A motorist was on the phone with her employer when she struck and killed a bicyclist on Highway 227 in July, a wrongful death lawsuit filed Monday alleges.
The lawsuit filed by the family of Bridget Dawson — a world-class triathlete from San Luis Obispo — seeks an unspecified amount of damages to cover lost financial support and funeral expenses as well as noneconomic damages for the loss of Dawson’s love and companionship.
It seeks to recover those damages from driver Lisa Smith of Oceano and Smith’s employer, Dignity Health, which operates French Hospital Medical Center in San Luis Obispo.
Lawsuits represent one side of a complaint, and neither Smith nor Dignity Health have filed a response. Smith does not yet have an attorney listed in court records and could not be reached for comment.
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Megan Maloney, spokeswoman for Dignity Health, wrote in an email Wednesday, “We extend our deepest sympathies to the family of Mrs. Bridget Dawson during this difficult time. As a matter of policy, we do not comment on matters of pending litigation.”
Dawson, 58, was riding in the bike lane on Highway 227 south of Biddle Ranch Road on July 14 when she was struck from behind by a Chrysler 200 driven by Smith, 53. Dawson was thrown from the bike and suffered fatal injuries.
Smith, who the CHP said was not under the influence of drugs or alcohol at the time, was later charged with a single misdemeanor count of vehicular manslaughter without gross negligence. She has pleaded not guilty and is due back in San Luis Obispo Superior Court on Jan. 9.
“Distracted driving has become one of the leading causes of death and injury on the highway,” the lawsuit reads. “Lisa Smith was a distracted driver at the time of the collision.”
The lawsuit does not specify whether Smith made or received the call that allegedly caused the crash.
It does, however, state that Smith’s cellphone records show Smith was communicating with her employer at the time of the crash. It also alleges Smith did not call 911 following the collision.
According to the filing, staff at French Hospital were contacted by CHP investigators but “refused to provide any information concerning the calls or the employees at Dignity Health ... that were on the call with (Smith) at the time of the collision.”
Assistant District Attorney Lee Cunningham confirmed Tuesday that Smith’s phone records revealed she was using the phone at the approximate time of the crash.
Bridget Dawson was the wife of Scott Dawson, who was dean of Cal Poly’s Orfalea College of Business at the time. He left Cal Poly in October to move back to Oregon, where the couple had lived before he took the Cal Poly job in 2014.
The lawsuit states she had been a competitive rider and racer for 31 years.
A hearing on the civil case is scheduled for April.