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17-year-old motorcyclist's lawyers win his case against Sacramento County after he suffered brain damage and debilitating injuries

Accident Type: 
Motorcycle Accident
Incident Date: 
Saturday, September 19, 1981
Result Date: 
Wednesday, January 2, 1985
Monetary Result: 
$854,000
  Robert Graves, 17, was riding his motorcycle down Garfield Avenue in Sacramento County, California on a Saturday night on September 19, 1981 and was trying to find a party accompanied by his friend Ron Strem and his girlfriend, who were riding in a car. Due to Graves's amnesia that resulted from the incident, Strem and others had to reconstruct what happened that night. According to Strem, the two had attended a party at a local park on the afternoon of the accident, gone to a sandwich shop to see a friend, where they had dinner, and met Strem’s girlfriend, who accompanied them as they stopped in at more parties they had heard were to be held that evening. Strem recalls that neither of the young men had consumed any alcoholic beverages during the day or the evening. Ron Strem, and his girlfriend, in his car, and Plaintiff, on his motorcycle, last stopped at a home on Silverstrand Way, and finding no one there that they knew, they decided to split up. Strem ;drove about one­half block, to the dead­end on Silverstrand, turned around, and proceeded westbound on Silverstrand. In the meantime, Graves had gotten on his motorcycle, started it and drove east on Silverstrand toward the dead­-end. According to an eyewitness, Graves accelerated his motorcycle, to at least 40 m.p.h., in the a ­half block distance, and backed off his accelerator just before striking the dead­end divider, but did not hit his brakes. At the end of Silverstrand Way there is a concrete and asphalt divider, six feet wide, which separates the end of Silverstrand Way from Garfield Avenue, which runs perpendicular to Silverstrand. Graves struck the divider, became airborne, and collided with a vehicle which was being driven south on Garfield Avenue. When Graves was found he was not breathing, and had to be revived at the scene through the use of closed heart massage and mouth-to-mouth resuscitation. He later had a tracheostomy in the Emergency Room. He suffered brain damage, which manifested itself in loss of short term memory, and has deficits in expression through speech or writing, with a slim chance of improvement. Plaintiff suffered multiple fractures of the hip, pelvis, ribs, clavicle and foot. He was in a coma for eighteen days, lost his spleen, had a flail chest, and is unable to walk without a cane. He was not wearing a helmet, however the defendant's attorney's were not able to use this to prove comparative fault due to the judge's order. Graves argued that there was a dangerous condition of public property, in that the signing on Silverstrand was improper. There was a yellow reflectorized, diamond­-shaped Type N sign at the end of Silverstrand, facing east-bound traffic, and mounted on the divider at the centerpoint of Silverstrand. Graves argued that this sign was improper because it did not clearly notify the driver that the street was coming to an end. It was alleged that, either the the word "END" should have been written on the yellow sign, or it should have been a red reflectorized Type N sign, and that both of the latter signs are more in conformity with the recommendations of the State Traffic Manual than the sign that was used. Graves also argued that, at the last entrance onto Silverstrand, there was no Not a Through Street sign, as recommended by the State Traffic Manual, although its absence was not made known until one and a ­half years after the accident in question, by County investigators. County records show that such a sign was erected some time prior to the accident, and the testimony of the residents of the area do not agree whether or not the sign was missing as of the date of the accident. The County of Sacramento and their lawyers contended that the intersection was well lit, and that the yellow Type N sign was clearly visible for at least three hundred feet prior to the end of the roadway. They also argued that Graves was driving far in excess of the 25 m.p.h. speed limit, that Plaintiff’s driving was impaired by alcohol, and that the road was not dangerous when used with due care. In the end, the jury sided with Graves, who was awarded $854,000. He was found to be 52% at fault, however, and therefore this award had to be reduced to $405,650.

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