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Jury awards $384,000 to woman thrown from skateboard in Lewiston accident

Since her longboard accident, Chelsea Goodwill can't eat solid food without discomfort.

She has difficulty speaking.

She can't even kiss her boyfriend without discomfort.

A State Supreme Court jury last week said she deserves $384,000 in damages from the Village of Lewiston for what happened when she was thrown from her longboard – landing face-first on pavement and breaking her jaw in two places.

Goodwill was 21 when she was riding her longboard along South Seventh Street in the village at about 5 p.m. on June 25, 2015.

As she headed downhill, she crossed Cayuga Street, where the asphalt had been milled away in preparation for a repaving project.

Her longboard dropped about 1 1/2 inches onto the rough base of the street. But a second later, she struck the lip of the pavement on the other side of the intersection.

There were no warning signs at the intersection, because the village didn't own any, said her attorney, Paul K. Barr of Niagara Falls.

A medical expert testified that Goodwill, now 24, will be affected for the rest of her life. Her jaw was wired shut for a month. Barr said the issues with her jaw, and especially the joint that connects it to her skull, cannot be treated surgically.

"I ate lunch with this poor kid. She ordered soup and she's picking the chicken out of it because she can't chew it," Barr said. "The wires are gone, but there's discs in that joint, just like in your back. The fractures heal with a little scar tissue, so the alignment's not how it's supposed to be."

After a day and a half of deliberation, a six-member jury decided Wednesday that Goodwill, a North Tonawanda resident, was 60 percent responsible for the accident, and the village was 40 percent responsible.

The jury awarded her $960,000 in damages - $480,000 for past pain and suffering and $480,000 for future pain and suffering.

Because the jury ruled she was 60 percent at fault, Goodwill receives only 40 percent of the award, or $384,000. That will be reduced by more than one-third to pay legal fees and expenses, leaving her with about $250,000.

The day of the crash

Brenna C. Gubala, the attorney who represented the village in the trial, declined to comment.

Court papers indicated the village's defense included establishing that Goodwill was not wearing a helmet or any sort of pads, that she made no effort to stop at the stop sign at South Seventh and Cayuga streets, and she didn't try to slow down when she saw the grooved pavement.

Goodwill said she had been skateboarding for about a year before the accident, and had owned the board she rode that day for about six months. She had not skated in Lewiston before the day of the crash.

She testified that both of her feet remained on her board as she approached the intersection on that sunny late afternoon. She said she didn't see any cars coming, so she didn't plan to stop at the stop sign.

"Prior to exiting the grooved pavement area and resuming on the paved road, what was your plan about how to cross that area?" Gubala asked at the deposition.

"I didn't really have one," Goodwill answered.

"Did you just think you would go over that surface?" the village's lawyer asked.

"That was my hope," Goodwill replied.

Her boyfriend, Keith Starke, was skateboarding with her and made no attempt to cross the grooved pavement, according to her testimony. Starke veered to his right, skated on unmilled pavement where the asphalt was still intact, and did not fall. He did shout out a warning that the road was torn up, but Goodwill said she was too close to the intersection to stop.

"I realized when I hit it, when my board dropped down as low as it did, that it was a bigger difference than I thought," Goodwill testified.

In another hearing, she testified, "I tried to run. I was moving faster than I could run. So as I fell I put my arms out and they both just buckled in and I hit my chin."

By 4 a.m. the next day, she was having surgery in Erie County Medical Center, where Dr. William Belles repaired her jaw, which was fractured in two places.

Long-term effect

In a pretrial deposition, Goodwill said the condition of her jaw can interfere with her full-time job as a waitress.

"She's got to smell food she can't eat, and she's got to speak quite a lot for her job," Barr said.

"Sometimes by the end of the shift I have a lot of tightness in the jaw and headaches that are starting," Goodwill testified. "It's tight when I wake up and then after a little bit it eases up, and then if I'm doing too much during the day or speaking too much it will tighten back up."

She said she gets severe headaches at least five days a week and uses hot compresses to try to relieve them.

"She can't kiss her boyfriend. It hurts," Barr said. "Both the insurance doctor and her own doctor agreed that she's going to deal with this for a good long time, maybe forever."

Barr said Goodwill's doctor concluded that operating on the injured side of Goodwill's jaw might make things worse on the other side of her face.

"Fixing one side is kind of like fixing one hinge on a door. You fix one hinge, now the other one's off, so they don't like to do surgery on one side. Once you go down that road, you open a real can of worms," Barr said.

Goodwill testified that a dentist advised her that the stress of chewing could be causing her headaches, so he put her on a soft-food diet, permanently.

"So basically it's cottage cheese, oatmeal, yogurt, steamed broccoli, baked fish," Goodwill testified. "I can't eat, like, bagels, I can't eat steak, I'm not supposed to eat chicken. All the best foods."

The dentist also made a custom retainer for Goodwill that she must wear while sleeping.

"I put my arm up and sleep with my head in the crook of my elbow so my jaw is hanging freely ... with no pressure on it," Goodwill testified.

She testified that she hears crunching or clicking noises when she opens her jaw, emanating from the temporomandibular joint, also called the TMJ joint, below her ear.

Goodwill testified that as a result of the accident, she doesn't ride her longboard anymore.

"I don't really want to do that anymore, I don't think," she testified. "I don't want to fall and get hurt again."

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