GULFPORT -- A federal judge has dismissed a personal-injury lawsuit that sought $1 million in damages for a Gulfport woman injured while jumping a ramp on the Bethel Bicycle Trail in the De Soto National Forest in 2012.
Teresa Gonzalez had sued the U.S. Forest Service, claiming the agency was negligent in maintaining the safety of a bicycle ramp on the trail, which is a network of trails off Mississippi 15, and had failed to warn the public that part of the trail had been closed.
She was suffered permanent injuries to her head and neck in the July 28, 2012, accident. She underwent surgery and requires ongoing treatment, a spine surgeon said in a deposition.
Gonzalez filed her lawsuit Feb. 21, 2014.
U.S. District Judge Sul Ozerden dismissed the suit Dec. 28.
Gonzalez was injured on a trail not created or maintained by the Forest Service and on a ramp erected without its knowledge or permission, Ozerden wrote in his judgment. He determined Forest Service employees violated no rules, regulations or procedures. Those determinations mean the court lacks subject-matter jurisdiction, he said, and as such has no authority to rule on the complaint.
Gonzalez and her boyfriend had bicycled onto the Couch Loop Trail and veered off onto a path they believed to be an official trail, where they saw a wooden ramp and a teeter-totter, Ozerden wrote.
The Couch Loop Trail had been closed a few months because a Forest Service bridge, and an unauthorized bridge, had washed out. The washed-out area was marked by wooden boards, signs and ribbons, but the couple had not reached that area yet. A warning sign about the trail closure was posted on a bulletin board in the parking lot at the head of the Bethel Bicycle Trail, the judge said.
Gonzalez's boyfriend jumped a wooden ramp placed across a long fallen tree or log and stopped to videotape Gonzalez as she took a turn. Gonzalez, in her deposition, said she had never jumped off a ramp on her bicycle and didn't realize the drop-off would be so steep. The video showed her tumble forward at the end of the ramp and land on her head, the judge wrote.
"Undisputed facts," Ozerden said, revealed some members of the Gulf Coast Bicycle Club had erected the ramp and a teeter-totter.
Exhibits filed in court records include depositions by Forest Service workers and the couple, copies of USFS documents and pictures of the accident area and the bulletin board where the trail-closure sign was posted.