AC Transit pays $2.5 million to injured bicyclist

AC Transit has agreed to pay $2.5 million to an Oakland woman who suffered a brain injury and had her face shattered when an AC Transit bus driver slammed into her while she was on her bicycle at a busy intersection in Emeryville three years ago, her attorney said today.

Cara McClendon, now 35, was riding home on San Pablo Avenue near 45th Street in Emeryville when she was struck by an AC Transit bus that was making a left turn. Bus operator Lynn Jackson was driving at 21 mph even though the bus agency advises drivers not to take turns at more than 5 mph, McClendon’s lawyer, Carter Zinn said.

McClendon, a performance artist who lives in Oakland and taught clowning to children, suffered severe facial fractures, lacerations and other injuries that left her in a medically-induced coma at Highland Hospital in Oakland for 12 days, according to Zinn.

He said surgeons were able to piece her jaw, skull and orbital bones back together with titanium plates and screws but the impact to her face and head caused a mild traumatic brain injury from which she continues to recover.

Zinn said the case is one of several in recent years involving large monetary settlements of verdicts against AC Transit:

“The East Bay taxpayers who subsidize AC Transit, and the motorists, pedestrians, bicyclists, and others who share the roads with AC Transit buses, all deserve that the district make a better effort at ensuring their drivers follow the basic safety rules that every other driver is also required to follow.”

AC Transit officials didn’t return phone calls seeking comment on the settlement.

McClendon’s lawsuit against AC Transit, which provides bus service in parts of Alameda and Contra Costa counties, was scheduled to go to trial on Aug. 31 but was settled several weeks earlier, Zinn said.

The settlement is now being made public because AC Transit’s board of directors recently voted to approve it, he said.

McClendon might have gotten a larger monetary award if her case had gone before a jury but there also was a risk because she was partly responsible for the collision, Zinn said.

McClendon encountered an AC Transit bus that was stopped in the right lane at 45th Street at San Pablo even though there was a green light, Zinn said.

McClendon didn’t know what to do and initially stopped behind the bus and then began pushing her bike slowly along the right side of the bus toward the intersection, according to Zinn.

But as she was alongside the bus she became worried that she would be pinned against the sidewalk if the bus turned right so she decided to start peddling in order to get away from the bus and entered the intersection on a green light, Zinn said.

However, as she emerged from behind the stopped bus, she was struck in the head by the windshield of the bus being driven by Jackson, which was completing a left turn from northbound San Pablo onto 45th Street at excessive speed, Zinn said.

In a perfect world McClendon should have waited for the first bus to move and shouldn’t have passed it on the right, he said.

Zinn said he estimates that McClendon was about 15 to 20 percent responsible for the collision but he thinks AC Transit might have argued at trial that she was 50 percent responsible and sought a smaller damage award.

Zinn said Jackson, who was fired after the collision, had made a similar error at the same intersection six weeks earlier by taking a dangerous, out-of-control left turn at an excessive and unsafe speed while she was distracted by talking with an off-duty driver who was on her bus, which is against AC Transit rules.

An elderly woman rolled out of her seat and onto the floor of the bus but fortunately she wasn’t seriously injured, according to Zinn.

However, the bus agency didn’t discipline Jackson for the earlier incident, Zinn said.