Case details

Defense argued motorcyclist’s speeding caused crash





Result type

Not present

chest, fracture, hemothorax, rib, wrist
On June 9, 2010, at around 7:30 a.m., plaintiff Patrick Hamel, 38, a software engineer, was operating his Kawasaki V-Strom 1000 motorcycle in the left (fast) lane of southbound North McCarthy Boulevard in Milpitas. North McCarthy Boulevard is a north/south roadway with two lanes going in each direction, separated by a planted median strip. When Hamel was some 2,000 feet south of Dixon Landing Road, a 2009 Infiniti G37 sedan, operated by James Geoffroy Jr., changed lanes from the slow lane to the fast lane in front of Hamel. Although there was no contact between Geoffroy’s vehicle and the motorcycle, Hamel locked up his rear wheel, leaving a 38-foot skid mark. He then apparently locked his front wheel, causing the motorcycle to “high side,” where the bike suddenly regained traction after beginning to skid, ejecting Hamel over the bike. As a result, Hamel sustained to his chest and his left dominant wrist. Hamel sued Geoffroy for motor vehicle negligence. The case proceeded to judicial arbitration, where the arbitrator found for Hamel and awarded him $50,000. However, Hamel rejected the award, as he had a large medical bill lien of $115,000 from a self-insured employer who would not compromise the lien in any way, pursuant to U.S. Airways v. McCutchen 133 S.Ct. 1533 (2013). Thus, the matter went to trial. Hamel claimed he instituted a lane change and was in lane number one lane, the left lane, when Geoffroy began making a lane change into his position. He told police that as a result, he approached Geoffroy’s vehicle from the rear at 50 to 55 mph (the speed limit was 45 mph), causing him to apply the brakes to his motorcycle and causing the motorcycle to go down. A witness, who was traveling behind both the motorcycle and the car, testified that he thought the motorcycle completed his lane change first. The witness also testified to seeing Hamel apply the brakes and to the motorcycle “fishtailing” before going to the ground. The plaintiff’s accident reconstruction expert opined that Hamel locked up the front wheel of the motorcycle, causing the motorcycle to go down to the ground. He also opined that at the beginning of the skid, the motorcycle was traveling between 46 and 50 mph. Geoffroy claimed that he told police that Hamel was behind him when he signaled a lane change and that when he looked again, Hamel was still behind him. He claimed that as a result, he began to move from the slow lane into the fast lane, but he then heard a noise and saw Hamel tumbling behind him in the roadway. Defense counsel contended that although the plaintiff’s accident reconstruction expert was critical of Geoffroy’s actions and felt Hamel acted reasonably, those opinions were based upon witness statements and not physical evidence. Thus, defense counsel moved to exclude those expert opinions that were based only on witness statements. The motion was granted. Plaintiff’s counsel noted that, over objection, Judge Mary Arand instructed the jury that the defendant’s unsafe lane change could be excused if he made reasonable efforts to make a safe lane change., After the accident, Hamel was taken to Regional Medical Center of San Jose, where he was admitted for five days, during which he was in the Intensive Care Unit for three days. Hamel sustained a hemothorax, a pneumothorax, four fractured ribs, and a comminuted fracture of his left, dominant wrist. He subsequently underwent an open reduction and internal fixation surgery for his wrist fracture on June 10, 2010. The hardware was later removed during a second procedure on April 26, 2011, after an MRI disclosed a tear of the triangular fibrocartilage complex ligament. Hamel’s stipulated medical costs amounted to $122,456.84. He also claimed a wage loss of $8,076.80 as a result of missed time from work at Cisco Systems. Defense counsel pointed to a note in Hamel’s medical record, written by a surgical scheduler, which stated, “Spoke w/ pt. He was at fault. He does not wish to use his med pay.” Plaintiff’s counsel objected to the entering of the record as evidence, arguing that it was ambiguous since the scheduler testified that he could not recall writing the note some three years later. However, Judge Arand admitted the scheduler’s testimony and the record itself, over objection. Thus, defense counsel was able to admit the statement in its entirety on the basis of case law, which supported the idea that admission of fault, even those tied to statements about insurance, are admissible.
Superior Court of Santa Clara County, Santa Clara, CA

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