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San Diego cyclist paralyzed in 2014 crash to get $24-million payout from city

Juan Carlos Vinolo rides an arm-powered cycle.
Juan Carlos Vinolo, who was paralyzed following a collision with a car while riding his bicycle in 2014, rides his arm-powered cycle near his La Jolla home in 2015.
(Hayne Palmour IV / For the San Diego Union-Tribune)

San Diego has agreed to a nearly $24-million settlement in a lawsuit with a cyclist paralyzed seven years ago when a car driven by an intoxicated driver collided with him on a blind turn.

The City Council unanimously approved the $23.75-million payout to Juan Carlos Vinolo in a session closed to the public in September. The council is scheduled to finalize the deal in open session on Tuesday.

The driver of the car was convicted of driving under the influence of methamphetamine and is serving a 19-year prison sentence. But Vinolo filed a lawsuit in 2016 contending the city also deserved part of the blame.

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His suit says that blind corners on the mostly oval-shaped, one-way road on Fiesta Island — a large peninsular park inside Mission Bay — were made more dangerous by overgrown bushes and high berms that city officials knew were problematic but never addressed.

“The city created, fostered and maintained Fiesta Island in such a manner to exponentially increase the risk of serious injury to cyclists that use the Fiesta Island Road,” the lawsuit says.

The suit says evidence the city was negligent regarding the road included a news conference one week after the crash where then-Mayor Kevin Faulconer touted upgrades to the road, including trimming bushes and installing new signs.

In 2019, a civil jury in state Superior Court assigned 27% of the liability for the crash to the city and 73% to the driver of the car, Theresa Lynn Owens.

At the time, lawyers for Vinolo said the city could owe him a settlement as large as $60 million.

Cyclist hit by wrong-way driver on Fiesta Island adjusts to paralysis

In the August 2014 crash, Vinolo suffered a dislocated left clavicle, eight broken ribs and a severed spine that left him paralyzed from the chest down. He was in intensive care for 33 days. He also spent 70 days in a rehabilitation facility after he was released from the hospital.

He lost one kidney and was on dialysis for almost three weeks while the other kidney recovered. He also suffered damage to his liver, lungs and spleen. Doctors say he will be in a wheelchair for the rest of his life, court documents show.

When the jury ruled against San Diego two years ago, City Atty. Mara Elliott said city officials couldn’t be expected to prevent an intoxicated driver from speeding on a one-way road in the wrong direction.

Before the collision, Vinolo was riding a high-end bicycle among a large group of cyclists who often train together for races on Fiesta Island.

Attorneys for the city also argued in court that cycling quickly in a tight formation is a “hazardous recreational activity,” and engaging in such activities can legally disqualify people from seeking damages.

Elliott declined Monday to provide any additional comment.

The payout is one of the largest to a single plaintiff in the city’s recent history.


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