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Joggers paralyzed in PCH accident get $49 million

The settlement by Dana Point is one of the largest in O.C. history.

November 28, 2007|David Reyes | Times Staff Writer

Two women left permanently disabled after being struck by a car while jogging along Pacific Coast Highway reached a $49-million settlement Tuesday with the city of Dana Point.

The lawsuit brought by Carol Daniel, 42, and Stacy Neria, 35, both mothers of three who live in San Clemente, was scheduled to go to trial Tuesday. Instead, it ended with one of the largest settlements in Orange County history.

The women were hit April 8, 2006, by William Todd Bradshaw, who fled the scene. Bradshaw, who had three previous drunk driving convictions, was arrested several days later, convicted and sentenced to four years in prison.

Daniel and Neria were jogging with two other women in the bicycle lane on the northbound side of PCH when they were struck.

Daniel was thrown about 60 feet, breaking her neck and pelvis and nearly severing one of her legs. Neria suffered a fractured skull, broken legs and a broken pelvis, nose and cheek. Both women are now quadriplegics. The other two women were not injured.

"It's a bittersweet result for both women and their families," said Daniel J. Callahan, the women's attorney. "They're pleased that they're going to have the ability to take care of themselves into the future. But their lives were forever changed."

The lawsuit alleged that the road was unsafe because the bike lane was too wide -- possibly causing drivers to mistake it for another lane -- and improperly marked. The city has since added concrete barriers protecting joggers and bicyclists.

The city's insurer, the California Joint Powers Insurance Authority, oversaw the settlement discussions, Dana Point officials said. The settlement will be paid in a lump sum from four policies, Callahan said.

Mark P. Robinson Jr., a prominent tort lawyer in Orange County, said there have been many personal injury cases settled in the $20-million range in recent years. "It certainly ranks as one of the top settlements in the county," he said.

Robinson is perhaps best known for helping to win a $127-million verdict for a boy badly burned when the gas tank of the Ford Pinto he was riding in exploded in 1978.

In Orange County, the biggest single settlement is probably the $420 million that Merrill Lynch & Co. agreed to pay in 1998 for its role in the county's 1994 bankruptcy.

According to Dana Point officials, the settlement was $49 million. Callahan said the figure was closer to $50 million.

City Atty. A. Patrick Munoz said the settlement was a compromise for the city, which had maintained that its roads were safe. "Our view is the real wrongdoer is Mr. Bradshaw," he said. "We only hope the money will help these ladies with their lifelong needs."

Munoz said the agreement should not be construed as an admission of fault by the city, but rather is being offered in the hopes the money "will aid in a better quality of life for both women and their families."

Three months after the women were struck, the City Council approved spending $350,000 to install a wall between car traffic and bicyclists and joggers along that section of road between Camino Capistrano and Palisades Drive. The city faces two other lawsuits filed by the families of bikers killed along the same stretch of PCH later in 2006.

During discovery, Callahan found that the city's master plan for bike lanes stated that no lane shall be more than 8 feet wide.

"Except this orphan stretch of roadway . . . varied from 9 to 12 feet," he said. "And it wasn't marked as a bike lane. We had an oversized bike lane, the same width as a travel lane with no signs. This was an accident waiting to happen."

Callahan said the city had a report that people were inadvertently driving in the bike lanes in 2002 in a previous case he handled. An expert at that time testified the lanes were unsafe but the city failed to do anything, according to depositions of public works officials in the Neria and Daniel case, he said.

"All they had to do was get a can of paint and stencil little bike figures in the bike lane and drivers would have known there was a bike lane," Callahan said.

City officials could not be reached late Tuesday to address Callahan's contentions about the previous case.

"It's our understanding that there never was a dangerous condition out there," Munoz said. "We created a bike lane that goes north and south and is protected by K-rails."

Dana Point Mayor Diane Harkey said the settlement will "help provide a better quality of life for the two survivors."

"This was a really sad accident," she said. "It upset two families and it's just a shame that the guy driving was a criminal," referring to Bradshaw's three previous drunk driving convictions.

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david.reyes@latimes.com

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