The city of Duluth will pay $125,000 to settle a lawsuit filed on behalf of a 25-year-old woman who was injured in a bicycle accident four years ago. On Sept. 23, 2009, Cassandra Olson, a Minnesota Duluth student, was riding near the intersection of 15th Avenue East and Fifth Street when she was thrown from her bicycle.
The city had recently resurfaced 15th Avenue East, but workers had failed to level a manhole. City Attorney Gunnar Johnson explained that Olson's bicycle struck the recessed manhole cover and jolted to a stop. She was riding at night without a light and did not recognize the hazard until it was too late. Olson was thrown over the handlebars of her bicycle and struck her head. She was not wearing a helmet at the time.
In turn, Olson sued the city for negligence.
After studying the case and considering the city's potential liability, the city attorney's office negotiated a prospective settlement, which was unanimously approved by the Duluth City Council Monday night.
"These are always difficult cases, but we believe the number before you is fair," Johnson told the council as he discussed the proposed settlement last Thursday.
Olson was represented by a Twin Cities personal injury attorney, Rich Ruohonen, who said his client still suffers from headaches and occasional bouts of dizziness as a result of the head injury she sustained. But he said Olson's condition is much improved. He explained that Olson has been able to regain her ability to focus and no longer suffers from the severe sense of vertigo that initially plagued her after the accident.
Deputy City Attorney Alison Lutterman represented the city in the negotiations, and said it was difficult to predict how the case would have played out before a jury.
"We were looking at a case where both sides ran a significant risk of losing, because there was plenty of potential liability to go around," Lutterman said.
Ruohonen said the depression Olson hit was so deep that when a soda can was set on the manhole cover, only the top one-third of it remained above grade in a photograph introduced as evidence in the case.
The settlement says "the payment is not to be construed as an admission of liability on the part of the city of Duluth, its agents or employees."
Following the incident, the city sent out a memo to staff, reminding them of the importance of making sure manholes are leveled whenever streets are resurfaced, according to David Montgomery, Duluth's chief administrative officer.