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Quadriplegic cyclist settles with sidewalk-builder for $3.45M

By: Matt Chaney//May 14, 2019

Quadriplegic cyclist settles with sidewalk-builder for $3.45M

By: Matt Chaney//May 14, 2019

A South Carolina man who became quadriplegic after breaking his neck in a bicycle crash on a sidewalk has settled with the builders of the pathway for $3.45 million, his attorney said.

The names of the plaintiffs and the county where the crash happened and the lawsuit took place were withheld in accordance with a confidentiality agreement.

Robert Phillips of McGowan, Hood & Felder in Rock Hill said the lawsuit was filed after his client crashed his mountain bike while riding home from work on the sidewalk. Phillips said that biking on the sidewalk is allowed in South Carolina, except in cities that have specific ordinances prohibiting it. There was no such ordinance in the area where the accident occurred, and the cyclist used it to avoid traveling on a dangerous five-lane highway.


The man, who was a real-estate agent in his 50s at the time of the crash in 2012, pulled off of the sidewalk and into the grassy median between the highway and the sidewalk as he approached a jogger. Where he rode off of the sidewalk, there was no drop-off, but as he attempted to pull back onto the sidewalk after passing, he hit a four to six-inch drop-off. The bike’s front tire caught the lip of the sidewalk, causing him to flip over the handlebars and into a nearby fire hydrant.

Although he was wearing a helmet, his head hit the hydrant in such a way that it broke his neck at his C-4 vertebrae. Without losing consciousness, he was able to tell that he had lost sensation to his limbs. He remains quadriplegic today, and requires 24-hour, round the clock care, which is mostly provided by his wife.

Phillips said the case was a tricky one, due to a great deal of difficulty on behalf of the plaintiffs in determining the cause of the accident.

“When he hires me, I come out there and can see it’s clearly not how it’s supposed to be [the sidewalk is not even with the median beside it], but why is it like this?” Phillips said.

Phillips and co-counsel Randolph Murdaugh IV of Peters, Murdaugh, Parker, Eltzroth, & Detrick in Hampton brought in multiple engineers to help determine the cause of the erosion that caused the development of the drop-off which they contended caused the crash. Phillips said they treated the case similarly to the way someone might treat a case where a roadway drop-off has led to an accident.

Ultimately, after investigating the pipes underneath the sidewalk using a robot, the plaintiff’s attorneys were able to determine that when making the sidewalk, the builders had failed to use enough mortar between bricks, leading to the erosion which caused the drop-off.

“We put this crazy case together, we had no idea how it got this way, but we kept plugging away and when you put it together, we saw why it did it, and it was a simple fix,” he said. “Just put mortar between the bricks, that’s the national standard for a stormwater catch basin. Otherwise, erosion happens.”

Phillips said that multiple attorneys had turned the case down prior to the client coming to him, and even after he agreed to take it, there was no certainty that liability existed or could be proven.

“There were a lot of pieces to the puzzle to put together,” he said. “It was scary because we thought that any minute we could lose it. It was never clear how to pull it together until the end.”

The plaintiffs included the builders of the sidewalk and the local government which maintained it as defendants. Their names were withheld as part of the confidentiality agreement.

Follow Matt Chaney on Twitter @SCLWChaney


Amount: $3.45 million

Injuries alleged: Broken neck leading to quadriplegia

Case name: Withheld

Court: Withheld

Date of settlement: October 5, 2018

Most helpful experts: Elvin Aycock of Atlanta (professional engineer and hydrologist), James Green of Asheville (civil engineer and expert cyclist)

Attorneys for plaintiff: Robert Phillips of McGowan, Hood & Felder in Rock Hill and Randolph Murdaugh IV of Peters, Murdaugh, Parker, Eltzroth, & Detrick in Hampton

Attorneys for defendant: Withheld

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