Mary E. Alexander appeared on the Great Trials Podcast, which aired on May 14, 2019. She was interviewed about a 1980 California trial where she won a $13.3 million verdict for a University of Arizona student. The student, 40-year-old Mary Hall, suffered a life-altering injury from a bicycle crash while riding down a hill in Yosemite Park. The crash left her paralyzed from the neck down and unable to breathe without the assistance of a medical breathing machine.
The case revolved around the controversial use of beach-cruiser style bicycles with coaster brakes. The bikes were rented out to tourists who would ride on a hilly, rocky area of Yosemite Park. During the trial, Mary E. Alexander argued this area was better suited for mountain bikes with hand brakes and used other rental services at similar parks as examples. To make matters worse, the brakes on the bikes were being replaced with used brakes to save money, causing riders to lose control in the steep areas. One rider, a 12-year-old who testified in the case, had used and returned the bike for its inability to brake, just mere hours before Mary Hall would crash that same bike into a tree.
The defendants, on the other hand, tried to argue that it was not an area meant for bicycle riders, and that Mary Hall should have never attempted to ride down that hill. There were a few problems with this argument. First, it was found that the map did not make it clear where riders are supposed to ride. Second, there was no clear signage indicating you could not ride in this area. A witness reported that more than 50 percent of people would ride bicycles in this area. The defendants resorted to hiring a professional bicyclist to ride down the area while recording himself. In the recording, the bicyclist nearly lost control of his bicycle in the same spot where Mary Hall’s crashed had occurred.
After crashing into a tree, Mary Hall suffered a spinal cord injury that prevented her from breathing. A couple that witnessed the accident happened to be ER physicians, and they assisted her just long enough for her to be taken to the hospital. She spent two years in the hospital, where she was completely reliant on assistance for her everyday needs. She was able to testify in court for only a brief moment and would eventually learn to operate a wheelchair.
In the first part of the podcast, we also learn about Mary E. Alexander’s background story and how a loss in her family led to her lifelong pursuit of protecting consumer rights. A past president of both the Association of Trial Lawyers of America and the Consumer Attorneys of California, Mary E. Alexander’s career has focused on one thing – ensuring that those who have been harmed by the negligent, preventable actions of others get their day in court and get the justice they deserve. To read more about her background, visit her law firm’s website.