Injured Cyclist Obtains Justice Through Arbitration Award
Basch & Keegan recently obtained an arbitration award of more than $300,000 for a Dutchess County woman who was seriously injured in a bicycle accident. This somewhat unusual, but interesting, case was handled by attorney John A. DeGasperis.
The Plaintiff in this matter was a 51-year-old Beacon woman who was riding her bicycle home from the Beacon Train Station when the accident happened. Beacon is known for being a bike friendly city with its well-lit streets and bicycle-and-vehicle shared lanes. The Plaintiff in this matter was riding her bicycle on the right side of Main Street when a motorist, who had recently parked her vehicle along the right side of the road, opened her car door into the Plaintiff’s path of travel. The motorist failed to check for oncoming traffic and opened her car door into the bike lane. The Plaintiff’s handle bar clipped the car door and sent the Plaintiff flying over the handle bars onto the pavement.
Both the Plaintiff and her bicycle complied with all applicable provisions of New York State’s Vehicle and Traffic Law. The Plaintiff rode on the right side of the road, as far right as possible. See VTL § 1234 (“Upon all roadways, any bicycle…shall be driven either on a usable bicycle…lane or, if a usable bicycle…lane has not been provided, near the right-hand curb or edge of the roadway”). Moreover, the Plaintiff’s bicycle was equipped with a battery operated front headlight and rear reflector. The front headlight, a Bontrager Glo Headlight, was visible up to two thousand (2000) feet, which complied with the requirements of VTL § 1236
Main Street in Beacon, NY
The Plaintiff was taken by ambulance to the Mid-Hudson Regional Hospital of Westchester Medical Center, formerly known as St. Francis Hospital, in Poughkeepsie, New York. In the emergency room, the Plaintiff was treated for blunt force trauma to the entire right side of her body. She had extensive swelling and bruising, and she was diagnosed with a right wrist fracture. She also was diagnosed with neck and lower back injuries. She required extensive follow up treatment in the form of physical therapy, chiropractic manipulation, acupuncture, and pain management injections.
Shortly after the accident, the Plaintiff began to experience left knee pain and she had difficulty walking. She therefore consulted with an orthopedic surgeon in New York City. The surgeon ordered diagnostic studies that revealed a left knee meniscal tear. The surgeon recommended and performed a left knee arthroscopy.
The Plaintiff also had considerable right shoulder pain after the accident. Photographs taken during the days immediately after the accident show considerable bruising to the Plaintiff’s right arm and right shoulder. Within the same month, the Plaintiff underwent an MRI of the right shoulder that revealed evidence of an injury, including “edema of the deltoid muscle.” According to the reading radiologist, the MRI results were consistent with “posttraumatic related contusion/hematoma.” Eventually she sought out the advice of an orthopedic surgeon, who diagnosed the Plaintiff with a SLAP tear, AC joint arthrosis, and impingement syndrome. The orthopedic surgeon also discovered a “hairline  fracture involving the right fifth metacarpal head.”
At the time of the accident, the Plaintiff was employed as a construction project manager at New York University. She missed a considerable amount of time from work due to her injuries, recovery time, and considerable number of medical appointments. Her lost wages were reimbursed through No-Fault Insurance.
The Plaintiff’s recovery took more than three years. Consequently, she began to suffer emotional distress as she was unable to participate in the outdoor activities she once loved and she never got on a bicycle again. Before the accident, our client was in perfect health. She described this period of time as “the worst three years of my life” due to the all-encompassing management of her pain and injuries.
The case went to arbitration because John had prepared the case for trial, which caused the insurance company to become concerned about a jury verdict in favor of the Plaintiff. When asked why he elected to proceed to arbitration, John said “Arbitration was a good fit for this type of case for several reasons.” First, it removed a lot of uncertainty for the Plaintiff. It is very difficult to predict what a jury might do during deliberations. Second, the expense of putting a case like this one into trial may have adversely affected the client’s recovery if the jury verdict was not consistent with our expectations. Third, we felt a trained arbitrator would be analyze the facts of the case consistent with the client’s version of what had happened. Fourth, the defendant was a pleasant thirty-two year old woman who was going to be nine-months pregnant at the time of trial. We had serious concerns the jury might sympathize with her and ignore the underlying facts.
Ultimately, the case proceeded to arbitration with a retired Justice of the Supreme Court. The arbitration hearing was held in White Plains, New York. The Plaintiff testified in an informal setting for just over one hour. She made an impressive witness. The arbitrator awarded her $300,000. The arbitrator did surprise everyone with a finding that the Plaintiff had some comparative fault for causing the accident. This finding will result in a reduction of the arbitration award, but the Plaintiff will still go home with a six-figure award.
If you or a loved one was injured in a bicycle accident, please do not hesitate to call our office. Two of our lawyers are avid cyclists so they understand the dangers that cyclists confront on the roads. The experienced attorneys at Basch and Keegan have handled numerous bicycle accidents through the years and are happy to answer any questions you may have.