ENCINITAS — The City of Encinitas has agreed to pay $11 million to settle a claim with Roberta Walker, the former executive director of Cardiff 101 Main Street who filed a lawsuit against the city after she was struck by a pickup truck while cycling in Leucadia, according to the plaintiffs’ attorney Ed Susolik.
Just before sunrise on December 8, 2018, Walker, a longtime cycling advocate, was riding her bicycle in a “sharrow” lane on North Coast Highway 101 when she was hit from behind by a truck headed southbound near Phoebe Street intersection in front of the Leucadia Post Office.
Susolik, attorney at Santa Ana-based law firm Callahan & Blaine, claimed the sharrow, or shared bicycle lane, constituted a dangerous condition of public property, causing the accident, according to a written statement provided to The Coast News.
Despite wearing her helmet, Walker was critically injured and briefly unconscious when the impact of the collision threw her a significant distance, as first reported by The Coast News.
According to court documents and reports from close friends, Walker suffered multiple injuries — traumatic brain injury, fractured skull, spinal and facial fractures, nine broken ribs, a broken clavicle and sacrum, subdural hematoma and impaired mobility and cognition — and was placed into a medically-induced coma.
“Ms. Walker suffered catastrophic injuries…,” Susolik said. “Tragically, she will be suffering from the impact of those injuries for the rest of her life. The settlement will allow Ms. Walker to obtain the long-term care she will require to live comfortably with the care she needs.”
Walker underwent several emergency surgeries in the trauma center at Scripps Memorial Hospital La Jolla and later returned to the hospital for another operation to replace a missing portion of her skull that had been previously removed.
Prior to the accident, Walker, previously a policy advisor to former County Supervisor Dave Roberts, had been an outspoken supporter of the city’s proposed Leucadia Streetscape project, citing much-needed improvements to a stretch of Coast Highway 101 notorious for being unsafe for cyclist and pedestrians.
Just days after the accident, bicycle-safety advocates and friends of Walker attended an Encinitas City Council meeting, urging city officials to take immediate action and to expedite the Streetscape project and roadway upgrades.
The long-awaited project began preliminary construction activities last month and features traffic calming measures, buffered bike lanes, raised medians, roundabouts and enhanced crosswalks.
“One profound irony of this accident is that Ms. Walker herself had advocated for a dedicated bike lane in multiple City Council meetings,” Susolik said.
Hundreds of cyclists, residents and local leaders attended a “Ride for Roberta” event hosted by Councilwoman Kellie Shay Hinze, then-executive director of Leucadia 101 Main Street, a sister organization of Cardiff 101.
“I was not involved in the details of Walker’s suit against the city due to my close friendship with Roberta but I am relieved to learn there is closure to the litigation,” Hinze wrote in a message to The Coast News. “As always, safe streets for all who drive, bike, roll, walk and run on them is a top goal of mine as a Councilmember.”
Since the accident, more than 1,500 people contributed donations totaling $129,108 to help with Walker’s rehabilitation and transition from the hospital, according to a GoFundMe page organized by Blair McKinney.
According to Susolik, Walker continues to work daily with her doctors and family and her medical condition has improved significantly.
“Ms. Walker hopes that this settlement will send a message to all cities and counties in California to maintain their bike lanes with the utmost regard for the safety of bicyclists so that this type of accident resulting from dangerous roadways never happens again.”