Man serving 10 years for killing teen cyclist sues parents because he wasn't wearing helmet

Prisoner alleges parents negligent in letting their son ride bike without helmet

by Simon_MacMichael   November 15, 2010  

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The parents of an American teenager who died when he was struck by a car are being sued by the driver currently serving a ten-year sentence for his manslaughter because their son wasn’t wearing a cycle helmet.

Matthew Kenney, aged 14, was killed near Waterbury, Connecticut, in April 2007 when he was hit by a car driven by 48-year-old David Weaving, who was overtaking another vehicle at 83mph on a road with a maximum permitted speed of 45mph.

Following Weaving’s conviction in December 2008, Matthew’s parents, Stephen and Joanne, sued him for more than $15,000 damages. Weaving, however, has in turn issued them with a handwritten countersuit in which he accuses the couple of contributory negligence through permitting their son to ride without a helmet.

He is also seeking more than $15,000 in damages from the bereaved parents, alleging that he has suffered “great mental and emotional pain and suffering" and has lost his "capacity to carry on in life's activities," and is also claiming wrongful arrest and imprisonment.

According to a report on MSNBC, since the late 1990s, Weaving has been arrested on five occasions for drunken driving, leading to his being convicted of the offence four times.

While alcohol was not a factor in the accident that killed their son, the Kenneys maintain that his license should have been revoked in 1999 as a result of those multiple convictions, and have applied for permission to sue the state’s Department of Motor Vehicles and its commissioner.

Weaving claims that he was adhering to the speed limit and not driving recklessly when the fatal collision happened, and in his lawsuit alleges that had Matthew’s parents “complied with the responsibilities of a parent and guardian and the laws of this state and not allowed their son to ride his bicycle without a helmet and to play out in the middle of Rt. 69 ... this incident and Matthew's death would not have happened."

However, under a law introduced in 1997, while children aged 15 years and under in Connecticut are required to wear a bicycle helmet, "Failure to comply with this section shall not be a violation or an offense," and "Failure to wear protective headgear as required by this subsection shall not be considered to be contributory negligence on the part of the parent or the child nor shall such failure be admissible in any civil action."

Mrs Kenney described his lawsuit as “unbelievable,” and points out that while she and her husband have to pay for legal fees and court costs for their action, Weaving, as a prisoner, incurs no such costs since he is viewed as “indigent” under state law.

"I just think it's crazy that they have the ability to do this behind bars," she explained. "I think inmates have too many rights. They're the ones who committed the crimes, not us. And we're the ones who suffer more."

State Victim Advocate Michelle Cruz also expressed outrage at Weaving’s lawsuit. "Blaming the victim is just offensive," she said. "It takes obviously a very unique individual to go after the family of a deceased child. I would say it's an unsound lawsuit."

However, attorney Andrew Cates, who represented Weaving in an unsuccessful appeal against his conviction but has no involvement in the current action, believes that his former client is within his rights to pursue the action.

"I can see their side of it. I'm a parent," he maintained. "But I can also see the other side of it. If you're driving down the street and your car makes contact with a pedestrian and you think it's the pedestrian's fault, you have to raise the issue."

While the case is bound to prompt thoughts of “only in America” and “it couldn’t happen here,” it’s worth reflecting that the same used to be said not so long ago of ambulance-chasing lawyers operating on a “no-win, no-fee” basis.
 

12 user comments

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A claim of this sort is clearly grossly offensive - Weaving was convicted of a criminal offence under the standards required for criminal conviction, ie it was beyond reasonable doubt that he was criminally responsible. There is no way that a helmet would have made any difference to the outcome.

We worry about whether the UK system is heading the way of the US system with ambulance chasing lawyers and contingent fees but there are significant differences. As I understand it, an unsuccessful litigant in the US cannot be ordered to pay the defendant's costs, whereas here they can, and thus any contingent fee lawyer needs to establish that his client can meet that liability, or that an insurer thinks the case has sufficcient merit to cover the liability.

There also doesn't seem to be the concept of a "frivolous and vexatious" litigant in the US, judging by the apocryphal stories we keep hearing.

posted by Paul M [306 posts]
15th November 2010 - 14:42

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This guy sounds like utter scum. One would hope that the US legal system will treat the man's case with the contempt it deserves.

