Date of Verdict:
Court and Case No.:
C.P. Chester County No. 021103888.
Jeffrey R. Sommer.
Type of Action:
Albert Brooks, Fodera & Long, Philadelphia.
Kevin O’Connor, accident reconstruction; Phoenixville; Donald Nicklas, pathology; Audubon.
Kevin M. Blake, Bennett, Bricklin & Saltzburg, Blue Bell.
Michael Lubold, accident reconstruction, Levittown; Michael Zemaitis, toxicology, Pittsburgh.
On May 5, 2014, plaintiff’s decedent, Lawrence Paden Jr., 26, unemployed, was riding a motorcycle west on Manley Road in West Chester. At the same time, ahead of him, Kathryn Kelleher was stopped on the road, waiting to complete a left turn onto eastbound Marley Road from a driveway on Paden’s left side. She was waiting to see if a third driver, Karen Lukenda, would reverse out of a driveway on the right side of the road. While she was waiting, Paden, who was speeding, crested a nearby short hill and broadsided Kelleher’s car at the front passenger’s side door. After striking the car, Paden slid 42 feet before he hit a mailbox and a utility pole. Paden was declared dead at the scene. His autopsy report indicated the presence of tetrahydrocannabinol (TCH), the psychoactive ingredient in marijuana, in his blood at the time of death.
Paden’s estate sued Kelleher and Lukenda, alleging that they were negligent in the operation of their respective vehicles. The estate settled with Kelleher for an undisclosed amount, prior to trial. The case proceeded to trial on the estate’s claims against Lukenda.
The estate’s counsel maintained that Lukenda had failed to yield the right-of-way to Kelleher, causing her to stop or slow on Manley Road, resulting in the accident. Kelleher testified that she had to stop because she saw Lukenda’s red backup lights and did not know if she was going to enter the road.
The estate’s expert in accident reconstruction disputed the findings of one of two state troopers who investigated the accident, and took issue with the trooper’s determination of point-of-first-perception. The trooper had testified that his investigation determined that a motorcyclist, such as Paden, traveling on Manley Road had a 208 foot point-of-first-perception to Kelleher’s car, meaning that a motorcyclist could first see the car when it was 208 feet away. A driver in a vehicle sitting in the exit, however, only had a 190-foot point of first perception with regard to a motorcyclist approaching. The estate’s expert believed that this determination, based on two investigating officers who knew they were looking for each other, was not an accurate way to determine the sight lines that the drivers would have had on the morning of the accident. The expert, while acknowledging that Paden was speeding, testified that it was impossible for anyone to opine as to Paden’s speed prior to impact, and that the trooper’s speed analysis was therefore incorrect. The expert further testified that Lukenda, while in the driveway, should have done a “K” turn and attempted to leave the driveway face-first, as this would have put her closer to the road prior to entering and allowed her a better line of sight.
The estate’s expert in pathology opined that there was no scientific basis to conclude that Paden had smoked marijuana less than two hours prior to driving his motorcycle. He further stated that the effects of THC dissipate rapidly, and that 23 ng/ml (nanograms per milliliter) was not, of itself, proof of intoxication. A level of 5 ng/ml is generally considered to be intoxicating.
Lukenda testified that she had intended to travel west on Manley Road, and stopped her vehicle at the bottom of the driveway. She did not, at any time prior to impact, enter Manley Road. She intended to wait for Kelleher to pass before entering the road.
Under cross-examination, Kelleher acknowledged that Lukenda’s vehicle had never moved from the time she had first seen it and until after the impact with the motorcycle. She also acknowledged that Lukenda’s vehicle was not touching or blocking Manley Road, and that she could have driven past the driveway that morning.
The state trooper who investigated the accident testified that Paden was travelling in excess of 65 miles per hour as he crested the hill and ultimately impacted Kelleher’s vehicle (the posted speed limit was 35 mph). The trooper reached the conclusion based on the 102 feet of post-impact motorcycle slide, sight-line analysis and stop-distance analysis.
The trooper concluded that the collision was caused solely by the actions Paden, who was driving too fast for conditions while intoxicated, and that Lukenda had correctly yielded the right-of-way to Kelleher.
Lukenda’s expert in accident reconstruction agreed with the trooper’s analysis, and testified that his own analysis indicated that Paden was traveling between 55 to 65 mph, and that the collision was solely Paden’s fault. The expert maintained that Lukenda had in fact fulfilled her obligation to yield the right-of-way to Kelleher.
Lukenda’s expert in pharmacology testified that the THC found in Paden indicated that he had smoked less than two hours prior to the accident and that Paden’s ability to drive was impaired.
Paden was heard moaning at the scene.
His estate sought to recover $4,208 in funeral expenses. The estate further sought damages under the Wrongful Death and Survival Acts.
The jury found that Paden was 100 percent liable. No liability was found against Kelleher and Lukenda.
—This report first appeared in VerdictSearch, an ALM publication. •