The attorneys of Kirwan Spellacy & Danner recently obtained a verdict for the defense in a serious motorcycle accident case in Port St. Lucie County. The Plaintiff sustained catastrophic injuries when he claimed he had to lay his motorcycle down to avoid an accident due to a disabled vehicle that he alleged had stopped suddenly and without warning, blocking the roadway and causing him and others to have to come to an emergency stop. The Plaintiff was hospitalized in intensive care and then developed a life-threatening infection. Fortunately, he survived, but brought an uninsured motorist claim alleging negligence against the driver of the stopped vehicle, which eventually left the scene without any identification of its driver or owner.
Larry Brownstein, of our Palm Beach County office, tried the case along with Shawn Spellacy. Associates Erich Von Unruh and Jim Rogers played major roles during the discovery phases by taking critical depositions. Brownstein commented after the verdict, “This was a team win!” He went on to explain that without the diligent efforts of the Firm’s attorneys, paralegals and support staff involved in the matter “this victory would not have been possible.”
The defense verdict turned on the effective cross examination of the traffic homicide police officer who investigated the accident. The officer measured the motorcycle skid marks before it went down and testified that the bike was only traveling at approximately 37 mph at the time of the accident, well below the posted speed limit. At that speed it would have been difficult for the Plaintiff to have been able to stop safely. However, Brownstein relied on his engineering background and trial experience to debunk the testimony on cross examination. He was able to get the police officer to acknowledge that his speed calculation only included the length of the motorcycle skid mark, which did not factor in the length of the distance between where the bike went down and where the other vehicles were stopped. Factoring in that distance meant that the motorcycle had to be traveling at a minimum speed of over 47 mph, which was over the posted speed limit. In addition, Brownstein was able to get the police office to acknowledge that, in order to obtain a true speed, the officer would have had to factor in the speed at which the motorcycle struck the stopped vehicle as it continued to slide on the street after it went down. The police officer admitted that those calculations would have to be added to the 47 plus mph.
Later in the cross examination, Brownstein was able to get the officer to admit that the motorcyclist had ample distance to stop by factoring the Plaintiff’s reaction time, the time for the motorcycle wheels to lock up, and the time for the rubber of the tires to heat up and leave skid marks. These additional calculations, extracted during cross examination, required the police officer to acknowledge that the Plaintiff had approximately 135 feet of stopping distance. Using these new calculations, Brownstein convinced the jury in his closing argument that despite the stopped vehicle, the Plaintiff would have been able to stop the motorcycle safely. It took the jury only 45 minutes of deliberation, which included choosing a foreperson, to agree with the Defense’s argument, and to make a finding of no liability.