The city of Fresno is not liable for a traffic collision near the Fresno State campus that severely injured a motorcyclist three years ago, a Superior Court jury ruled Wednesday.
The verdict caused Steven Kennedy, whose left leg was amputated after the collision, to cry in court.
For more than three decades, Fresno State students, motorists and pedestrians have had to cautiously navigate one of the busiest intersections in the city – Cedar Avenue and Bulldog Lane – without the benefit of a key traffic light.
The issue came to a head in April 2014 when Kennedy’s motorcycle collided with a car making a U-turn on Cedar Avenue at Bulldog Lane.
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In the month-long civil trial, Fresno attorneys Warren Paboojian and Adam Stirrup, who represented Kennedy, told the jury that city officials put Kennedy and the public at risk for waiting to install a left-turn signal at northbound Cedar Avenue at Bulldog Lane.
A jury of seven men and five women deliberated about three hours before voting 10-2 on Wednesday in favor of the city
In his argument, Paboojian said the intersection had 52 traffic accidents over a 10-year period from 2001 to 2011. The left-turn light was finally installed in 2015 at a cost of $280,000 – a year after Kennedy’s brush with death, Paboojian said.
Fresno attorney K. Poncho Baker and William Bruce, who represents the city, told the jury that the intersection has always been safe, even before the left-turn light. Baker argued that the driver who hit Kennedy was solely liable.
Baker and Bruce also contended the city did its due diligence by putting the intersection on a priority list once it was determined it needed a left-turn lane. The intersection, Baker told the jury, never posed a substantial risk to the public when “motorists use due care.”
A jury of seven men and five women deliberated about three hours before voting 10-2 on Wednesday in favor of the city by ruling that the intersection did not present a dangerous condition at the time of Kennedy’s accident. (In civil trial, at least nine jurors must agree before reaching a verdict.)
After the verdict, Paboojian said some of the jurors told him that they cried and couldn’t sleep because they liked the 51-year-old Kennedy, who lives in Clovis. Baker said jurors told him that Kennedy did nothing wrong to cause his injuries.
Paboojian’s case was hampered by a ruling from Judge Rosemary McGuire that limited citizen complaints from 1994 to when the left-hand turn signal was installed in 2015.
In presenting his case, Paboojian said the intersection, shaped like a T and west of the Fresno State campus, is dangerous because it is heavily traveled by pedestrians and motor vehicles heading to school, Bulldog Stadium and Beiden Field.
Though it had traffic lights, Paboojian said, city officials in 2004 finally decided the intersection needed to have a dedicated left-turn light to control traffic. But it took the city until 2015 to install the left-turn signal, he said.
Before the left-turn signal was installed, Paboojian said, motorists driving north or south on Cedar were required to yield the right of way to oncoming vehicles before making a U- or left turn onto Bulldog Lane. But that didn’t happen on April 30, 2014, around 3:30 p.m., when Kennedy was riding his 2010 Harley-Davidson motorcycle south on Cedar Avenue. He drove through the intersection on a green light and collided with a 2008 Dodge Avenger driver by 23-year-old Michael Bravo, who was making a U-turn.
A police report says Bravo caused the collision by failing to yield to oncoming traffic. The impact caused Kennedy, then 48, to be thrown from his motorcycle. His body struck a pole before coming to rest on the sidewalk. Kennedy later received a $15,000 settlement from Bravo’s insurance policy.
Before he lost his leg, Paboojian said, Kennedy made more than $170,000 a year plus benefits by working in the oil fields of California, Oklahoma and Arkansas. Since the collision, Kennedy, has had at least 10 surgeries to reconstruct his right elbow, amputate his leg and repair other injuries, Paboojian said. Kennedy has tried to return to work, Paboojian said, but his injuries prevent him from handling the rigors of the job.
Paboojian contended the city was liable for millions of dollars in damages for Kennedy’s lost wages, medical bills and pain and suffering. After the verdict was announced, Kennedy left the courtroom with nothing and his future finding a meaningful job appears dim, Paboojian said.