The tragic death of Bob Frederick, the beloved longtime athletic director at the University of Kansas and a respected national figure in college athletics, resulted from negligent construction work. Lynn Johnson and David Morantz filed suit in Douglas County, Kan., on behalf of the Frederick family, against Black Hills Energy, the gas utility company that had repaired a leak near the intersection, and the City of Lawrence. The successful lawsuit revealed violations of construction policies and highlights the value of developing and presenting compelling demonstrative evidence.
An avid and experienced cyclist, Dr. Frederick was riding across a busy intersection in Lawrence, Kan., with a friend when his bicycle struck a hole in the road leftover from recent construction. The ensuing fall resulted in a fatal head injury, despite a helmet.
Early discovery revealed a dispute between Black Hills’ foreman and a concrete subcontractor about who was supposed to repair the hole at the conclusion of the job. A business records subpoena revealed a second subcontractor who had repeatedly told the Black Hills that the hole had not been repaired and who had made futile attempts to make sure the hole was fixed. The city was dismissed from the case as it became clear that the gas company, through franchise agreements, had taken over the responsibility of repairing the job site.
With evidence that Black Hills’ foreman had violated company policies and procedures concerning job site supervision and cleanup, much of the case focused on allegations of comparative fault against Dr. Frederick. The defendants claimed that he should have seen the hole and avoided it.
To counter this, demonstrative trial exhibits were developed. The plaintiffs’ accident reconstruction and bicycle experts created detailed, multi-view animations that depicted what Dr. Frederick would have seen as he approached the intersection. The animations used information from the cyclist who was riding with Dr. Frederick at the time of the accident, and members of the Lawrence cycling community. They also incorporated information from motorists who were at the intersection, police photographs, digital “cloud scan” data, and high-definition video shot from cameras mounted on cars and on cyclists’ helmets. The animations required numerous visits to the accident scene involving multiple experts and extensive computer work to match photographs taken the day of the accident to video and data collected one year later.
The animations showed that a prudent and safe cyclist approaching the busy intersection would have focussed on the traffic lights and motor vehicles – as the other cyclist stated they were doing at the time of the accident – rather than looking down at the pavement. The animations provided the type of “C.S.I.” depictions that many jurors have come to expect. The case resulted in a favorable settlement shortly after the depositions of the plaintiff’s experts and of the subcontractors who had tried to get the gas company to repair the hole.
The litigation helped hold responsible parties accountable for the accident. Dr. Frederick enjoyed an outstanding reputation, was a respected professor at the University of Kansas, and a pillar of the Lawrence community. The strength and determination of Dr. Frederick’s family in pursuing this matter and holding the parties responsible was an honor to his memory.