L.A. to pay $7.5 million to settle suit from bicyclist who was left a quadriplegic after crash

Los Angeles will pay $7.5 million to settle a lawsuit filed by a severely injured bicyclist, the latest in a string of costly payouts for gruesome crashes on its roads.

The City Council voted Wednesday to approve the payout and end the legal dispute with William Yao, who sued the city after a devastating crash three years ago in Porter Ranch.

Yao was riding south in a bike lane on Reseda Boulevard when the front tire hit a patch of pavement that had been lifted four inches by a tree root, throwing him from his bicycle and onto the pavement, according to his lawsuit. His attorney, David Roark, said Yao was wearing a helmet, but that the severe impact nonetheless left him a quadriplegic.

Roark said that before the crash, the city had gotten repeated complaints about the dangerous condition of the road but had failed to fix it.

The city attorney’s office declined to comment on the settlement Wednesday. A confidential report prepared for council members by city lawyers, obtained by The Times, said that the Bureau of Street Services had inspected the road and noted that it needed to be repaired, but deemed it a “non-emergency.”

The roadway was also inspected by the city immediately before the accident, in preparation for cutting into the street for utilities, but “no inspector reported the substandard bike lane,” the report said.

The report also noted that when the bike lane was put into place, the road surface did not comply with government standards for installing bike lanes: The L.A. Department of Transportation “merely placed the painted white lines, traffic signs and surface arrow markers without examining or repairing the road surface,” according to the report.

Though Roark thought the city might be liable for a much higher amount, “the family felt that accepting the settlement offer without the ordeal and uncertainty of a trial was the wiser decision in order to provide Mr. Yao with financial stability for the rest of his life,” the attorney said.

His life “has been irrevocably impacted by this incident,” Roark said in a written statement. “Mr. Yao would rather have the use of his arms and legs again rather than any amount of money.”

Los Angeles faces dozens of lawsuits annually over bicycle crashes on its roads. At least 17 have been filed this year, according to city records.

But a series of multimillion-dollar settlements — each one linked to other grisly incidents — has drawn fresh attention to the dangers of its streets.

Last month, the city agreed to pay $6.5 million to end a lawsuit from another bicyclist who was left with broken bones and a brain injury after his bicycle hit a pothole on Valley Vista Boulevard, according to his suit.

And in the spring, Los Angeles said it would spend $4.5 million in settle the case of Edgardo Gabat, 56, who died after hitting uneven pavement and being thrown from his bicycle in Eagle Rock.

City officials say they are working to address the problem: L.A. has budgeted nearly $25 million this year to reconstruct its very worst streets, according to staffers for Mayor Eric Garcetti. Such streets have historically been neglected because it was too costly to fix them without allowing other streets to slip further into disrepair.

In addition, mayoral officials said that the Bureau of Street Services has surveyed its entire network of marked bike lanes and started some of the needed repairs.

"This was a horrific incident and we are committed to making our streets safer,” L.A. Department of Transportation spokeswoman Patricia Restrepo said in a statement Wednesday. “Our current practice is to install bike lanes only on road surfaces that are in good condition.”

Restrepo added that the agency was coordinating with the Bureau of Street Services to repair roads before bike lanes are installed, as well as to inspect and fix existing bike lanes.

City lawmakers also proposed new steps meant to protect bicyclists: City Councilman Mitch Englander introduced a proposal Wednesday to stop installing any new bike lanes on streets that are rated lower than an “A” — and close or remove any bike lanes that fall below that level. Councilman Paul Krekorian also introduced a string of new proposals aimed at making sure the city better monitors and addresses its most dangerous streets.

For instance, Krekorian proposed that the Vision Zero program, which sets a goal of eliminating traffic deaths in the city, “prioritize projects that are demonstrably likely to produce the greatest reductions of injuries and fatalities.” He declined to comment specifically on the settlement with Yao, but said he hoped to spur new action at City Hall.

“I have felt a great sense of urgency to address the safety risks that are presented when we don’t adequately maintain our streets,” Krekorian said Wednesday.

emily.alpert@latimes.com

Twitter: @LATimesEmily


UPDATES:

6:15 p.m.: This article was updated with a response from the city Department of Transportation.

This article was originally published at 12:45 p.m.

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