those dollars could have fixed a few potholes.
bruce mallon July 31, 2012 at 04:02 PM
If one races a bike on a roadway it would be prudent to pre-examine the race track ahead of the race, no? Don't we ride at our own risk anyway? Maybe MR. Minick should have some type of insurance for racing on a public street. Petaluma needs to be proactive in street improvements if we want to host bike races. I notice many improved road segments in west Marin and Sonoma which have races on them. Perhaps using those may be smart to use in future races.
The Fool July 31, 2012 at 07:20 PM
I fell on my bike, possibly breaking a rib on a lip of uneven pavement near the gutter on Washington. I think that street is very dangerous for riding bikes and I avoid it when I can. However, the thought never even occurred to me to sue the city. Same for uneven sidewalks. At a certain point, deal with risk. I am not caveat emptor; I don't believe in tort reform or limiting people's ability to sue, especially when profit-making negligence is to blame. But suing a public entity for what could reasonably be termed operator error seems beyond the pale. This is especially the case in tight budgetary times. It does leave me with one question. And I will admit, any tragic news story often leads people back to their soapbox, so here's mine: will the total legal bills the City faces be reduced enough for taxpayers to finally agree to raise taxes? As much as people want to poke fun at the Marin Bike Rider, what of his family? This crap is, to some extent, preventable. But like the nationwide concerns of millions not being insured for health care, homeless dying on the street, overcrowded classrooms, etc., again, I will ask: when will we step up to the plate and pay for the services we demand? When will we assume the concept that we are, again, for better or worse, a community? To me, each pothole represents more of an abrogation of social contract--between one another--than budgetary malfeasance. Soapbox/political hijack concluded.
Ann Popovic July 31, 2012 at 07:35 PM
Ridiculous. I fell off my bike in Mill Valley 10 years ago; I still have a dislocated collarbone. Jeez, when the cops said, "Do you want to file a report", I LAUGHED! Of course not, I said. IT WAS MY DOING! Do you see people suing France for the cobblestones during the Tour? No. You do not. Because hey! It's a RACE. ON COBBLESTONES! In Petaluma, it's a race on OLD STREETS. Good grief. I'm sorry he's injured but you know what? Get a grip. The world is not responsible for the crap that happens. Sometimes, you just draw the short straw that day.
Connor Cook July 31, 2012 at 08:09 PM
Why doe's a low crime community like Petaluma receive a grant of 650,000 for work that falls within defined job duties of police. Too many police in this town giving nit-pick tickets to cyclists anyway. I ride a bike on the sidewalk slowly and I teach my sons they same way if the street is dangerous.Pedestrians have the right of way at all times.A ticket is $280.00, so it's no wonder the police nit-pick
Marshall West July 31, 2012 at 09:36 PM
Some people will sue for anything, no matter how lamebrained it is. This guy is hoping the city has deep pockets and is willing to give him a few bucks to make it go away; my sympathies for his injuries, but come on!
Dan Drummond July 31, 2012 at 11:52 PM
Let me offer a counterpoint to Ned. The problem of inadequate roads maintenance (or any other government service) is not to simply pass more taxes. Rather, the issue is what happened to the taxes already paid to pay for those services. Petaluma's annual employee pension costs have gone from $5 million in 2004 to $14 million currently. Yet notwithstanding this escalation in pension costs, the city council just approved two-year contract extensions for both the police and fire departments that preserve the status quo. Police officers and firefighters for the next two years will continue to enjoy the same levels of compensation (including post-employment health and pension benefits) while doing nothing to help reign in their spiraling pension costs. And it gets worse. Those contracts do include so-called "two-tier" provisions, which mean that our children and grandchildren who will fill these second-tier slots will be paid substantially less to do so in order that the current group of officers and firefighters may continue to enjoy compensation and post-employment benefits at the same levels that got us into this mess. So until we get serious about pension reform, and until politicians exercise their authority for the benefit of the greater community at large rather than special interest groups like the police and fire unions to whom they owe their election, expect more stories like this one about the injured bicyclist.
Martin Usetolivethere August 01, 2012 at 01:32 AM
Perhaps if you all had a tax base, you could afford to fix a few potholes.
Patrick M. August 01, 2012 at 02:05 AM
Can't quite figure out Dan Drummond's persistent bashing of public safety is just ignorant or pandering to popular opinion. The police come out against a tax increase and it must be some kind of conspiracy. I would think an anti-tax crusader might appreciate this. Either way, it has little to do with potholes so I will just chalk it up to an ill informed crusader. I would prefer to look at the Council that stifles business, gave away hundreds of thousands of redevelopment money (those are taxes Dan), and prefers bicycle lane grants and round about grants rather than trying to fix our streets. You can envy retirements all you want, but if you took away all that money the Council would find some pet projects to spend it on pretty quick and it is not likely to be our streets.
David Devoto August 01, 2012 at 02:55 PM
I do not know if the city sponsored the race; the sponsor would have responsibility for insuring the safety of the ride, I would assume. Then again, you always look for deep pockets. Many good points were made about city spending, I do not go to enough meetings to Comment. I do believe public pensions are an upcoming crash just waiting.
