Terri Cenar’s love of cycling had taken her from bicycle tours of Death Valley National Park to the peaks of the Rocky Mountains, but in November 2011, at 49 years old, her lifelong passion was tragically cut short.
On a Friday afternoon, Cenar was cycling south on LaSalle Street to meet her boyfriend for lunch in downtown Chicago. As she approached Chicago Avenue, a tractor-trailer made a sharp right turn in front of her. Unable to brake in time, she collided with the rear right tire of the trailer and was dragged underneath the wheel.
When Cenar came to, she was losing blood rapidly; her pelvis was broken, and she had suffered injuries to her stomach, bladder, left leg, groin, and vulva. After being rushed to Northwestern Memorial Hospital, she was airlifted to Loyola University Medical Center in Maywood, where she underwent 14 surgeries.
“From the moment she was injured, Terri was in a fight for her life,” says Tim Cavanagh, the attorney who represented Cenar in her subsequent lawsuit against Doka USA, the company whose driver caused the accident. “I remember meeting with her family at the hospital, and it didn’t look like she was going to survive because her internal injuries were so extensive.”
But Cenar did survive, and thanks to the thorough work of Cavanagh and his team, in July 2014 she reached a settlement with Doka for $9.75 million, which, according to the Illinois Jury Verdict Reporter, was an Illinois record for a case involving a vehicular collision with a bicycle. Moreover, the National Law Journal reported that the result was one of the largest settlements in the country for 2014.
"Once retained, we will stop at nothing to ensure our clients obtain full and fair compensation for their injuries." – Tim Cavanagh
“Our success came down to our early involvement in the case and the fact that we quickly filed an emergency motion for a protective order against the City of Chicago, which provided access to the surveillance cameras at the intersection and the 911 calls that were made following the accident, before they were taped over,” Cavanagh says.
“We later learned that the police didn’t perform a detailed investigation of the accident when they arrived at the scene—no photographs were taken, nor was a detailed statement obtained from the truck driver. So, the cameras ended up being critical evidence, because while the truck driver blamed the accident on Terri, the cameras told a different story. ”
Video of the accident showed the truck driver making a right turn immediately as he reached the intersection, rather than ceding right-of-way to Cenar. As the case progressed, Cavanagh also discovered that the driver of the trailer should not even have been behind the wheel that day: Records showed that his commercial driver’s license had been suspended in 2007 and 2009, which, according to Doka’s internal safety policies, should have disqualified him from driving for the company.
“Doka is an international, sophisticated company that builds concrete forms for some of the tallest buildings and structures in the world, and that made getting this information very challenging,” Cavanagh says. “In the end, though, we were able to obtain the proof, and that, in part, led to this settlement a couple months before trial.”
Cavanagh Law Group has a history of uncovering crucial evidence in its cases. In another case the firm handled in 2014, it successfully proved that CAV International Inc., a military contractor, was responsible for the fatal fall of a United Airlines employee, John Bruce, at the U.S. military base in Kuwait that the company was operating.
Bruce, after exiting the luggage compartment of a Boeing 747, had been standing on top of a mobile belt loader, intending to walk down the loader to the ground below, when a CAV employee without warning lowered the loader’s safety railing, causing him to fall 15 feet to the concrete tarmac. Bruce suffered a catastrophic brain injury and died six days later.
In the ensuing lawsuit, Cavanagh and his team traveled around the world to depose witnesses and conduct an inspection of the belt loader. The case ultimately went to trial, and after a hard-fought battle, the firm secured a $6.65 million jury verdict for Bruce’s family in February 2014.
“CAV was blaming Bruce for the fall, and since there was no video of the incident, this was a very difficult case to work up,” Cavanagh says. “We had to go to great lengths to find out what happened, but ultimately that’s how we approach all of our cases—once retained, we will stop at nothing to ensure our clients obtain full and fair compensation for their injuries.”