COLUMBIA — A bicyclist who sued the City of Columbia and Missouri Highways and
Transportation Commission following a 2005 accident, will receive
$450,000 out of the $1.8 million awarded Tuesday evening in the
comparative fault personal injury lawsuit.
The jury found the bicyclist, Krysten Chambrot, to be 75 percent at fault for the Aug. 18, 2005 accident at the intersection of College and Rollins Avenues involving two vehicles and a bicycle. According to the comparative fault formula, her percentage of fault will be proportionally deducted from the $1.8 million gross verdict.
The jury deliberated for 10 hours, returning the judgment at about 10:30 p.m. The verdict assessed the comparative fault of the defendants:
- 13 percent fault to the City of Columbia and Michael
- 12 percent fault to Judy Pope — the driver of the vehicle that first struck Chambrot,
- zero percent fault to the transportation commission.
On Aug. 18, 2005, Chambrot was crossing College Avenue when she was first struck by a car driven by Pope and thrown from her bicycle. She was then hit and dragged by a Columbia Water and Light truck driven by Arens.
The accident resulted in injuries that required the amputation of Chambrot's left leg below the knee. She is an MU graduate student and an employee of the Missourian.
The question of whether the accident resulted from poor judgment or could have been prevented with proper safeguards was at the center of closing arguments Tuesday morning.
Chambrot's attorney, Donald Schlapprizzi, said inaccurate police reports and conflicting statements from witnesses did not paint a fair picture of what caused the 2005 accident.
"The only person, as I see it, who says the same thing today as they did in 2005, is Krysten Chambrot," Schlapprizzi said in his closing argument.
Schlapprizzi argued that Arens changed his story, saying that on the day of the accident Arens told police he didn't know anything was wrong until a bystander told him to back up his truck. Schlapprizzi said this contradicts Arens' testimony, in which he said he saw the bicycle fly up at him.
He also argued that Pope did not do enough to avoid the accident and that the transportation commission did not allow enough time in the traffic signal for Chambrot to safely exit the intersection.
Schlapprizzi's voice rose as he accused MU police of not conducting a fair investigation, treating Chambrot like "just another college kid on a bicycle."
Jeffery Parshall, attorney for the city and for Arens, said witnesses have confirmed that Chambrot crossed the intersection on a red light.
"We are looking at a case of a good person who made a bad judgment," he told the jury.
He also pointed to testimony by Transportation Department project manager Nicole Hood, who programmed the traffic signal at College and Rollins in January 2005. She testified that the signal could not have changed in the way an expert for the plaintiff's side earlier indicated in his testimony.
Chambrot saw southbound vehicles stopped on College Avenue and decided to cross the intersection based on this observation, Parshall said.
"She didn't look at the lights, and seeing that un-movement, she said to herself, ‘It's OK to go,' but it wasn't," he said.
Pope's attorney, James Morrow, said Pope was operating her vehicle properly, had a green light and could not have prevented or avoided the accident. She and Arens simply found themselves in an unfortunate situation, he said.
"They were two people traveling down a roadway when something happened," he said. "They were doing something people do every day."