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Morris County, NJ

This vehicular negligence case involved a then 13-year-old plaintiff bicyclist contended that the defendant Jeep driver, who approached from behind, negligently traveled too rapidly, and failed to make adequate observations, striking him. The plaintiff maintained that he suffered a closed head injury and mild TBI, and that despite several surgeries, will permanently suffer very significant deficits.

The plaintiff had no recollection of the accident. The plaintiff, and his friend, was riding north, and the accident occurred close to the home of the plaintiff’s friend, who lived on the southbound side of this roadway. The friend had advised the police that the children were in the course of crossing the road on their bikes. The child did not indicate in the statement whether they had stopped and looked before crossing, but indicated at trial, that it was his custom and practice to do so. The plaintiff argued that the absence of such mention to the police reflected emotional trauma suffered by the friend.

The defendant, who was the president of the local library board, had just finished a meeting at the library, and was in the process of driving home. It was about 5:00 p.m., and was still light out, with no rain or other weather issues. The speed limit was 40 MPH, and the defendant indicated that he observed the plaintiff and his friend riding their bikes along the shoulder. The defendant testified that in response, he slowed down from 40 to 35 MPH, and moved his Jeep to the far left side of his lane, without going on or over the double-yellow lines. The defendant related that as he approached the plaintiff, he was looking straight ahead, making sure he did not cross over the center lines. He contended that suddenly, the plaintiff made a sharp left with his bicycle and darted across the northbound lane in front of the defendant’s vehicle. The front of the defendant’s Jeep struck plaintiff and the bicycle, sending plaintiff rolling over the hood, and ultimately ending up on the southbound side of the road.

The plaintiff’s accident reconstruction expert testified about the calculations he used to determine speeds and distances, which were initially based on the evidence and data in the police report. The plaintiff’s expert concluded that it took the plaintiff less than one second (________ second) to ride his bike from the shoulder to the point of impact in the northbound lane – a distance of ten feet. The plaintiff’s expert testified that the defendant was approximately ________ feet away from plaintiff when he began turning left into the roadway. Based on the defendant’s speed of 35, the plaintiff’s expert concluded that the defendant needed ________ feet to stop his vehicle, which meant he could have stopped his vehicle approximately 20 feet before the point of impact. The plaintiff’s expert testified that the defendant had adequate time to observe plaintiff, react, brake, and avoid striking the bicyclist.

The defendant’s accident reconstruction expert testified that the defendant had no time to react to the plaintiff’s bike suddenly appearing in the roadway. He said there was less than one second (________ second) from the time the defendant hit his brakes until the time of impact. The defendant’s expert concluded that plaintiff’s bicycle was traveling straight across the street (perpendicular to defendant’s vehicle) at the time of the impact. He based this opinion on the damage pattern on the front of the Jeep, as well as the fact that plaintiff’s momentum from traveling straight across the road caused him to end up in the opposite, southbound lane.

The investigating police officer testified that there was a gouge mark in the road that was caused by the pedal of plaintiff’s bicycle. He said there was 23 feet from the gouge mark to the final resting place of the defendant’s vehicle.

The plaintiff was airlifted to a trauma center, where he underwent emergency brain surgery to release the swelling in his brain, and was in a coma for eight days, with paralysis of the left side of his face and body. He was unable to speak or walk for two weeks. After a month in the hospital, the plaintiff was transferred to an in-patient cognitive rehabilitation facility for speech, cognitive, and physical therapy. The plaintiff was unable to go to school during the 7th and 8th grades, and was classified with a learning disability, and resumed school as a freshman in high school, where he was on an I.E.P. (Individualized Educational Plan). The plaintiff stopped playing sports after the accident, such as lacrosse and baseball. His medical expert testified that the plaintiff sustained a traumatic brain injury that required surgery, as well as a long rehabilitation period. He said the plaintiff has permanent scarring on his brain, as seen on MRI, which is permanent. He opined that plaintiff’s cognitive limitations and brain injury are permanent conditions.

The plaintiff, who was 21 years old at trial, testified that since the accident, he has limited memory, disorganized, inattentive, and frequently forgets things. He contended he suffered several seizures, which has prevented him from getting his driver’s license. He relies on his mother and friends to drive him around. The plaintiff currently works in a fast food restaurant.

The defendant did not produce medical testimony, and established that the plaintiff tested with a good IQ score a number of years after the accident, and pointed out that he no longer was classified in his senior year of high school, from which he graduated.The defendant had $________ in primary coverage, and $________ in excess coverage. The jury found that the defendant was not negligent.

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