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Jury decision expected today in Kathryn Rickson wrongful death lawsuit

Buffered Bike Lane with a bike symbol and arrow pointing forward

Community advocates Roger Averbeck, Gerik Kransky,
and Cameron Whitten at the rally for
Kathryn Rickson on May 18th, 2012.
(Photo by J. Maus/BikePortland)

This afternoon at the Multnomah County Courthouse, a jury will hear closing arguments in the wrongful death civil trial of Kathryn Rickson. Rickson, a 28-year-old graduate student and aspiring playwright at Portland State University, died following a collision with a semi-truck at the intersection of SW 3rd and Madison on May 16th, 2012.

A representative of Rickson’s estate alleges that the trucking company, Delaware-based Golden State Foods Corp., was negligent because one of their drivers, Dawayne Eacret, failed to see Ms. Rickson and yield to her presence prior to the collision. Rickson’s family is seeking $1,789,281.93 in damages. Attorney’s for Golden State Foods deny the allegations and maintain that the fault of the collision belongs solely to Rickson.

Rickson’s attorney is Cynthia Newton of Swanson, Thomas Coon & Newton (a BikePortland advertiser). In the complaint filed with the court, Newton notes that Rickson was in the bike lane and had flashing lights on the front and rear of her bicycle at the time of the collision. Newton also details a specific list of actions by Eacret (and his assistant and passenger in the truck at the time of the collision Josiah Reed) that she believes demonstrate the negligence that led to Rickson’s death. Here’s an excerpt from the complaint:

(a) Mr. Eacret failed to initiate and maintain a reasonable lookout for bicyclists in the vicinity of and within the designated bicycle lane;

(b) Mr. Eacret failed to request or instruct Mr. Reed to keep a lookout for and inform him of bicycles approaching on his right side as he approached the intersection;

(c) Mr. Eacret failed to stop the tractor trailer before running over the bicycle and Ms. Rickson;

(d) Mr. Eacret failed to maintain reasonable control of his vehicle under the circumstances;

(e) Mr. Eacret failed to yield the right of way to Ms Rickson, who was lawfully occupying the bicycle lane;

(h) Failing adequately to train their employee drivers concerning legal requirements, safe driving, and lookout practices for operating trucks in delivery route communities around foreseeable bicycle traffic;

In their response to the complaint, James Gidley of Perkins Coie, the legal firm representing the defendants, denied the allegations. Gidley alleges that Rickson was negligent on several accounts including: “failure to keep a proper lookout for her own safety; operating her bicycle at an excessive rate of speed given the location, circumstances, and presence of other vehicles; failure to keep her vehicle under proper control; and failure to yield the right-of-way to the vehicle driven by Dawayne Eacret.”

Prior to the collision, Rickson was riding eastbound on SW Madison toward the Hawthorne Bridge. Eacret was driving in the same direction and the collision occurred as he turned right onto SW 3rd.

Rickson’s death led to renewed calls for safer infrastructure and hundreds gathered for a public rally at the intersection just two days after the collision. In September 2012, the Multnomah County District Attorney’s office found no criminal negligence in the case. The DA was not able to prove beyond reasonable doubt that Mr. Eacret could have seen Mr. Rickson prior to the collision.

It might be worth noting that this intersection has been the focus on considerable attention by the Portland Bureau of Transportation. It was one of the first to receive a green bike box in April 2008. Then in October 2012 (five months after Rickson’s death), PBOT flagged it as one of four bike box-treated intersections that saw an alarming uptick in right-hook collisions after the bike box was installed. In a report, PBOT said that excessive bike speeds on the slight downhill and other behaviors by people riding bicycles were contributing factors to those collisions. PBOT is currently working with PSU researchers on video analysis of the intersection to come up with new ways to make it safer.

Stay tuned for updates following the jury’s decision.

UPDATE, 10:20 am: According to Rickson’s lawyers, the case has been settled out of court. There will be no jury decision today. We’ll post details of the settlement if/when they become available.

— Browse our archives for more Kathryn Rickson coverage.

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