OldRidgeback

posted by OldRidgeback [2132 posts]
15th November 2010 - 15:02

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Utterly ridiculous!! Hit anyone at that speed and you are going to kill them, helmet or no helmet, talk about blaming the victim!

posted by Kim [127 posts]
15th November 2010 - 15:05

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it’s worth reflecting that the same used to be said not so long ago of ambulance-chasing lawyers operating on a “no-win, no-fee” basis

I don't think the two are really comparable at all.

Lawyers would even say that for too long people who had been injured would be paying the costs of others' negligence and it is only right and fair that those with a duty to care have to pay compensation when they neglect that duty.

posted by pickles [27 posts]
15th November 2010 - 16:28

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Hopefully this will just get thrown out. It is offensive though, along the lines of stabbing someone to death and suing the bereaved family to cover the cost of your dry cleaning.

posted by mr_colostomy [29 posts]
15th November 2010 - 17:18

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pickles wrote:
it’s worth reflecting that the same used to be said not so long ago of ambulance-chasing lawyers operating on a “no-win, no-fee” basis

I don't think the two are really comparable at all.

I'm certainly not saying that access to justice for all, and especially those who would be unable to bring an action, is a bad thing, far from it.

But it's undeniable that since I first studied liability law 25 years ago there has been a steady creep of compensation culture within the UK, accelerated by the rise of claims handling firms, and it does seem that things that once upon a time would have been viewed as accidents pure and simple now always have to be someone else's fault.

That in turn has led to the ultra-cautious belt, braces and better stick another belt on just in case approach of the health & safety lobby (often at the instigation of insurers, and often as we all know resulting in some ludicrous situations).

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posted by Simon_MacMichael [7926 posts]
15th November 2010 - 17:44

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Of one thing I suppose we should be thankful: at least the scumbag got ten years. Most unlikely that a sentence like that would be passed in this country. In the UK it seems that the mere action of cycling on a public highway is effectively deemed contributory negligence if you happen to be killed by a motorist. That is certainly the overwhelming impression given by the paltry sentences passed down to drivers who kill and maim on our roads.

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posted by TiNuts [93 posts]
15th November 2010 - 22:18

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Sorry, but the driver is not just mildly misguided - he is clearly unable to grasp a modicum of reality. Please let the court lock him away, never give him a driving licence and not waste money on his pathetic attempts to extort money from a grieving family.

Cycling - not just a pastime or sport - free your soul on the open road.

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posted by timbola [203 posts]
16th November 2010 - 12:33

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"He is also seeking more than $15,000 in damages from the bereaved parents, alleging that he has suffered 'great mental and emotional pain and suffering' and has lost his 'capacity to carry on in life's activities,' and is also claiming wrongful arrest and imprisonment."

Rereading this section convinced me that the US courts will throw his case out. His charges include exceeding the speed limit excessively and also drinking and driving. He is deluded and believes everything is someone else's fault.

OldRidgeback

posted by OldRidgeback [2132 posts]
16th November 2010 - 15:48

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"This could only happen in the good ole USA !"

The villain was disturbed long before he hit the teenager and with 5 arrests and 4 convictions why did he escape the 3rd conviction gets you life option some states have in the US ?

Skippy(advocate for "Disabled / Para Sport")@skippydetour. blogging as skippi-cyclist.blogspot & Parrabuddy.blogspot currently on the road with ProTour Grand Tour Events .

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posted by skippy [378 posts]
16th November 2010 - 19:57

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Weaving is obviously an utter anal orifice, who is so out of touch with reality that he fails to see both that he's totally out to lunch with his claim and dragging the kid's parents to court is just plain badness.
Throw away the key.

posted by Cauld Lubter [117 posts]
17th November 2010 - 2:07

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The comment about the lad 'playing on Rt 69' is appalling - he was riding his bike!!!

I'd be very interested to hear how the parents' litigation against the DMV, saying that Weaving's licence should have been revoked years before. But surely any Court would agree that when a car hits a cyclist at that speed, a helmet is going to make no difference whatsoever. Poor kid.

posted by RuthF28 [89 posts]
15th December 2010 - 16:09

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