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Catching Up With Terri Cenar, The Cyclist Whose Lawyers Took On The Trucking Industry And Won One Of Illinois’ Largest Truck Crash Settlements

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Terri Cenar’s life is much different today than it was seven years ago.

Once a triathlete and daily cyclist, on one November 2011 day Cenar found herself trapped under a semitrailer after it failed to stop and struck her, causing devastating damage to her body.

Her case and the critical evidence discovered by Cavanagh Law Group attorney Tim Cavanagh ultimately resulted in one of the highest truck crash lawsuit settlements in Illinois history — a landmark $9.75 million.

“When they weren’t sure if I was going to live, they did what family does: they did whatever they could and wanted to make sure evidence wasn’t lost, and wanted to get me the best lawyer they knew,” Cenar said. “So they contacted Tim.”

Now, as the weather warms and roadways are cluttered with more cyclists and trucks than ever, Cavanagh and Cenar want the public to be aware of the dangerous consequences of truck drivers who drive distracted or without proper adherence to the rules of the road — a situation Cenar knows all too well.

The crash forced the longtime athlete to transition from cycling across some of the country’s most famous landscapes, like the Rocky Mountains and Death Valley, to keeping up with an ongoing regiment of physical rehabilitation, walking with a cane and living with severe pelvic injuries, which still requires surgery.

Today, Cenar’s path toward physical and mental healing often includes helping others also going through rehabilitation, practicing and teaching Tai-Chi to help strengthen her mind and positive attitude. Though the truck may have crushed her body, it didn’t crush her spirit.

Bit by bit, she continues to make progress on her journey — a far cry from the day a careless truck driver changed her life forever.

‘She Was Able to Survive … Being Run Over.’

Cenar’s case began Nov. 4, 2011 while the experienced cyclist was riding Downtown Chicago to meet her boyfriend.

As she approached an intersection, a semi-truck driven by 32-year-old Doka USA employee Anthony Hudson pulled out in front of her to make a right turn. Unable to brake quickly enough on her own, Cenar collided with one of the truck’s rear tires and became entangled in the vehicle. She was dragged underneath and crushed under the weight of the semitrailer. The damage to her body, particularly her legs and pelvis, was extensive.

As Cenar was rushed to Northwestern Memorial Hospital, then airlifted to Loyola University Medical Center, she said her family, several members of which are lawyers, quickly sought out Cavanagh Law Group attorney Tim Cavanagh because of his reputation for achieving civil justice for victims in truck crash cases. As Cenar underwent 14 surgeries, her survival was in question.

“She [had been] in such good physical condition,” Cavanagh said. “I think that had a major role in why she was able to survive essentially being run over.”

To preserve critical evidence, Cavanagh immediately filed an order of protection against the city of Chicago, which allowed him to gain access to both 911 calls and any potential surveillance video that may have captured the collision. Without the order, the evidence may have been erased by the city after 30 days.

Cavanagh’s investigation turned up several witnesses who made 911 calls that were not originally listed in the police report, as well as camera footage which showed Hudson making a right turn in front of Cenar without yielding to her right-of-way.

“The truck driver took the position that he stopped at a light before he made the right turn, but the camera told the truth,” Cavanagh said. “It was critical evidence we were able to capture because we got involved quickly and got a judge to order the city to produce it.”

Six months before the case was set to go to trial, Cavanagh settled for the amount of $9.75 million during a pre-trial hearing before Cook County Circuit Court Judge Hon. James P. Flannery Jr.

For Cenar, it signaled the end of a painful chapter in her life and allowed her to mentally and emotionally move forward on path to healing.

“It was a huge relief that it was over,” she said. “It had been going on for so long, and I had been living it for so long … now I can really go forward.”

“They could not have picked a better, better, better lawyer; he was fabulous,” Cenar said of Cavanagh. “I have so much respect for him. Tim and his team were just perfect.”

‘Know What Can Happen’

Today, Cenar continues to live life to the fullest, but in a new way.

She still struggles with issues involving her legs, feet and ankles, and since the crash, has not ridden a bicycle. Because of injuries she physically can’t — and, for her, the joy of cycling is gone, she said.

The hardest part of her day is waking up in the morning when her body is still stiff, she said, but that doesn’t stop her from exercising 1-3 hours every day. For the most part, Cenar said she does it without assistance of pain medication — instead turning to Tai-Chi to manage pain and keep her attitude strong. She now teaches others the practice at the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago, too.

“I wanted to give back,” she said.

The “main thing” for her to avoid is falling, she said, an occurrence that inevitably happens a few times a year and could potentially severely re-injure her. She walks with a cane, but with a collection to match her wardrobe, she now sees it more as a fashion accessory.

“It’s an ongoing thing, and I just do my best,” Cenar said. “I have good days and bad days.”

“It truly is a mental thing, because you can overcome anything as long as you put your mind to it. It’s attitude, and I was always a very positive person — I was always looking at the glass half full. I knew this was going to change me forever, and I just had to figure out how to do it.”

Cenar wants others to know of the dangers associated with cycling, especially in a major city like Chicago where semi-trucks roll through daily and cyclists are prevalent.

“There are so many more [cyclists] now than there were, so bike awareness needs to be so much higher,” she said. “Cyclists have responsibility, too … but to drivers and truck drivers: Don’t be on your phone, be paying attention, don’t be distracted, that’s a very important thing. Always look; know what can happen.”

“I see it all the time, people don’t stop and do what they’re supposed to do, don’t do their due diligence for what’s involved with being a safe driver,” she added. “People just need to be aware of the damage that it can cause. Thankfully my life wasn’t completely ruined — I’m lucky to be here.”

To put it simply, she said: “Just obey the rules of the road, and there won’t be a problem.”

The case is Terri Cenar v. Doka USA Ltd. and Anthony Hudson, No. 11-L-11590.

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