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Law firm says settlement is reached in cyclist’s death, but Newport says nothing is final

A lawsuit filed by former Olympic cyclist Paul Deem against the city of Newport Beach after his wife, Debra, was struck and killed by a van while bicycling along East Coast Highway in August 2013 could be nearing a conclusion, according to the law firm representing Deem.

AgnewBrusavich, a Torrance-based personal-injury law firm, said Monday that the city had agreed to pay $225,000 and the California Department of Transportation, which also was named in the suit, had agreed to pay $450,000 to settle the complaint.

According to the firm, both the city and Caltrans also pledged to fix the intersection of East Coast Highway and Newport Coast Drive, where Debra Deem, 58, was hit.

However, Newport Beach officials said Tuesday that the City Council has not yet authorized a settlement with Paul Deem. The council is expected to discuss the case in closed session Tuesday night but has not formally voted on any agreement, according to City Attorney Aaron Harp. He declined to comment further.

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Paul Deem, a Laguna Beach resident and owner of Cycle Werks bicycle stores in Costa Mesa and San Clemente, filed the lawsuit in September 2014, naming as defendants the city, Caltrans and Robert James Anderson, the then-84-year-old driver whose vehicle struck Debra Deem.

She reportedly was navigating a free right turn — a freeway-style ramp that allows vehicles turning right to proceed without slowing or stopping — when she was struck from behind by Anderson. Though Debra Deem was wearing a helmet, she died of severe brain injuries the day after the crash.

The Orange County district attorney’s office charged Anderson, an Irvine resident, with misdemeanor vehicular manslaughter. However, a jury deadlocked on the case in September 2014 and prosecutors dropped the charges.

Court papers indicate that Anderson and Paul Deem entered a good-faith agreement in September last year. The terms were not specified in the court papers.

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Deem’s lawsuit alleges that city and state authorities knew the intersection was dangerous for bicyclists but did nothing to fix it. Newport Beach has argued that Caltrans was responsible for the intersection.

Legal counsel for Caltrans did not respond to a phone call seeking comment Tuesday.

In 2009, the Newport Beach City Council established a Bike Safety Task Force to look into ways to make Newport roads safer for bicyclists.

The free right turn on northbound East Coast Highway at Newport Coast Drive was among 18 areas listed as needing safety improvements in a 2010 report compiled by the task force.

“Northbound cyclists wishing to continue traveling along PCH must move left as traffic accelerates onto Newport Coast,” the report states. “Likewise, Newport Coast traffic merging onto northbound Coast Highway complicates cyclists moving past the intersection.”

The task force suggested the city add signage prompting drivers to “yield to bikes” and add green bike lanes for cyclists continuing north on East Coast Highway.

“Unfortunately, the recommended changes were never made at this intersection, and it cost Debra her life,” Paul Deem’s attorney Bruce Brusavich said in a statement.


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