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Hard facts collided with sympathy in a North Carolina courtroom where a brilliant Chinese student with a budding international reputation as a math prodigy sought damages for debilitating brain injuries suffered in a 1999 traffic accident. The case ended in a hung jury, but the defendants agreed to a $1.05 million settlement during mediation ordered by the judge before any second trial. Yu v. Oasis Landscaping, No. CV 05151 (Wake Co., N.C., Super. Ct. of Justice). The plaintiff, Li Yu, 25, a native of China, now resides in North Carolina, where he relocated to pursue his studies at North Carolina State University. At age 11 he scored a near-perfect 780 on the math portion of the SAT, but he is now physically incapable of continued learning because the head injuries he sustained obliterated his short-term memory, said his attorney, David Kirby of Raleigh, N.C.’s Kirby & Holt. “This is a young man who had incredible promise as a scientist but who now needs attendant care 24 hours a day,” Kirby said. According to court documents, the Nov. 3, 1999, collision that disabled Yu occurred while he was a passenger in a small car driven by Chuyang Zhang, another Chinese student studying in North Carolina. Zhang slowly entered an intersection with a high-speed arterial roadway to make a left turn, Kirby said. The driver claimed he came to a complete stop before entering the intersection, but an eyewitness testified that he rolled slowly past the stop sign without stopping. Once in the intersection, the car was struck by a dump truck owned by Oasis Landscaping and Maintenance Co. Defense attorney Ron Dilthey of Raleigh, N.C.’s Patterson, Dilthey, Clay & Bryson, said the case boiled down to a duel between facts and sympathy. “I realized during closing arguments that the best I could hope for was a hung jury, even though I knew that on the facts I should have won the case,” he said. “My major problem was this huge sympathy factor. When the mother talked about her son, some women on the jury cried freely.” Yu, the son of two university professors, was at the academic zenith of highly selective and fiercely competitive schools in Beijing, Kirby said. His outstanding academic performance exempted him from taking entrance exams to Tsinghua University, China’s equivalent of MIT. Throughout his academic career Yu won prizes for mathematics, physics and computer design, Kirby added. When applying to graduate schools in the United States, Yu scored 680 out of a possible 800 on the English portion of the Graduate Record Examination, even though English is his second language, Kirby said. “It is a very sad and tragic situation,” he said. “Li has an appreciation for his situation because his long-term memory is intact. He retains his knowledge from before the accident but has almost no ability to learn anything new.” Yu retains the ability to perform very complicated and involved mathematical and physics problems in his head but the destruction of his short-term memory is so complete that it took him six months to memorize a four-digit code for an automatic teller machine, Kirby said. Dilthey praised Judge Don Stephens as “very wise” for ordering insurance company representatives to be physically present during mediation sessions with Yu. Before that, the insurance company had offered only to match the $50,000 available from the insurance policy carried by Zhang, the driver of the car.

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