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Pothole Fall Costs Tempe $150,000

Woman Needs Knee Replacement After Tripping During Arts Festival

Tempe taxpayers could shell out more than $170,000 in the coming year from one lawsuit.

Of that amount, $150,000 will go to a California woman who tripped on a pothole and injured a knee during one of the biannual Festival of Arts shows. The case against the city was filed in 2004 and was settled out of court last week. The city also has been ordered to pay $21,138.39 in court costs and attorney fees for a company involved in the lawsuit.

Tatiana Orpinas was in town with her husband, Andres, a painter. He was showing his work during the festival in March 2003, as he had for years.

The now 60-year-old woman was walking on Mill Avenue, which was closed to traffic for the art show. She was among a bustling crowd about 10:30 a.m. in front of Mill Avenue Jewelers when she tripped in a pothole in a parking spot, according to court documents.

The hole was filled with temporary asphalt, but it wasn’t level with the ground. There was an about 2-inch-deep depression.

Orpinas fell, tearing cartilage in her knee and breaking an ankle. Orpinas had arthroscopic surgery but now needs a full knee replacement because the injuries exacerbated her arthritis.

“You know, this is the worst thing that has ever happened me,” Orpinas said by phone from her Glendale, Calif., home. “It’s affecting every single moment of my life. I never thought a fall like this could lead to what I have had to deal with. And what’s more, it could have been prevented.”

There was nothing to signify that the pavement was uneven, said Orpinas’ [Cantor Law Group] attorney.

“When the city closes down those streets to vehicular traffic and uses streets as pedestrian thoroughfares, hundreds of thousands go on them,” [Cantor Law Group] attorney said. “There was no a-frame (sign) or anything. Unfortunately this could have been easily prevented.”

The settlement amount going to Orpinas was about half of what she had sought.

“We’re pleased, considering a knee replacement in California costs about $90,000, according to a life-care planner who did a projected cost,” [Cantor Law Group] attorney said.

Orpinas said the amount won’t cover all of her medical costs.

The lawsuit lasted about 2 1/2 years. Two other parties were named who might have shouldered the blame, but ultimately the burden fell to the city. They include Terra-Cal Construction which was the general contractor hired to do streetscape improvements, and Specialize Services, a subcontractor of Terra-Cal that did the actual work that created the pothole.

Maricopa County Superior Court ordered Tempe to pay for Terra-Cal’s attorney fees and court costs. The city is considering appealing that decision, according to city attorney Andrew Ching.

The City Council will review the Terra-Cal decision at its meeting Thursday night.

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