A Dane County jury awarded more than $15 million on Thursday to the parents of a 23-year-old woman who was struck and killed in 2015 as she crossed Raymond Road on her bicycle, finding the driver who hit her to be 100% at fault for her death.
The jury awarded the family of Emilly Zhu $10 million for loss of society and companionship and $5 million for past pain, suffering, mental anguish, apprehension, discomfort or sorrow. The $10 million figure will be automatically reduced to $350,000, which is the cap for such jury awards in Wisconsin, said Clayton Griessmeyer, who represents Zhu’s family in their lawsuit against the driver, Brian Hodgson.
The $5 million figure will remain, as there is no cap for past pain and suffering. Zhu’s family was also awarded $127,178 for medical expenses and $9,329 for funeral expenses, amounts set prior to the jury trial, which began Monday before Dane County Circuit Judge Valerie Bailey-Rihn.
“We’re just really happy,” Griessmeyer said. The verdict, he said, came nearly four years to the day after the crash, which happened on June 10, 2015, as Zhu rode her bicycle, as she did most days, to work at Epic Systems. She died two days after the crash.
The only witness to the crash was Hodgson, Greissmeyer said. Hodgson told police Zhu rode without stopping into Raymond Road, where the Ice Age bike and pedestrian path crosses the 8000 block of Raymond Road, on Madison’s Southwest Side.
Four months after the crash, the Dane County District Attorney’s Office said Hodgson would not be charged with a crime. According to police, Hodgson said Zhu rode into the crosswalk “very quickly” and he could not stop in time to avoid her.
Police concluded at the time that Hodgson was driving between 52 and 55 mph, based on the length of a skid mark at the scene. The posted speed limit was 45 mph.
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Griessmeyer said the rule of right-of-way says that Zhu, as a bicyclist, had the right of way at the crossing. He added that a jogger who often passed Zhu on the path in the morning noted that when he saw her, she always rode slowly, and always wore a helmet. No helmet was found at the scene or among Zhu’s possessions at home, Griessmeyer said.
The jury verdict, however, is not likely to be the last word in the case.
“We respect the jury’s efforts but we were naturally disappointed by the verdict,” attorney Ward Richter, who represents Hodgson, wrote in an email. “We have concerns about certain of the court’s rulings and anticipate further proceedings.”
Griessmeyer said Zhu was raised in Fort Collins, Colorado, then attended Princeton University, where she was a star student in chemical engineering, computer sciences and biomedical engineering. After college, she came to Madison to work at Epic.
She came to the U.S. from China at age 3, the only child of her parents, Zongjian Zhu and Weiqin Jiang. Because she arrived here when she was so young, she helped her parents immensely with English and in navigating American culture. She was, Griessmeyer said, “the perfect child.”
“She was just a great, tremendous, special person,” Griessmeyer said. “She was a person you couldn’t find anything wrong with.”