Pothole or sinkhole, S. Philly crater yields $3.2M from jury in bicyclist's lawsuit

During the trial, the city’s lawyer called it a pothole.

Attorneys for Anthony Degliomini consistently called it a sinkhole. After all, what pothole measures 16 square feet, is 6 inches deep, and is so treacherous it causes a bike rider to lurch over his handlebars and land on his head, losing teeth, sustaining multiple fractures and a significant spinal cord injury?

That’s what happened to the South Jersey resident during a charity bike ride in Philadelphia three years ago, a Common Pleas Court jury was told. On Monday, the jury awarded Degliomini and his wife, Karen, $3.2 million.

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This sinkhole on Pattison Avenue near Citizens Bank Park caused Anthony Degliomini to crash during a charity bike ride May 17, 2015. A Philadelphia jury awarded him $3.2 million on Monday.

Holes and broken pavement in city streets have been causing havoc for motorists and bikers for decades. Last winter, the city filled more than 30,000 potholes, and this year “we met the halfway mark of last year’s total within a few weeks of the start of the season,” Streets Department spokeswoman Crystal Jacobs said.

This winter has been particularly brutal due to constant freezing and thawing, which helps create potholes, Jacobs said. Crews have filled more than 22,000 potholes since Jan. 1, she said.

“It is important to point out that at current performance trends, the department is on pace to repair approximately 44,000 potholes this year, a more than 12,400 increase over last year’s total,” Jacobs added.

Whether pothole or sinkhole, what Degliomini hit near Citizens Bank Park in South Philadelphia on May 17, 2015, during the inaugural Phillies Charities Bike Ride made the city liable for not fixing the street, the jury concluded.

It was a bittersweet victory, given that state law caps such awards against the City of Philadelphia at $500,000. On top of that, the city may appeal the decision. “We are currently reviewing the case and are strongly considering our appellate options,” a spokesperson for the Law Department said.

Degliomini’s Center City attorneys blasted the city for not settling the lawsuit — for negligence and loss of consortium for his wife — for the cap amount instead of opting for a costly trial, which took two weeks.

“We continue to try these cases so that hopefully we can send a message to the powers that be in the city’s Law Department that they are wasting the taxpayers’ time and money, and they are taking time away from the victims of their negligence trying cases that they know they should settle,” said attorney Leonard G. Villari.

Degliomini, of Washington Township, was among 811 bicyclists who took part in the 20-mile charity ride, which began and ended at the team’s stadium. Just as Degliomini was approaching the finish line, his bike hit the hole on Pattison Avenue between Second and Third Streets.

Although he was wearing a helmet, the father of two was knocked unconscious and was hospitalized for five days at Thomas Jefferson University Hospital before being transferred to Magee Rehabilitation Hospital, where he stayed for 20 more days.

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Anthony Degliomini in the hospital after his bike hit the South Philly sinkhole in May 2015.

Other riders also were injured after hitting the crater, but none as seriously, and none sued the city, Degliomini’s lawyers said.

Before the accident, Degliomini had lost 100 pounds and was “in the best shape of his life,” Villari said.

“Now his left foot drags when he walks, and because of the spinal cord injury they had to implant hardware in the form of rods and screws to fuse his spine together” in his neck, Villari said.

His attorneys argued during the trial that the city knew of the sinkhole before issuing the event permit to its organizers because it was visible on Google Earth images in October 2014, nine months before the event. They said the Streets Department’s attempt to patch the sinkhole prior to the event failed because it was treated like a routine pothole.

Degliomini, 55, who works for a Maple Shade automobile dealership, was awarded $1.4 million for lost earning capacity,  $678,833 for medical expenses, $500,000 for past pain and suffering, and $500,000 for future pain and suffering. His wife, a homemaker, was awarded $100,000 for loss of consortium.