Crime & Courts

City, utility, family fight over ex-KU director's death

LAWRENCE — The city of Lawrence and a utility are locked in a court battle over liability in the death of former University of Kansas athletic director Bob Frederick.

Frederick, 69, died from head injuries in June 2009 after his bicycle hit a hole in pavement on a Lawrence street. His family has sued the city and Black Hills Energy for negligence for not fixing the hole.

The city says in a cross-claim filed in Douglas County Court that it had an agreement with Black Hills that the company would be responsible for fixing the road after working on gas lines.

Black Hills attorneys say the city was sued for its own negligence.

Attorneys for the Frederick family have said the city and utility company are both negligent and responsible for the hole in the pavement. The attorneys say if a jury finds the city and Black Hills responsible, jurors could determine the percentage of blame for each defendant.

Black Hills argues in court documents that the pothole "constituted an open and obvious danger." Another defense mentions that Frederick had a pre-existing physical condition.

Black Hills spokesman Curt Floerchinger said the company does not comment on pending litigation.

According to court records, Frederick was wearing a helmet while riding his bicycle when he struck the pothole. He died a day later at University of Kansas Hospital in Kansas City, Kan. Frederick was athletic director from 1987 to 2001.

Frederick was also injured in cycling accidents in 1988 on Clinton Parkway and 1994 on Clinton Dam Road.

In the city's response to the lawsuit, attorneys mention Frederick's negligence as a possible defense.

But David Morantz, a Kansas City, Mo., attorney representing the family, said Frederick would have been cautious as he approached an intersection.

"We think that a cyclist who is approaching a busy intersection is going to be watching traffic signals and be watching for approaching traffic versus keeping his head down and looking at the ground," he said.

Jerry Cooley, a Lawrence attorney representing the city, said it was still early in the process and that the city was waiting to get into the discovery phase of the lawsuit.