In a case closely watched by Portland's biking community, a cyclist beaten up by a TriMet passenger was awarded $601 by an arbitrator Thursday.
Cyclist Randy Albright had sought about 80 times that amount—about $48,000—in pain-and-suffering damages from TriMet. He contended the agency was negligent because one of its bus drivers encouraged a passenger to beat up Albright and then let the passenger back on the bus.
The attack left Albright with a split lip requiring an emergency-room visit.
But arbitrator Gregory K. Zeuthen found that both TriMet and Albright were at fault for the incident and Albright's injuries.
The cyclist was punched by the unidentified passenger while Albright was riding his bike Jan. 22, 2004, on the Hawthorne Bridge.
Albright had been biking to work when, according to his testimony, he was nearly sideswiped by the bus driven by Harold R. Cooper. (The driver died last year.)
Albright caught up with the bus and pulled in front of it, demanding an apology.
The assailant exited the bus and proceeded to punch Albright repeatedly. He then reentered the bus. According to several witnesses, Cooper cheered on the action.
Zeuthen found that, although Cooper may not have known that the assailant would act violently towards Albright, the driver's action in letting the man get back on the bus after the attack, and not reporting the incident until later, was negligent.
But Zeuthen also wrote, "Plaintiff was negligent because he unlawfully stepped into traffic to block the bus in his unsuccessful attempt to talk to Mr. Cooper ... Plaintiff's actions clearly contributed to the escalation of the events on January 22, 2004."
Zeuthen awarded Albright $500 for general damages and $702 in economic damages, for a total of $1,202. Zeuthen said he halved that amount to $601 to reflect "Plaintiff's comparative fault."
"I think that the arbitrator realized that both parties were responsible for the occurrence," TriMet spokeswoman Mary Fetsch says. "And that's why he reduced the award to the plaintiff by 50 percent. The operator didn't completely follow procedure. He should have called for police assistance. It really says that both parties are responsible for the incident occurring.
"It was a small amount,'' Fetsch says. "It's in balance with what the damages are. He [Albright] stated that the injuries consisted of a split lip. I think they were reasonable given those damages."
Albright's attorney did not immediately return a message seeking comment.
NOTE: This story published 11/9/2006
To read the arbitrator's decision, go to www.wweek.com/media/8194.pdf.