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CITY LIABILITIES: Attorney Files Claim Against Town that Doesn't Exist

Carmel Pine Cone, March 18, 2005



By CHRIS COUNTS

THE TOWN of Carmel Valley may only exist in the hopes and dreams of a handful of incorporation proponents, but that hasn’t stopped a man injured in a bicycle accident from suing it.

Rick Blake, a scientist who works for the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, fell on San Benancio Road while participating in the Steinbeck Watershed Century, a bicycle tour and fundraiser for the Carmel River Watershed Conservancy. The Carmel River Watershed Council, the County of Monterey and the State of California were also named as defendants in the lawsuit.

Steven Weiner, an attorney in Walnut Creek representing Blake, said he was unaware there is no Town of Carmel Valley.

“We try to name anyone we can that has exposure [to liability],” said Weiner, who added that it’s too early too tell who ultimately bears responsibility for the section of road where Blake fell.

Bill West, event director and vice president of the conservancy, was puzzled by the inclusion of the council in the lawsuit.

“The ‘council’ is a just a group of people,” he said “The ‘conservancy’ is the actual financial organization.”

Clerical errors aside, the suit is asking for damages exceeding $25,000. The attorney described Blake’s injuries as “horrendous.”

“He had a collapsed lung, three broken ribs, a pinched nerve in his neck and abrasions on his head despite wearing a helmet,” he said. “He’s been hospitalized three times and he missed three months of work.”

Blake was participating in a 100-mile ride that utilized Carmel Valley Road, Los Laureles Grade, Highway 68, River Road and a variety of back roads as they traveled through “Steinbeck Country.” The event also featured 20, 40 and 60-mile rides which simply used Carmel Valley Road.

Weiner said Blake’s injuries were the result of poor road conditions.

“To put it mildly, the road was in horrendous condition,” he said. The lawsuit alleges the fall was due to a “road which was incorrectly paved, and negligently repaired and maintained” as well as “uneven, broken and cracked.”

Although Blake signed a waiver releasing the conservancy and Monterey County from liability in the event of such an accident, Weiner said he doesn’t believe the waiver will hold up in court because it didn’t disclose the conditions of the road.

“They put on the ride,” he said. “They knew the route. Someone should have done some research. It is beyond me why they used this road.”

West said he knows the road well. The accident occurred on a particularly treacherous section of San Benancio Road, he said.

“It is by far the worst spot on the road,” said West, who described the rough stretch of asphalt as “a steep downhill, two sharp turns, a dip, and another sharp turn.”

He said all riders were informed verbally and in writing about the hazards of this particular section of the road. Signs were also posted.

West said there will be no Steinbeck Watershed Century this year. He said Blake’s injury certainly played a part in the decision, but the biggest factor in the ride’s demise was ultimately its success.

“We just don’t have enough volunteers to do it,” he said of the event, which also included catered food. “Two years ago we had 350 participants and last year we had 600 participants. We had rave reviews. The ride was going to grow as much as we wanted it to.”


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