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Jury to determine award to bicycle racer suing BSF

Bozeman Daily Chronicle: Jury to determine award to bicycle racer suing BSF

published on Tuesday, September 15, 2009 10:58 PM MDT

By JODI HAUSEN Chronicle Staff Writer

Although the Bridger Ski Foundation has admitted some liability in the 2006 injury of a racer who collided with a car in the only bicycle race the foundation has ever held, they claim the rider is also at fault.

A jury trial to determine how much the injured racer, Maxwell Yanof, should get in compensation for the accident began in Gallatin County District Court on Tuesday.

The two sides argued the finer points of the events of May 13, 2006, when Yanof and a motor vehicle collided on Babcock Street as the cyclist turned left off Fowler Avenue. Yanof was thrown over the hood of the car and landed in the middle of the intersection. He sustained a concussion, severely broken fingers and damage to a tendon in his hand. The hand injuries required two surgeries and significant rehabilitation, his attorney Jonathan Cok said during opening statements.

Although a specific award was not designated by Yanof’s attorneys, ski foundation attorney Gig Tollefsen said Yanof’s expenses for medical costs and lost wages, along with compensation for pain and suffering, totaled $70,200. However, Tollefsen said the award should be reduced based on the rider’s culpability.

An experienced bicycle racer, Yanof had ridden the course in preparation for the race. He also spoke with an official the morning of the race about concerns he had with that intersection. He was told he would not need to stop at the stop sign and that a race marshal would control traffic.

However, Tollefsen said, Yanof “recognized that particular intersection was dangerous,” knew it was not standard to design a course with a left turn when traffic was present, knew the foundation was not experienced in running a bicycle race and admitted that he was going 31 mph when making the turn.

Tollefsen argued that Yanof did not follow race rules, cutting the corner too close. The tight turn caused the collision with an oncoming vehicle, he said.

Additionally, Yanof knew it was a “fun race” - there was no big prize and “no reason to take unnecessary risks,” Tollefsen said.

But Cok said the race was a duathlon - a run-bike-run race - which is a rare type of race “that brings out competitive people. It’s not an ordinary race.”

A marshal “failed to stop a car,” Cok said. “They’ve admitted their negligence. They put a car in the same place as a cyclist.”

Cok said the marshal is not named in the lawsuit because she was put in a bad situation.

“They put an 18-year-old traffic marshal in a difficult position,” he said, showing the jury photos of the T-intersection. “When she volunteered, she had no idea she was going to be a traffic marshal.”

“They put her in a spot that overwhelmed her,” Cok said. Because there was traffic on Fowler, cyclists were sometimes obscured by vehicles and drivers were confused as to why they were being stopped.

The burden of proof is on them to show that Yanof’s injuries were caused by his negligence, Cok said.

“It was a race,” he said. “We all know what a race is.”