Rollover lawsuit settled, though wounds remain
A lawsuit between the family of a teen paralyzed in a 2014 rollover crash and the family of the teen driver was settled last week.
However, the settlement is confidential and cannot be released publicly, said Bob and Darnell Langley, parents of the paralyzed teen, Mackenzie Langley.
“It’s been brutal, absolutely brutal,” said Bob Langley. “It’s something you wouldn’t wish on your worst enemy.”
The contentious lawsuit was filed in May 2015 and settled Feb. 22, according to the Langleys. However, the settlement almost didn’t happen because the Langleys didn’t like the amount of money offered by lawyers for Ronald and Karen Schaftel, the teen driver’s parents, they said.
The Aspen Times is not identifying the driver because she was younger than 18 at the time of the accident.
“The Schaftels made it clear that if we did not accept the settlement, they would painfully extend the process by their greatest ability to do so,” Bob Langley said.
Darnell Langley said the Schaftels threatened to “appeal, appeal, appeal” and drag out the settlement process for years before Mackenzie received any money.
In fact, when District Judge Chris Seldin asked the Langleys on Feb. 22 if they were willing to accept the settlement, Bob Langley said he wasn’t. Seldin stopped the proceedings until the Langleys, including Mackenzie, had a chance to talk in the back of the courtroom for about 15 minutes, he said.
And it was Mackenzie who said, “enough,” according to both parents.
“Mackenzie said, ‘I don’t want this to go on,’” Bob Langley said. “‘I don’t care about the money. I’m going to be productive. I’m going to make my own life.’”
In an interview last week, Mackenzie, now 18, said she was tired of the lawsuit dominating the Langley’s family dinner conversations.
“I mostly just wanted it to be over,” she said. “I’m planning on making my own living.”
The settlement will be kept in a trust only for Mackenzie’s use, the Langleys said.
The Times attempted to reach Karen Schaftel and her daughter this week to comment on the allegations of dragging out the lawsuit, but both hung up on a reporter. The Times also repeatedly tried to get the Schaftels’ lawyers by phone and email to comment on the Langley’s allegations, though none returned messages Monday, Tuesday or Wednesday.
Mackenzie was partially ejected from a 2013 Range Rover in the early morning hours of June 23, 2014, after it crashed and rolled on Castle Creek Road near the Aspen Music Festival and School. The driver and one other passenger were wearing seatbelts and received only minor injuries. Mackenzie was not wearing a seatbelt.
The Colorado State Patrol ticketed the driver for careless driving causing injury and violating curfew.
Mackenzie suffered skull fractures, a broken jaw, a partially severed carotid artery, multiple spinal fractures, facial paralysis, traumatic brain injuries, hearing loss and vision loss. She spent 14 months in Denver recovering.
Today, she’s paralyzed from the waist down and uses a wheelchair to get around. However, she said she doesn’t feel sorry for herself and is determined to go to college and create a life of her own.
“Some days I wake up and say, ‘Damn, I wish I could go hike the bowl today,’” she said. “That kinda sucks. But I don’t think it’s something to be grumpy about.
“I don’t think I’ll be sitting here my whole life.”
Still, Mackenzie said the end of the lawsuit isn’t enough to provide her closure on the accident itself.
“I’m going to eventually have to talk to (the driver), and that’s where I’ll get my closure,” Mackenzie said.
The three teens who were in the SUV at the time of the crash did go out to lunch once after the accident, Mackenzie said. However, every time Mackenzie tried to talk to the driver about the crash, she refused talk about it, she said.
“I thought it would make us all feel better,” Mackenzie said.
She said she’s cut off contact with the driver because her former friend continues to party.
“I was worried about her,” Mackenzie said. “If she can do something so catastrophic to me and go out and do that, I didn’t want to watch her do it.”
When she came back to Aspen after having been gone a year, Mackenzie said many of her former friends wouldn’t talk to her.
“But I’m not going to cry about it,” she said. “I picked myself up, branched out and made new friends.”
However, that experience is causing her a bit of anxiety as she prepares to go off to college in the fall.
“I’m nervous about making friends,” Mackenzie said. “If people I’ve known all my life treat me like that, I don’t know … but it will be OK.”
She’s applied to 10 colleges, though she said she doesn’t yet know where she’ll go. She said she might come back to Aspen after college, but thinks she needs to get away for awhile.
In 10 years, Mackenzie said she’d like to be working for a nonprofit organization.
“I just want to help people,” she said. “Over the past year and a half, I’ve seen what an impact on my life there’s been when people helped me.
“Helping someone in their time of need is something that matters.”
Mackenzie’s parents, who have four other children, also said that the end of the lawsuit hasn’t provided closure, though it has allowed them to put at least part of the experience of the past year and a half behind them.
“I’m relieved I do not have to be occupied, preoccupied and post-occupied on a daily basis concerning the resolution with the Schaftels,” Bob Langley said.
Said Darnell Langley, “It’s nice that it’s behind us.”
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