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Bicyclist sues Albuquerque after hitting pothole

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — The city of Albuquerque’s 2000 bike plan will be a key piece of evidence in an upcoming civil trial in which a bicyclist who suffered serious injuries en route to work is alleging the city failed to perform adequate maintenance on city streets.

The city sought to exclude that and other evidence from trial, scheduled Jan. 12, saying the jury could confuse specifics of the bike plan with the “duty of ordinary care,” the legal standard at issue in the lawsuit.

Second District Judge Nancy Franchini said at a hearing Friday that she found the evidence to be relevant, so it may be presented by Charles Finley, the lawyer for cyclist Caroline Johnson.

Johnson, 49, a certified nurse assistant at the University of New Mexico Hospital, was on her way from her home to work at 5 a.m. on Jan. 28, 2011, in the right-hand lane of Candelaria near Quincy NE and wearing bright orange jacket with reflective stripes. Her bicycle was equipped with front and rear lights.

She has no recall of the crash, but court documents say the evidence will show she hit a pothole at the same time a car driven by Sharon Levin approached on Johnson’s left.

In the ensuing crash, Johnson was dragged under Levin’s car and so thoroughly trapped underneath that paramedics had to jack up the car to get her out. She had fractured ribs, neck and chest, as well as injuries to her head, brain, face and kidney that led to cognitive deficits.

Levin settled and is no longer part of the litigation.

A major issue for the jury will be whether the city had notice in the Comprehensive On-Street Bicycle Plan, adopted in November 2000 by the City Council and approved by then-Mayor Jim Baca, that the city maintained streets in a safe condition for the public.

Assistant City Attorney Kristin Dalton argued in written filings and in court Friday that the bike plan is a guide, not a set of rules, setting out goals of what the city hoped to achieve over the next 20 years.

“It doesn’t create a standard of care by which the city should be judged,” she argued.

Finley countered that the bike plan is necessary to show it had notice that street maintenance is a critical component to safety, reading a section of the plan that says, “Maintenance must be systematic, frequent and responsive.”

Finley said the city lacks a routine inspection plan and relies instead on reports from citizens calling the city 311 phone to report potholes and cracks, or from city workers in the field when they see something in need of a fix.

“What should be being done is preventative maintenance,” he said, meaning inspections on a regular basis. “The (bike) plan shows the city knew what it had to do, and we believe the evidence will show that it didn’t.”