City of Northampton prevails in lawsuit brought by injured bicyclist



Last modified: Monday, November 09, 2015

NORTHAMPTON — A Hampshire Superior Court jury on Friday found that the city of Northampton was not negligent in a case involving a woman who was seriously injured in a bicycle accident behind John F. Kennedy Middle School five years ago.

Evelyn Cleary, 58, sued the city in late 2012, alleging it failed to properly mark a long chain hung between two posts on a road that runs behind the Bridge Road school, which created a dangerous situation and caused the accident.

Cleary was on her way to the Aquatic & Family Center to get a swimming schedule on Oct. 8, 2010, when her bicycle struck the chain and she fell to the ground. The fall left her with serious facial and jaw injuries, according to evidence presented in the case. Cleary had been wearing a helmet and was riding at a leisurely pace when the accident occurred, she said.

“I can’t believe it,” Cleary said in a brief interview after the jury delivered its verdict. “I’m shocked. I’m absolutely shocked by it.”

Cleary, who testified in the two-day trial along with three city employees and a friend, said the chain was poorly marked and was difficult to see against the asphalt on the day of her accident. Cleary has incurred $120,000 in medical expenses to treat her injuries, which included facial paralysis, a jaw broken in three places and scarring, among other medical issues.

She has made more than 30 trips to Boston for medical treatment and remains $53,000 in debt because of those medical expenses, she said.

“There’s no getting around the disaster that happened to Evelyn,” her Springfield attorney, John E. Jerzyk, told the jury during closing arguments. “Horrific injuries.”

“The city didn’t take adequate precautions,” Jerzyk said. “They set up this recipe for disaster.”

The chain remains and is tagged across its length with several orange streamers. Northampton Mayor David J. Narkewicz said Friday that the chain is in place to inhibit vehicle traffic to an area behind the school used by students for physical education classes, recess and other recreational activities.

“It’s part of the outdoor campus,” Narkewicz said. “They don’t want it to be a through area for public traffic.”

The mayor declined to comment on the outcome of the case, saying he wasn’t familiar with the details. “I respect the jury process,” he said.

The city was represented in court Friday by Jeffrey Trapani of the Springfield law firm Robinson Donovan, P.C. Trapani said there was no disputing that Cleary was injured in the accident, but he maintains that the city was not liable.

In its defense, the city relied on the comparative negligence statute. Under that statute, the city had to prove that if it was negligent, Cleary was as well — and that her negligence also contributed to or was a substantial factor in her injuries, as Judge Bertha D. Josephson explained to the 14-member jury in court.

Dan Crowley can be reached at dcrowley@gazettenet.com.


 


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