By DEREK MOORE
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
A Sonoma woman who was seriously injured in 2009 when she was hit on a sidewalk by a 13-year-old boy on a bicycle has settled her lawsuit against the teen and his parents for $1.4 million, her attorney said.
The city of Sonoma also was named as a defendant and will have to pay $250,000 as part of the settlement, in what amounts to a test of the city’s ordinance — apparently unusual among Bay Area cities — that allows bicyclists to ride on sidewalks with few restrictions.
Brett Bonfigli was riding his mountain bike on the sidewalk adjacent to Broadway on Nov. 28, 2009, when he collided with Sonoma artist Wendy Mitchell after she walked in his path from between a row of cypress trees.
Bonfigli’s bicycle helmet struck Mitchell, who was 72 at the time, in the head, causing a life-threatening brain injury that required emergency surgery at Santa Rosa Memorial Hospital, according to Rick McGreevy, the San Francisco attorney who represented Mitchell.
McGreevy on Thursday defended the sum Mitchell will receive in the settlement, minus attorney’s fees. The case had been set to begin trial last Monday.
“This woman was in a coma for three weeks and she had to go through four months of rehabilitation to get back to her daily activities,” McGreevy said.
He declined to say whether Mitchell has recovered from her injuries. He said the settlement money will help her to pay for “non-medical attendant care.”
McGreevy said the case should spur officials to remedy what he said were “dangerous conditions” created by Sonoma’s bicycle ordinance and by the planting of the cypress trees, which he said blocked Mitchell’s and the boy’s views.
The insurance company that provides homeowner’s insurance for Dean and Heidi Bonfigli will pay $1 million as part of the settlement.
The couple on Thursday declined comment. Steve Pabros, their Santa Rosa attorney, did not return a phone call seeking comment.
Adrienne Moran, an attorney for the city, said the case was “defensible.” But she said city officials agreed to the settlement because of the potential liability of Mitchell’s future medical expenses and because of the uncertainty of the outcome of a jury trial.
“The city paid a very modest amount to avoid that potential risk to taxpayer funds,” Moran said.
The city of Sonoma prohibits bicycles from being operated on sidewalks at such speeds or in such manner “as evidences willful, wanton or reckless disregard of the safety of other pedestrians in the vicinity.”
McGreevy said he surveyed 35 Northern California cities to compare their ordinances with Sonoma’s. He said all of the cities with the exception of Sonoma ban bicycle riding on sidewalks in commercial districts or outright, or require cyclists to yield to pedestrians.
But Moran said there was testimony that Brett Bonfigli was riding his bike recklessly, which she said is prohibited under the city’s ordinance.
She said any decision whether to review the ordinance is up to the City Council.
Sonoma Mayor Joanne Sanders said Thursday that she would not be opposed to such a review. “Any time that an accident happens you want to take a look at what we can do to make sure this doesn’t happen again,” she said.
Sanders said she is opposed to banning bikes from being ridden on sidewalks.
Another issue is the status of the cypress trees. The city counter-sued Scott Sherman, who owns The Framery on Broadway, claiming that Sherman should bear any potential liability in the case because he planted the trees without obtaining permits for the work.
Under the terms of the settlement, Sherman’s insurance company will pay $150,000.
Moran said Caltrans has authority over the trees because Broadway, which is Highway 12, is in its jurisdiction.
But Sanders, who owns an employment staffing firm that has offices on Broadway, said she recalls someone from the city telling her how to landscape the area.
She stopped short, however, of saying that the cypress trees are the city’s responsibility.
“I honestly don’t know,” she said.
(You can reach Staff Writer Derek Moore at 521-5336 or firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter @deadlinederek.)