Over the weekend, the Associated Press uncovered an open secret about San Francisco's storied cable car system: They are old and expensive! And also dangerous! And one time a woman successfully sued Muni claiming a cable car accident had turned her into a nymphomaniac.
Muni has averaged about one cable car-involved incident per month and injured a total of 151 people in the last decade, the AP reports. In February of this year, seven people total were injured when a cable car hit a one-inch bolt on the tracks, bringing the vehicle to a sudden halt. Five people suffered life-threatening injuries in that case. The conductor nearly bit his tongue off and the grip operator broke a few ribs when he fell onto the grip lever. In 2009, John Gainor lost his foot after it was crushed between the cable car he was riding and a parked car. Two years later, Gainor received a $3 million payout for his trauma.
Gainor's award was the biggest payout in recent history, but not the most sensational. In 1964, 23-year-old Gloria Sykes, a devout Lutheran from Michigan, hit her head on a pole when a mechanical problem caused the cable car she was riding to slide backwards down a hill. The accident gave her a black eye, some bruises and, apparently, an insatiable sex drive. Sykes slept with 100 men following the incident — 50 of them in one week — all of whom were documented for the courts during her $500,000 lawsuit against the city. Sykes had been abused as a child and after making headlines for years during the days of San Francisco's sexual revolution, she was awarded $50,000 in an early case for PTSD. Her lawyers successfully argued that the trauma of the incident had driven her to seek comfort in men.
Back here in 2013, about a third of those 151 recent injuries resulted in lawsuits and the city paid out about $8 million in settlements. "The 19th Century technology of the cable cars does pose some challenges," SFMTA spokesman Paul Rose said. "While one accident is too many and we're always working to improve safety, these incidents are rare." According to the local tourism bureau, about 7 million people ride San Francisco's cable cars every year and they are the fourth-ranking tourist attraction in the city after slightly less risky activities like dining, shopping and visiting museums.