Trucking firm liable in death

Last modified: 12/16/2011 12:00:00 AM
They touched their tires to the Pacific Ocean and then headed East. On the morning of Aug. 25, 2008, as their dusty bikes rolled through New Hampshire on the last leg of a cross-country ride, 38-year-old Paul Lacaillade joined in. Under a waking blue sky, he left Moultonboro en route to the coast of Maine, where again the bicyclists would dip their tires in the cool waters.

But just over the border, as he entered a bend in the road, a tractor-trailer straddled the center line attempting to pass. A car approached in the other lane. The truck slid to the right. And Lacaillade's tires dipped on the shoulder's turned-up pavement.

The father of two from Meredith lost control of his bike and was thrown under the truck's back tires, dying instantly.

On Wednesday, Lacaillade's wife, Michele, was awarded $8.5 million after jurors in U.S. District Court in Concord ruled negligence against the driver's company, according to her lawyer.

The trial - seven days followed by four hours of jury deliberations - was "numbing," Michele Lacaillade said. Yesterday, as she talked about her husband, the lingering grief came forward in tears.

"They took a risk that they shouldn't have taken," she said. "And that risk cost someone their life."

The negligence case against Quebec-based trucking company Loignon Champ-Carr was filed early last year, according to Michele Lacaillade's lawyer, William Thompson.

Loignon's lawyers did not respond to a request for comment made yesterday.

The stretch of Route 25 where the accident happened is relatively flat, according to Thompson. But the curve, while not sharp, doesn't allow a driver to see around it, he said.

Thompson said he believes jurors ultimately agreed there was not enough visibility and the driver should have waited until after the curve, where the road straightens, to pass. Jurors heard testimony from other cyclists on the trip, a state trooper and an accident reconstructionist, according to Thompson

They also heard from Paul Lacaillade's father, who had started the bike trip in California. On the morning of the accident, as the cyclists drifted apart, he rode behind his son.

"He came upon the scene and saw his son laying in the road," Thompson said.

In its case, the defense presented a report filed by a Maine state trooper in which the broken pavement, not the trucker, was cited as causing the accident, according to Thompson. Thompson said he agrees the pavement played a part, but ultimately it was the driver that forced the cyclist off the shoulder.

"The video tape of the scene allowed the jurors to basically see what the driver saw in the moments before the crash," Thompson said. "And they could make their own judgment about whether this was a safe place to pass, whether you could reasonably see far enough ahead to be confident you could pass the cyclist."

The $8.5 million ruling is substantial, likely the state's largest jury award of the year, according to Thompson. He said it takes into account the financial loss of Paul Lacaillade's income, but also the emotional weight of losing a family member.

Yesterday, as she welcomed putting the legal proceedings to rest, Michele Lacaillade said the case was never about a number.

"It was about honoring Paul's memory," she said. "And it was about my children losing their father because of someone doing something careless."

Her husband, a former Marine, was an avid cyclist who started riding in his teens as a way to bond with his grandfather, his wife said. At age 15, he won the annual bike race up Mount Washington, despite missing the start by two minutes, according to his obituary.

A general contractor, he named his business - Andrew Taylor Homes - after his two children.

Taylor, now 14, was 11 when the accident happened; Andrew is now 12 and was 8 at the time.

Michele Lacaillade said running a consignment business from home allows her to spend more time with them.

"It's something that I took from being a hobby into being a business after his death so I could support the children and have flexibility to be there," she said.

As the three move forward, Michele Lacaillade said putting the loss behind her is unlikely.

Her hope is that others learn from it.

"Be cautious of those around you," she said. "A simple risk, a simple careless error can cause a whole family to suffer."

(Tricia L. Nadolny can be reached at 369-3306 or


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