A Van Nuys Superior Court jury Friday awarded $2.3 million to a former Van Nuys resident who suffered serious head injuries in a spill at the start of a 1982 bicycle race in Malibu.
Barbara Buchan, 31, of Leucadia, was awarded the money as the result of a 1985 lawsuit filed against the United States Cycling Federation. Buchan's suit accused the federation of negligence in allowing the inexperienced cyclist who caused the crash to participate in the race. The suit also contended the federation failed to require riders to wear adequate head protection.
The accident deprived Buchan of present and future earnings, a potential career as an Olympic cyclist and normal neurological functions, the suit contended.
Everett Hinchcliffe, attorney for the USCF, said he will appeal the verdict.
Hinchcliffe contended Buchan had signed a release exempting the federation from legal liability, and argued that Buchan assumed the risk by participating in the race. But Judge Irwin J. Nebron ruled that the release was not legally binding.
Buchan was participating in the third of a four-race Southern California series to determine the U.S. women's road-racing team for the world cycling finals in England when the July, 1982, accident occured.
An inexperienced rider cut across the pack of 64 women cyclists, causing 15 to fall, on a steep descent along Mulholland Highway in Malibu. Buchan suffered critical head injuries and was in a coma for six weeks. She underwent five brain operations, said James P. Carr, Buchan's attorney.
Buchan still suffers from profound coordination and memory problems, Carr said.
Carr alleged that the rider who caused the crash was allowed to enter the race despite the objections of a number of other entrants who contended she was too inexperienced. Carr introduced evidence during the trial that showed the inexperienced cyclist had caused an accident in an earlier race a few days before the Malibu incident.
Buchan also sued the Pacific Coast Cycling Federation and Kucharik Bicycle Clothing, the Gardena store which sold Buchan's helmet. But those claims were settled out of court for $1.1 million, Carr said. That sum will be deducted from the $2.3 million Buchan was awarded Friday, Carr added. The inexperienced rider who caused the crash was not named in the suit.
Although doctors said Buchan would never walk again, she recovered the use of her limbs and will represent the U. S. in the handicapped division of the Seoul Olympic Games this summer.