A bicyclist injured after hitting a pothole during a charity bike ride has won a more than $3 million verdict against Philadelphia and the event’s organizer, despite having initially signed a waiver.
The jury deliberating in Degliomini v. City of Philadelphia awarded plaintiff Anthony Degliomini and his wife, Karen Degliomini, nearly $3.19 million after an eight-day trial in Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas Judge Frederica Massiah-Jackson’s courtroom. The jury found 90 percent liability against Philadelphia and 10 percent liability against the event organizer, ESM Productions, and awarded more than $1.4 million in future lost wages and earning capacity.
The suit arose after Anthony Degliomini struck a sinkhole during the 20-mile Phillies Charities Bike Ride in 2015. As a result of the fall, Degliomini sustained multiple facial lacerations and spinal cord injuries that resulted in partial paralysis.
According to Villari, Lentz & Lynam attorney Thomas Lynam, who, along with Leonard Villari, tried the case on behalf of the plaintiffs, the fact that Degliomini signed a liability waiver before the race was a large dispute in the litigation, but, at trial, pictures of the sinkhole were persuasive for the jury.
“The picture of the sinkhole carried the day,” Lynam said. “The jury was of the opinion that the city needs to hold their streets department accountable.”
Degliomini’s pretrial memo said the event took place in May 2015, and the bike route went through South Philadelphia, as well as the Center City and Art Museum sections of Philadelphia. While riding in the 200 block of Pattison Avenue in South Philadelphia, Degliomini struck the sinkhole, which he contended had not been marked in any way.
J. Lucas Elrath, a bicycling expert for Degliomini, opined that the defendants “failed in almost every way imaginable in terms of event safety,” Degliomini’s pretrial memo said.
Degliomini, who was 53 at the time and working as a client relations manager, was knocked unconscious in the crash, and was taken by paramedics to Thomas Jefferson University Hospital. He underwent immediate surgery to stop the swelling in his spine, and also underwent a fusion procedure that included implanting screws and rods. He spent five days in the hospital before being transferred to a rehabilitation facility, where he remained for nearly three weeks.
Degliomini walks with a pronounced limp, and has post-traumatic stress disorder, his pretrial memo said.
Although the defendants largely did not contest the damages, they contended that Degliomini was liable for the accident because he passed the event’s official pace car, which participants had been told not to do. The defendants also contested whether he struck the sinkhole, since he had no recollection of the collision.
The defendants further contended that the waiver Degliomini signed relieved them of all liability.
Lynam said the plaintiffs presented two arguments regarding the waiver.
First, he said, the plaintiffs contended that the city could not waive its liability since, under the Home Rule Charter, it has a statutory duty to maintain the streets.
The plaintiffs also argued, according to Lynam, that, when it comes to waiving prior acts of negligence, those prior acts need to be specifically outlined in the waiver. Since the sinkhole had existed for at least nine months before the accident and had not been specified in the waiver, liability for the sinkhole had not been waived, Lynam contended.
The court, according to Lynam, ruled in favor of the Degliominis at the nonsuit stage.
After two hours of deliberations the jury awarded more than $1.4 million in lost wages, $1 million in noneconomic damages, more than $675,000 in medical expenses, and $100,000 to Karen Degliomini for loss of consortium.
Sheldon Kivell of the Philadelphia Law Department represented the city, and Lisa Apelian, legal staff for Zurich North America, represented ESM Productions.
Mike Dunn, a spokesman for the city, said it was still reviewing the verdict and had no further comment. Apelian did not return a message seeking comment.