San Jose to consider paying six figures after woman crashes scooter
Bird electric scooters are seen along E Santa Clara Street in downtown San Jose. Photo by Joseph Geha.

    A woman who suffered serious facial and oral injuries when a scooter she was riding struck a broken lamp post base in downtown San Jose is set to receive a $337,500 payout from the city.

    The San Jose City Council will consider approving the tentative settlement agreement with Andrea Ortega at its Nov. 14 meeting.

    Ortega, 32, sued the city in 2021 over unsafe conditions and a lack of maintenance that she claims led to her injuries near a light rail station.

    Ortega is an attorney and was represented in the case by attorney Casey Kaufman, who told San José Spotlight Ortega is happy to finally be done with the case.

    “I think it’s unfortunate for everyone involved, frankly. I know Miss Ortega would much rather have that this never happened, than be in this situation,” Kaufman said.

    On Dec. 17, 2019, around 10 p.m., Ortega and her then-boyfriend Nicholas Bergam were riding tandem on a rented Bird electric scooter,  to travel from SAP Center back to their car after attending a San Jose Sharks game, according to court filings in the case.

    As the couple rode through a parklet adjacent to the San Fernando Light Rail Station, their scooter struck a broken lamp post base in the ground. The lamp post itself and the lighting fixture were missing, and there were no signs, cones or other warnings about the hazard, court filings from Kaufman said.

    “Andrea had no warning regarding the presence of the lamp post base before it was struck, throwing her face-first towards the ground,” the filings said.

    The nearest intact streetlamp, about 20 feet away, was “non-operational” on the night of the crash, the filing said, increasing danger because the broken lamp post base was “invisible” to people in the area.

    Ortega “slammed her face into the concrete” after being thrown from the scooter, and suffered a broken nose, a concussion and knocked out two teeth. She also suffered several broken, chipped or loosened teeth, as well as lacerations, bruising and swelling on her face, from which she has permanent scarring, the court filings said. She ended up needing three crowns and two implants, after visiting dental experts dozens of times.

    “By the nature of this type of injury, the medical treatment has to happen over months and up to almost a year, it takes a long time to repair, because of the multiple stages,” Kaufman said.

    San Jose City Attorney Nora Frimann said the city typically does not comment on pending court cases.

    During the course of the litigation, it was revealed the city had an agreement in place with VTA since 2004 for maintenance in the area where the crash occurred. The city was responsible for all maintenance in the parklet, including lighting fixtures, but the city apparently misinterpreted the agreement.

    “The city had been under the incorrect assumption that it was only responsible for landscaping in the parklet area for the entire time,” the filings said.

    Based on historical Google Street View photographs reviewed in the case, Kaufman said the light pole was missing from the base for nearly three years before the crash that injured Ortega. At two different dates before the night of the crash, there were also cones placed over the broken lamp post base, though it’s unclear which agency was responsible for them.

    Kaufman said once the city was aware of its responsibility to maintain the area, crews repaired “everything that was broken with regard to the lighting in the area.”

    Kaufman said Ortega was a Bay Area resident at the time of the crash, and has since moved out of the area. She is reminded of the incident every day because of her scarring and dental work.

    “It was a very big impact on her life in the recovery process,” Kaufman said. “She is a very resilient young woman, she is an attorney, she is successful and she certainly isn’t letting this stop her in any way.”

    Contact Joseph Geha at [email protected] or @josephgeha16 on Twitter.

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