A Belmont woman is suing the city of Half Moon Bay, San Mateo County and others after she was hit by a vehicle during the Half Moon Bay Triathlon in April. She says she sustained major and lasting injuries as a result of the collision.

The fifth annual triathlon was held on April 22. Elena Warburton was riding her bicycle in the event when she was hit by a truck at the Highway 1 and Kelly Avenue intersection. 

Warburton suffered damage to her teeth and face as a result of the collision. Her attorney says additional injuries to her neck and spine were discovered more recently. 

The truck’s driver and the race organizer are also listed as defendants in the lawsuit filed in the San Mateo County Court earlier this month.

Warburton’s attorney alleges that those directing traffic that day were as much at fault as the truck driver himself.  

“It’s pretty clear the person or the persons in charge of maintaining the intersection weren’t doing their job,” said Jordan Johnson, one of Warburton’s attorneys from Harris Personal Injury Lawyers Inc. “(The truck driver’s attempt) to follow mixed signals … and not paying attention himself resulted in the collision.” 

The triathlon is run by USA Productions. Race director and Chief Executive Officer Ryan Coelho said he was surprised by the lawsuit. Coelho did not witness the accident personally but pointed to the fact that there was available video of the crash from the neighboring gas station and noted that the San Mateo County Sheriff’s Office report of the incident clearly illustrated that the truck driver — Morgan Walford of El Granada — did not follow directions from the authorities. 

“The officer clearly (directed) that vehicle to stay where it was and it did not,” said Coelho. 

The San Mateo County Sheriff’s Office declined to release the report of the accident, citing confidentiality concerns, but echoed Coelho’s statement that the driver was at fault. 

“The lawsuit’s allegation that the accident was the fault of ‘the person directing traffic,’ is not accurate,” wrote Sheriff’s Office spokeswoman Rosemerry Blankswade in an email to the Review. “The investigator at the scene determined that the driver of the truck caused the collision.” 

The lawsuit states that both San Mateo County and the city of Half Moon Bay rejected the claims on July 12 and July 20, respectively. Such claims are often a formality in advance of a lawsuit.

However, Half Moon Bay City Attorney Catherine Engberg told the Review earlier this month that the city had only recently received the lawsuit and had not denied any claims. 

A Special Event Permit the city issued to USA Productions states that a “certificate of liability insurance in the amount of $2 million naming the city of Half Moon Bay as the additional insured is required. The city of Half Moon Bay is not responsible for any accidents or damages to persons or property resulting from the issuance of this permit.”

Coelho said he is protected legally as well, in part because triathlon participants are required to sign a waiver indicating that they will not hold race organizers responsible in the event of any injuries incurred during the race. 

Coelho says he has been part of the race scene for 24 years and aside from bumps and scrapes from cyclists falling off their bikes, he has never seen an injury of this magnitude. 

“I was shaken by it,” Coelho said. “In my years of race directing this was the first major event.”

Coelho added that he hopes the incident doesn’t put a damper on future events. The race has been growing in popularity, and this year attracted more than 900 participants to the coast. 

Warburton states in the lawsuit that her medical expenses have exceeded $25,000. 

She is seeking compensation of these expenses along with loss of earnings, economic damages, and loss of property and legal expenses, among other requests.

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