Client Win: A Tale of Two Verdicts (Part I)

At 1:23 on Friday, May 3, 2019, a client who was injured by an impatient truck driver while riding his bicycle finally got the justice he deserved in a Durham County courtroom.

The Incident

In October 2016, Ryan McKenzie took part in Cycle North Carolina, an annual ride across the state that draws over 1000 participants from around the country. Ryan and a few other cyclists were lined up at a traffic light and when the light turned green. The defendant was driving a Ford F150 pickup truck and came up behind Ryan just as he rode through the intersection.

With oncoming traffic in the turning lane and the rushing truck close behind him, Ryan could see that he was in danger. Ryan moved far over to the right side of the road because he feared that he was going to be hit by the truck.

The Physical Damage & Recovery

As he pulled to the side, Ryan’s bicycle tire got stuck in a crack, causing him to fall into the road. Unfortunately, the truck was so close to Ryan’s bicycle that it ran over his left arm as he fell.

The friction from the tire and road surface punched holes in Ryan’s arm and damaged the skin on Ryan’s forearm. He needed a skin graft procedure, which required skin to be taken from his thigh.

The graft site on Ryan’s thigh got infected and required treatment. Ryan had to undergo physical therapy and had to have his father move in to help him as he recovered. Ryan healed, but his permanent scarring is a constant reminder of the injury.

A Case of Contributory Negligence

You might not know about the law that works against people injured in North Carolina because of the carelessness of other people, a law called contributory negligence. This law states that if an injured person contributed in any way to a crash, even if only a little, he could receive no compensation for his injuries. Only four states and the District of Columbia have this law. Every other state has overturned the outdated law.

In Ryan’s case, the defendant’s insurance company claimed that Ryan had done something wrong to at least partly cause his own injury. The defendant also denied that he had done anything wrong, even though he left the scene and he took more than 10 minutes to call 911. At the mediation of the case the insurance company offered $0 to Ryan.

The Trial

So, we had to take Ryan’s case to trial. The trial lasted for five days. Helen Baddour and Drew Culler offered testimony: from eyewitnesses who saw the driver violate the passing law, from an engineer who explained the crash; from the doctor who treated Ryan, and from Ryan himself.

Even though the insurance company claimed that the defendant driver had done nothing wrong, the defendant did not testify. The defendant did not offer any evidence at all that he was not at fault.

The Verdict

The twelve jurors from Durham County decided that that Ryan did nothing wrong. The truck driver would have been able to avoid hitting Ryan had he kept a proper and safe distance away from him.

The jury found that $150,000 was fair compensation for Ryan’s injuries. Ryan says he is no longer in pain from having his arm run over by the driver, and he is fortunate to be alive. Ryan hopes that his case will stop drivers from disobeying the law because every driver should leave room between vehicles so that they can safely pass.

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