This story is about a plaintiff and a defendant. It is about individual responsibility. It is about human interaction. It is about the Constitution of the United States of America.
It was two days before my 74th birthday, November 16, 2008. I was driving north down a familiar four-lane street—two driving lanes on either side of a division barrier. I had driven down this street perhaps one hundred times before. This day the two northbound lanes had been restricted to one lane—the left lane. The right hand lane was littered with orange barrels denoting no travel. I was driving slower than molasses, as they say, since the construction workers and the police and the single lane of traffic would allow nothing more.
I switched on my directional signal to indicate the right I was going to take. I inched my way along. As I took my turn a meteor slammed into my passenger side door, flipped over the hood of my car and rolled across, dropping onto the street to my left. When this meteor came to a halt, I realized that it was a young man and his now mangled bicycle.
Where had he come from? Had he been traveling in the restricted lane? I never saw him. Did he see me? How fast was he traveling?
I was shaken. The collision with a human body sent shudders through me. I had been driving for fifty-eight years and had never hit or been hit by an animal or a human.
He was standing. He was speaking. We were exchanging information. The police recommended he go to the hospital, but he refused. We were cordial to each other expressing sorrow at the destruction of his bike and the damage to my car. He even had the sharpness of mind to notice that my driver’s license indicated that my birthday was just two days away.
Police reports were taken. The word was that the bicyclist was traveling too fast. This is what was reported in the police report and by witnesses at the scene.
I am a trusting and caring human being. I am an attorney. (These are not conflicting characteristics.) I saw no reason to take photos of the scene or to interview the witnesses myself. I left that to the police officers at the scene. It was so clear to me that this young man had careened into me. We both felt sorry for the intrusion upon each other and that -- I thought -- was the end of the matter.
When this young man called me a few days later and asked if I was all right, I said yes, and asked about him. He said he was not great and asked if I planned to “pursue the situation.” I interpreted this to mean did I plan to sue him, since he hit me. I said I had no plans except to get my car fixed and my insurance company would pay for that. The insurance company was not going to add a surcharge to my fee since the police report indicated that he, the bicyclist, was at fault.
Fast forward to August 2009. My car was repaired and the incident was now a vague dent in my driving experience. Then I received notice from my insurance company that the young bicyclist is suing me for negligent driving. In the nine months since the accident he has suffered trauma to his head and shoulder and has been unable to work. He has incurred certain expenses and is suing me to cover his uninsured medical expenses.
I am beside myself. I go through the litany of negligence. I was driving sooooo carefully. He was an eighteen-year-old on a bike that might not even have had brakes; he was not wearing a helmet; and, he was traveling too fast. Doesn’t anyone take responsibility for themselves anymore? Why is it always someone else’s fault? Well, I believe it’s a deep pocket that is being searched for-- a settlement from the insurance company, with my head in the noose.
The sixth amendment to the United States Constitution provides for the plaintiff, my bicyclist, to request a jury trial and for me, the defendant, to be judged by a jury of my peers. Since citizens seventy years or older are excused from serving on a jury, the plaintiff will get his jury trial. I, on the other hand, age seventy-six at the time of trial, will be denied a jury of my peers.
Barbara Younger, attorney, mediator, matriarch, is a facilitator in family conflict resolution.