Troy August 03, 2012 at 06:55 PM
Road Conditions There are a lot of roads that need to be replaced, and not just filling in the pot holes. Roads not only have pot holes, but there are sink holes, cracks and much more; and where they are just doing pot holes, roofing tar is being used to feel in the pot holes – and after a while of vehicles driving over the roofing tar, a lump starts to shape, and not only is it bad for autos, it is danger to a cyclist, or someone running or walking. Many roads need to be shared by autos, as well as cyclist, and pedestrians, I have even seen pedestrians with children, pets and much more on the roads. When it comes to sharing the road autos are more likely to be rude to Cyclist and pedestrians. I do a lot of cycling and I follow the rules of the road, though since 2006, I have been hit by autos twice, and the first time I was hit by an auto was a hit and run, and law did nothing, the second time I was hit by an auto the driver stopped and worked with me and my fellow cyclist. I was even in an accident lately, when one cyclist went down and caused a chain reaction, and there have been over accidents caused by pot holes, rocks, rail road crossings, and so many things that are out on the roads – mostly on the side on the road that cyclist use to ride on and be away from autos, and all we have is a white line or not to stay to the side of the road where there is pavement to ride on, Part 1
Troy August 03, 2012 at 06:56 PM
other wise we are sharing the roads with autos. Weather I am in my vehicle, walking, or on my bicycle – I am always watching out for things in the road, as well as others that drive crazy or just do what they want thinking they own the road. I was even at a stop light waiting for the green light and there was van behind me, and as I started to go across the intersection, the van passed me and made a right turn into a drive way right in front of me without using its blinker, so I am always watching out for anything that may happen. Part 2
The Happy Medium August 03, 2012 at 07:59 PM
He is wrong! I'm tired of this putting on others what they ought to be responsible for themselves. What audacity suing a city for ones own actions especially during tough times. Anyone in their right mind ought to know what goes with the territory they choose to ride. If you are in a kayak race and hit a rock who do you sue? He sues just because he can and it's time to close that loophole. Who can write a new law that says every city is not responsible for clumsy people who should have their eyes checked and are obviously risk takers! I'm outraged that people sue cities for their own errors. I've had plenty of spills... I blame only myself and that I knew fully well it could be dangerous. Since we don't live in a socialist society why is it OK for an individual to sue the whole for what is clearly result their own actions? I'm ALL FOR stopping this ridiculous ability of an individual to sue a city just for tripping on a crack in a sidewalk or riding a bike over a pot hole. There ought not be any question about it at all. It's the responsibility of each one of us. How dare this man, especially during tough times, and having to pay for his whatever... only makes less money to fix and repair problems for everyone else.
The Happy Medium August 03, 2012 at 08:10 PM
I agree with you Marshall. There will always be pot holes no matter how well streets are maintained. There will always be people who defer what is their own responsibility on to others. There seems to be a trend: rather than seeing that the U.S. has been at war overtly or covertly for decades... where everyone used to save rubber and scrap metal... turn lights out... save butter... have rationed everything... rather than pull in the belt on the waist a notch, they push for more. Rather than stop over development and increasing a town to 90,000 from the 30,000 we were in the 70's to the 60,000 it is today... developers push for more and it beats the hell out of our roads and budgets for them. Then all of a sudden people think it's their right to demand more and more for filling potholes... when they have not examined the cause. It's pretty lame of people to BE ABLE to sue a city for negligence when they have such microscopic vision. Look... if you read our Central Bank By-laws written by Nelson Aldrich and formed by JP Morgan, Warburg, etc. on Jeckyl Island... it's not long.... it says that we the people are liable for the investments made by owners of banks if they go bad. It says that our currency is LOANED to us with interest. It says that our taxes deposited in the Federal Reserves, can be used by those who own that bank (it's a privately owned institution not public or government). Says WE are responsible for their errors. Why not for potholes, and not the city?
The Happy Medium August 03, 2012 at 08:19 PM
What happened to the taxes is they are not commensurate with developers building malls, making deliveries, people building houses moving her to increase Petaluma from 30,000 in the 70's to 60,000 today and pushing for 90,000! People wanted Friedman's saying it will increase local business. I called Friedmans and only 10% of their merchandise is made in the U.S.A. How does that increase Local Biz. People were FOOLED by "family owned biz". Maybe one way to help feed the coffers of demand isn't to increase a tax, but call it a tithe, and every biz pays a % to local economy for every single item made offshore, and bill the manufacturer or distributor of such goods. How does THAT affect the rest of the economy? Instead of taxing the people, tax those who distribute foreign made for every bit... put it directly in to infrastructure. It's so stupid to fill pockets of high priced developers, call that making jobs for people when it is short-lived and benefits only some. If these malls are going to divert the natural flow of water and erode soils, create more wear and tear, invite more people... then they must pay for the privilege of their invasion and seduction of the ignorant who are clueless what they do. As for potholes, people ought to be responsible for their actions. There are ALWAYS going to be potholes no matter how well a city maintains roads and there are always going to be risk-takers who blame others for their actions.
The Happy Medium August 03, 2012 at 08:21 PM
If I were going to sue a city for some pot hole I ran in to... I would sue the city, have them come up with the money and then insist they put it back in to fixing roads. I fail to see how one person gets away with putting it on others for their own risk-taking and what goes with the territory. He sues the city because he can... and that loophole ought to be just game over.
Troy August 03, 2012 at 10:20 PM
Law Siuts, don't do anything but cost us more. We pay so much in taxes and yet there is no money to take care of the road, as well as take care of other things through out the cities, counties, and states. The only money I see being used is for those that work for the tax payers to be paid. Besides all the taxes we pay, where does the taxes from the gas pump go? Alot of money from Northern California, goes to Southern California, we need to keep the money in our area for things that need to be done. To sue someone for money does nothing but put things on hold, I had an accident on my bike back in the 90's due to a rain bur that I could not see that was between the road and a bike path; I had a talk with the police and fire department and the next day there was a road repair painting the rain bur white so it can be seen, and from that I have seen more rain bur's get painted.

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