AC Transit Settles Lawsuit with Injured Oakland Bicyclist for $2.5 Million
In October 2015, the Board of Directors for Alameda Contra Costa Transit District (AC Transit) reported that the District has approved payment of $2.5 million to settle a lawsuit filed by an Oakland bicyclist who was proudly represented by the Zinn Law Firm. On July 17, 2012, our client was riding her bicycle home along San Pablo Avenue in Emeryville when she was struck by a left-turning AC Transit bus at high speed, sustaining severe facial fractures, lacerations and other injuries that put her in Highland Hospital’s ICU in a medically-induced coma for 12 days. Her Highland surgeons were able to piece her jaw, skull and orbital bones back together with titanium plates and screws. The impact to her face and head also caused a mild traumatic brain injury from which she continues to recover successfully. The collision and settlement was the lead story on CBS Channel 5 News when the settlement was announced, and it was covered extensively in several San Francisco Bay Area newspapers.
On the evening of the collision, our client, an experienced cyclist, was riding her bicycle southbound on San Pablo Avenue on the way back to her West Oakland home. On the way, she encountered an AC Transit bus stopped in the right lane at 45th Street on a green light in Emeryville. She did not know what to make of the stopped bus at a green light, so she initially came to a stop behind the bus and then began pushing her bike slowly along the right side of the bus toward the intersection. As she was alongside the bus she became worried that if the bus was turning right, it would pin her against the sidewalk. She decided to start peddling in order to get away from the bus, entering the intersection on a green light. However, as she emerged from behind the stopped bus, she was struck in the head by the windshield of another AC Transit bus that was completing a left turn from northbound San Pablo onto 45th Street at excessive speed.
The driver who struck our client was at the end of her shift, and was driving with an empty bus back to the AC Transit yard located on 45th street, just a few hundred feet from where the collision occurred. A video camera with a GPS system mounted on the bus showed that Ms. Jackson entered the turn at almost 20 miles per hour, failing to slow down to ensure the intersection was clear and that no pedestrians or bicyclists were entering the intersection. AC Transit’s own Operator’s Manual advises drivers to take left turns at no more than 5 miles per hour.
In her lawsuit, we contended that because of the bus driver’s excessive speed while approaching and making the left turn, she was unable to react in time as our client entered the intersection on the green light from behind the stopped bus which was positioned in the opposite direction. The windshield of the AC Transit bus collided directly with our client’s face, throwing her from her bike onto the sidewalk and cracking the windshield. (Our client was not wearing a helmet, although medical experts in the case believed a helmet would not have reduced her injuries, since the primary blow was directly to her face and would not have been protected by a helmet.)
AC Transit terminated the driver shortly after the incident due to her excessive speed and her failure to exercise proper defensive driving skills in the turn, as well as the role she played in causing the collision and its severity.The AC Transit Driver’s Prior Record of Dangerous Driving
As the case unfolded, the attorneys from the Zinn Law Firm learned that six weeks prior to our client’s accident, on June 4, 2012, the same AC Transit driver had run a red light and took another left turn at almost 20 miles per hour onto San Pablo Avenue, causing an elderly passenger to roll out of her seat and on to the coach floor. Surveillance video on the bus showed that at the time, the driver was carrying on a social conversation with another AC Transit driver who was riding on the bus off-duty. Although this operator received a brief letter from the AC Transit accident investigation unit stating she had committed a “preventable accident”, there were no other consequences from taking the dangerous turn, and the driver received no additional training or counseling from her managers. Instead, she was allowed back out on the road the next day. The June 4, 2012 red-light running incident that was uncovered by the Zinn Law Firm during discovery in the our case was featured in a December 22, 2016 expose by NBC Bay Area News on AC Transit drivers habitually running red lights in the East Bay.
During his deposition, the head of AC Transit’s Accident Investigation Unit conceded that one of the reasons the driver that ran over our client did not receive more discipline for the incident was that she failed to file an accident report - which is in further violation of AC Transit’s policies - and that the elderly passenger was not seriously hurt.
After a long period of recovery, and the continued effort of working through the subtle effects of a mild brain injury, our client is back on her bicycle, back to her work, and gradually putting her life and her body back together. She expresses immense gratitude for the skill of the trauma surgeons at Highland who were able to piece the fractured bones of her face and jaw back together. In addition to sharing concerns about how AC Transit deals with dangerous drivers and roadway situations, the other main lesson she hopes is learned from her ordeal is the importance of continuing to develop safer ways for bicyclists, cars and buses to share our roads.
For press coverage of this event, please see:
Please keep reading for more information on other significant AC Transit settlements related to this case and Mr. Zinn's complete statement to the press regarding this case.