Case details

Truck driver caused crash by crossing into opposite lane: bicyclist





Result type

Not present

chest, clavicle, fracture, leg, rib, shoulder
On Feb. 8, 2011, at around 5 p.m., plaintiff Rory O’Reilly, 55, a finish carpenter, was traveling downhill on his bicycle in the eastbound lane of East Camino Cielo Road in Santa Barbara when he encountered a U.S. Forest Service truck that was driving on the opposite side of an “S-curve.” East Camino Cielo Road generally runs in an east/west direction through the Los Padres National Forest and is a narrow–15 feet across at the site of the accident–curvy, steep road, reaching a height of 4,000 feet at the summit. There are no markings on the road to delineate the center line or the edge of the road. The road is popular among amateur and professional cyclists who ride and train in the Santa Barbara area. Due to the angle of the road (sloping upward), the time of day (early evening), and the orientation of the road (west by northwest), when the Forest Service truck turned to the westerly direction, traveling at 25 mph, the driver, Warren Johnson Jr., was blinded by the setting sun. As a result, the truck drifted from the right side of the road to the left side of the road, resulting in a collision with the bicyclist. The impact caused bicyclist to hit the front bumper, sail on top of the hood, and then topple to the ground. He fractured his scapula, clavicle, eight ribs, and a femur. He also suffered a punctured lung. O’Reilly sued Johnson and Johnson’s employers, the United States of America and the Department of Agriculture Forest Service. The plaintiff alleged that Johnson was negligent in the operation of the Forest Service truck, and that Johnson’s employers were liable for his actions in violation of the Federal Tort Claims Act since Johnson was acting within the course and scope of his employment as a Forest Service worker at the time. The plaintiff claimed that he had ridden on East Camino Cielo Road more than 100 times before the accident without incident and that on the subject date, he was accompanied by two teenaged, “junior” riders he was coaching. He alleged that he was about one minute into their descent from the summit, traveling at about 25 mph, when he encountered Johnson’s truck being driven in the opposite direction on East Camino Cielo. The plaintiff claimed that he first spotted the truck when it was about 200 feet away from him, traveling in the westbound lane at a speed of about 25 mph. However, he claimed that the truck then began to turn in a westerly direction, following the road, when it made an abrupt change of course from the right side of the road to the left side of the road, blocking his path down East Camino Cielo. He alleged that as a result, he was unable to react in time and collided with the truck. The plaintiff further claimed that since Johnson negligently continued driving at 25 mph, even though he was unable to see in front of him due to the sun and had drifted into the opposite lane, Johnson and his passenger, another employee, only saw him for the first time when he landed on the truck’s hood. Johnson claimed that the plaintiff was at least partially liable for the accident. He alleged that the plaintiff was racing in the evening and that due to the plaintiff’s speed, he was unable to take evasive action., O’Reilly suffered fractures of a scapula, clavicle, eight ribs, and a femur. He also suffered a punctured lung. He was subsequently transported to Santa Barbara Cottage Hospital for treatment. The following day, he underwent surgery, including the placement of surgical screws in his knee and a surgical plate on top of his clavicle to stabilize the bones and promote healing. He then remained at the hospital for three weeks. Thereafter, the plaintiff was confined to a wheelchair for about three months and required constant care, much of which was provided by his wife, Laura Jewitt-O’Reilly. After he was able to get out of the wheelchair, he walked with a cane for several more months while his body healed. About six months after the accident, the plaintiff underwent a second surgery, during which the hardware was removed from his shoulder and knee because it was causing him discomfort. The surgeon also performed a manipulation of the plaintiff’s shoulder in order to loosen some of the muscle and ligament tightness that had developed as a result of the limited use of the shoulder. During the year following the the procedure, the plaintiff continued to see his doctor for orthopedic evaluations, as well as was treated by a chiropractor. The plaintiff claimed that despite treatment, he continued to experience pain and discomfort in his knee and shoulder. Approximately one year later, the plaintiff underwent another knee surgery, during which the surgeon examined the plaintiff’s condylar notch and surrounding cartilage, and shaved away scar tissue. The surgeon noted the presence of a one millimeter “step-off” at the location of the plaintiff’s condyle fracture, and opined that as a result, the plaintiff may need a total knee replacement in the next 10 years and would likely need a second one 20 years from now. The plaintiff missed time from work as a finish carpenter. Although he returned to work on a part-time basis after 7 months, he claimed he continues to be partially disabled. He claimed that he cannot squat, kneel, climb, stand for long periods of time, or lift heavy objects above his head as a result of his , and that he will continue to have these physical limitations. In addition, the plaintiff claimed that he was an avid and passionate world-class cyclist before the accident–a former World Champion and Olympian–but will never have the ability to compete at the level he was competing at before the accident. Thus, O’Reilly sought recovery of $3,490 for the value of his bicycle that was totaled in the accident; $216,248.39 for past medical costs, $82,180 for past lost earnings and $296,000 for future lost earnings. He also sought recovery of damages for his future medical expenses, consisting of physical therapy and shoulder and knee surgery. His wife, Jewitt-O’Reilly, sought recovery of damages for her loss of consortium. Defense counsel argued that O’Reilly’s were not severe and contended that the plaintiff was able to return to work after six months. Counsel also argued that the plaintiff’s should not prevent him from doing his work. Defense counsel further argued that the plaintiff’s wife did not warrant an award for loss of consortium. The defense’s orthopedic surgery expert opined that the plaintiff will not require a knee replacement and that even if he did, a second knee replacement would not be required. The expert also testified that does not believe that the plaintiff will be helped by surgery to his knee or shoulder.
United States District Court, Central District, Los Angeles, CA

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