Back in 2012, following a seven-day trial in the federal court in New Hampshire, a jury awarded $8.5 million to the family of a bicyclist who was killed in August, 2008, when he was run over by a tractor-trailer on a rural road in Porter, Maine.
The bicyclist was traveling on the right side of the road as he approached a curve to the left. The tractor-trailer, traveling in the same direction, pulled into the left lane to avoid the bicycle, but when confronted with a pickup coming in the opposite direction pulled back to the right to avoid a head-on collision. The bicyclist was forced off the pavement, lost control of his bike, fell back onto the roadway, was run over by the rear tires of the trailer and died instantly.
The jury determined that the driver of the tractor-trailer was negligent in attempting to pass on a curve with insufficient visibility ahead, and rejected the defendant’s claim that it was a safe and reasonable place to pass. The jury also rejected the testimony of the state police accident reconstructionist who said that the main cause of the accident was the condition of the shoulder of the road which caused the decedent to loss control of his bicycle.
The 38-year-old decedent was an experienced bicyclist, a college graduate and owned his own contracting business. At the time of his death he was in excellent health and left a wife and two minor children.
After four hours of deliberation the jury awarded $3.5 million for lost wages and earning capacity and $5 million for loss of consortium for the surviving spouse and children. If the case had been brought in Maine where the accident occurred, the law would have limited the amount of the award for loss of companionship (the legal term is consortium) to only $500,000. The law in New Hampshire appears to have a similar restriction on damages for loss of consortium as Maine, so it is likely that the amount of the award will have to be reduced. The difference between how a jury values loss of a loved one and the limited amount set by the legislature is troubling. I would submit that a jury of ordinary citizens with access to the facts of each case is better equipped to reflect the values of the community than lawmakers sitting in the state capital considering only a theoretical case and responding to the pleas of insurance industry lobbyists.