Experienced bicyclist suffers TBI after crash. $9.18M. Los Angeles County.


City of LA is paid to sweep/clean Pacific Coast Highway, but debris left on road causes cyclist to swerve into traffic.

The Case

  • Case Name: Robert Jeffrey Watts v. City of Los Angeles; Caltrans
  • Court and Case Number: Los Angeles Superior Court / BC583821
  • Date of Verdict or Judgment: Thursday, September 20, 2018
  • Date Action was Filed: Thursday, February 25, 2016
  • Type of Case: Bicycle Accident, Dangerous Condition Public Property
  • Judge or Arbitrator(s): Hon. Mark A. Borenstein
  • Plaintiffs:
    Robert Jeffrey Watts, 58, business owner.
  • Defendants:
    City of Los Angeles; Caltrans
  • Type of Result: Jury Verdict

The Result

  • Gross Verdict or Award: $9,180,000
  • Settlement Amount: Caltrans settled for $999,999.00 before trial.
  • Contributory/Comparative Negligence: The jury found the city 60% liable and Caltrans 40% liable. The jury found plaintiff to be 0% at fault for the incident.
  • Economic Damages:

    Past medical expenses: $199,075

    Future medical expenses: $2,173,703

    Past lost earnings: $1,041,763

    Future lost earnings: $1,704,149

  • Non-Economic Damages:

    Past: $2,600,000

    Future: $1,400,000

The Attorneys

  • Attorney for the Plaintiff:

    Abir Cohen Treyzon Salo, LLP by Boris Treyzon, Federico C. Sayre and Katrina N. Yu, Los Angeles.

  • Attorney for the Defendant:

    Office of the City Attorney by John Wright and Richard Loomis, Los Angeles.

The Experts

  • Plaintiff’s Medical Expert(s):

    Brian King, M.D., neuroradiology, Santa Monica.

    Hyman Gross, M.D., neurology, Santa Monica.

    Christopher Stephenson, physiatry.

    Steven Rapaski, Ph.D., neuropsychology, Sacramento.

    Alfredo Sadun, M.D., Ph.D., ophthalmology, Pasadena.

  • Defendant's Medical Expert(s):

    Arthur P. Kowell, M.D., neurology. 

  • Plaintiff's Technical Expert(s):

    Roman Beck, bicycle safety, San Diego.

    James Todd, Ph.D., human factors, Los Angeles.

    Ed Ruzak, traffic engineering, Fountain Valley.

    Steven Helfrich, geology.

    Richard Andersen, vocational rehabilitation, Westminster.

    Peter Formuzis, economics, Santa Ana.

    Khyber Zaffarkhan, life care planning, Newport Beach.

  • Defendant's Technical Expert(s):

    Henricus “Harm” P. Jansen, bicycle safety

    Stephen Blewett, P.E., accident reconstruction/human factors, Altadena.

Facts and Background

  • Facts and Background:

    On July 8, 2014 plaintiff was riding his bicycle northbound on Pacific Coast Highway roughly 180 feet south of Porto Marina Way in Los Angeles when he was forced to ride onto the main roadway to avoid debris that had deposited onto the shoulder of the roadway due to years of unkept maintenance from a landslide. When he attempted to maneuver around the debris, plaintiff was struck by the side mirror of a truck, lost his balance on the bike and hit the back of his head on the toe of the landslide.

    As a result of the crash, plaintiff sustained serious bodily injuries including a traumatic brain injury, and emotional distress. Plaintiff was an experienced bicyclist who rode to his office in Culver City for years to keep in shape. He ran a successful freelance camera company and was left unable to work after this incident. The injury to plaintiff’s frontal lobe has left him unable to remember the week that preceded or the month that followed the crash. He has sensitivity to light, short-term memory problems and no sense of smell.

  • Plaintiff's Contentions:

    That the City of Los Angeles negligently, carelessly and unlawfully maintained, cleaned, controlled  and supervised a portion of the road and allowed it to be in disrepair to such an extent as to cause plaintiff to force his bicycle around the debris.

    That plaintiff was harmed by a dangerous condition of property maintained by the City of Los Angeles. That defendant City of Los Angeles controlled the property at the time of the incident and had the power to prevent, fix, or guard against the dangerous condition. 

  • Defendant's Contentions:

    Caltrans, which owns the highway, had hired Los Angeles to sweep the pavement at least once a month and keep it free of debris. The city denied liability. At trial, two city street sweepers testified that at the Tramonto slide, they "would simply swing around … and ignore it,” rather than remove the sand, gravel and rocks from the roadway.

Injuries and Other Damages

  • Physical Injuries claimed by Plaintiff:

    Serious bodily injuries, including a traumatic brain injury and emotional distress.

Demands and Offers

  • Plaintiff Final Demand before Trial: $1,750,000
  • Plaintiff Demand during Trial: During deliberation: $5,000,000.
  • Defendant Final Offer before Trial: In mediation: $50,000, then $1,000,000.
  • Defendant Offer during Trial: All offers withdrawn.