ANNAPOLIS, JAN. 20 -- About 2 1/2 years ago, Carolyn Pike charged down Dock Street here in a charity "bed race" to raise money for the Muscular Dystrophy Association, her third race to help people slowly losing control of their muscles.
But that day, as friends pushed Pike in her makeshift bed along the course toward the finish line, the bed hit a curb and she was propelled head-first into a lamp post two feet away. Her neck was broken, and now she is paralyzed from the chest down.
Today, Pike sat in a wheelchair in Anne Arundel County Circuit Court as her lawyers argued to a jury that the association's Maryland chapter and Katcef Brothers Inc., the local beer distributing company that helped organize the race, are guilty of negligence. They did not do enough to make sure the race was safe for participants, her lawyers argued to jurors on the opening day of the trial, which is expected to last several weeks. Pike did not ask for a specific amount in damages against the association and the company.
Lawyers for Katcef Brothers and the Muscular Dystrophy Association argued that bed races had been conducted without incident in similar circumstances, and they had done nothing wrong.
There was little dispute, however, over the extent of the injuries that Pike, a former nurse who is an owner of the Deli Depot restaurant in Annapolis, suffered in the August 1985 accident. Pike, 40, is permanently paralyzed from the chest down and has limited use of her arms, lawyers for all parties said. She cannot use her fingers but still types monthly menus for her restaurant on a personal computer by inserting a pencil stub into a strap on her wrist.
Pike separated from her husband, James Pike, a few months before the accident, according to her attorney, William Cahill, but he quit his job after the accident and spends each weekday caring for her. Pike's boyfriend lives at her house and cares for her in the evenings and on weekends, Cahill said.
Bed racing has been a popular event for raising money for the Muscular Dystrophy Association since the late 1970s, said association attorney Ronald Baradel. Only one minor accident had been reported, he said, when the mayor of a small Florida town stepped backward into the path of a slow-moving bed while he was making a speech. Baradel did not say whether the mayor was injured.
Bed races are still held in some parts of the country, but no longer in Annapolis, the association said.
In the bed races, wheels were attached to the feet of beds that were pushed by four people over a course up to 100 yards long. The first Annapolis bed race was held in August 1983. That year, Pike entered a bed decorated to look like a locomotive to advertise her Deli Depot; it won the best decorated bed prize. The second time, the Deli Depot entry was decorated to resemble a hot dog stand, and the third time, a caboose.
The decorations were stripped off for the races, and Pike was lying prone on the bed with her head facing forward and her hands on the headboard. In the final race, according to lawyers for all three parties, the bed veered to the left side of the course; at least two of the pushers lost their grip, and the bed hit the curb near the finish line.
Cahill told jurors that the race organizers did not lay out a safe course; set the finish line too close to fixed objects; made no rules about how riders should position themselves on the beds; did not assign enough people to stop the beds when they crossed the finish line, and should have corrected these problems.
In the first two years, participants signed waivers releasing the sponsors from liability. However, no waivers were required during the third year, Cahill said.
"There are no bad guys in this case," Baradel told jurors. "Mrs. Pike was there participating in what was supposed to have been a fun event to raise money for the Muscular Dystrophy Association . . . . There was, unfortunately, a tragic accident."