Despite the fact that a man who was partially paralyzed during a charity bike ride signed a waiver, Philadelphia cannot escape liability for the 16-square-foot sinkhole that caused the crash, a judge has ruled in denying the city's efforts to win a new trial in a case that resulted earlier this year in a more than $3 million verdict.
Judge Frederica Massiah-Jackson issued an opinion Wednesday in Degliomini v. Philadelphia Phillies, which resulted in a $3.2 million verdict for plaintiff Anthony Degliomini, who was partially paralyzed after crashing in the 2015 charity bike ride. Massiah-Jackson denied the city's request for a new trial in the matter, but she also reduced the verdict to the $500,000 statutory damages cap for awards against state and political subdivisions.
The city had contended that it should have been given immunity since Degliomini had signed a release, but Massiah-Jackson said the city had a duty to maintain the safety of the roads and the sinkhole had been a known danger.
"When the city attempted to transfer the risks to Mr. Degliomini it had no incentive to ensure safety for the charity bike ride by properly repairing the hole on Pattison Avenue and it abdicated its duty of care," Massiah-Jackson said, adding that the release would "contravene public policy." "It was an attempt to exculpate the city from liability for conduct that violates its duty to the public."
Villari, Lentz & Lynam attorney Leonard Villari, who represented Degliomini, said the opinion means that the city cannot skirt liability when it comes to organized charity events.
"Here's a gentleman who really was blindsided, figuratively and literally, by this gigantic hole in the ground. It's something the city knew about. Something the city failed to repair. Something the city knew about from space, from a Google satellite, and yet they permitted it," Villari said. "To try to shirk their responsibility by claiming the release holds them harmless is just a ridiculous proposition."
A spokesman for Philadelphia declined to comment.
The suit arose after 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.
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.
A Philadelphia jury in March awarded Degliomini and his wife, Karen Degliomini, nearly $3.19 million, finding 90 percent liability against Philadelphia and 10 percent liability against the event organizer.
In asking for a new trial, Philadelphia also contested causation, saying Massiah-Jackson should not have allowed in testimony from bystanders indicating he had hit the pothole. But, Massiah-Jackson said the statements were made immediately following the incident, and satellite images of the sinkhole confirmed it had been present for months.
"The Map My Ride app and the 2014 Google Earth photograph of the sinkhole confirm the location of the sinkhole, confirm that the sinkhole was present for many months, and, confirm the out-of-court statements of the other riders," Massiah-Jackson said.