Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Defendant, Chicago Police Officer's Claim To CBS News That Bicyclist "Did Not Have The Right Of Way" Is Nonsense

Tina Danzy was doored by a police officer while
in the bike lane near the Chicago Police Department
Headquarters on S. Blue Island
On Saturday, CBS Chicago reported on a lawsuit our firm filed on behalf of Tina Danzy who was doored by a Chicago police officer. Somewhat surprisingly, the officer involved gave an interview to the CBS reporter claiming that Ms. Danzy "did not have the right of way."  We were not contacted to comment on the story.

The collision occurred on April 10, 2014 at around 4:50 p.m.  The weather was clear and pleasant.  The sun was still shinning.  Ms. Danzy, a very experienced city cyclist, was riding her bicycle in the clearly marked, dedicated bicycle lane southwest on South Blue Island Avenue.  When she reached 1412 South Blue Island, the police officer who had parked her vehicle along the curb to the right of the bike lane suddenly opened her door into Ms. Danzy's path.  The door sprung opened so quickly that there was nothing she could do to avoid it.  She sustained a deep facial laceration requiring sutures and injuries to her tailbone, thigh and right hand.

The idea that Ms. Danzy "did not have the right of way" is nonsense.  Bicyclists have the right to travel along the right side of roadways in Chicago and utilize the bike lanes provided for that purpose.  Drivers on the other hand have a duty, under both the Illinois Vehicle Code and the Municipal Code of Chicago to look before opening their doors.  The Municipal Code states:
No person shall open the door of a vehicle on the side available to moving traffic unless and until it is reasonably safe to do so, and can be done without interfering with the movement of other traffic, nor shall any person leave a door open on the side of a vehicle available to moving traffic for a period of time longer than necessary to load or unload passengers.
Police officers have the same duty as the rest of the citizenry to follow the law.  The officer who injured Ms. Danzy failed to look for bicycle traffic in the bike lane which she undoubtedly knew was immediately to the left of her vehicle.  As a result, she caused the crash and the resulting injuries.

As noted, we have filed a lawsuit against the officer and her employer, The Chicago Police Department, and intend to get our client compensated for the harms inflicted upon her and losses she has experienced, including the medical bills she has incurred and cannot afford to pay. 

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

No Driverless Revolution At The Expense Of Bicyclists And Pedestrians

Illustration by Adam R. Garcia
Apparently, driverless cars are right around the corner.  No longer the pipe dream of mad engineers in Silicon Valley, at least one manufacturer has promised that they will be here as early as this summer

Cars that drive themselves hold some appeal.  Imagine commuting to and from the 'burbs while reading a book or catching up on work, free from the constraints of holding a steering wheel and looking out of a windshield.  But what impact may driverless autos have on other road users, bicyclists and pedestrians?  As the technology proliferates we may see far fewer collisions as driver error is removed from the equation.  Mistake free driving may be just over the next hill, and lawyers like me may be out of a job.  (Please, hold your tears.)

But what if, as with most new technology, progress is bumpier than is presently envisioned?  Machines make mistakes.  What then?  How shall an bicyclist or pedestrian struck and injured by a car with no driver receive just recourse in the event of an accident?  In our present analogue world a person injured by a negligent driver may seek compensation directly from that driver, or their auto insurance provider.  The driver may or may not agree that he or she was negligent, but responsibility can generally be placed at the feet of either the driver or the injured person.  Sometimes there is fighting, finger pointing.  Litigation is sometimes necessary.  While there is some cost and work that goes along with that, it is usually not onerous.  But driverless cars may significantly alter the balance to the detriment of injury victims.  It is easy to imagine an occupant of a driverless car deflecting blame in the event of a crash to the manufacturer of the car.  "Wasn't me," they'll say.  "It was the machine."  At that point, the injured person is faced with the task of suing Tesla or Google or General Motors.  Good luck with that.

Product liability cases against manufacturers involve a lot more expense, time and complexity than do garden variety traffic crash cases.  Manufacturers should only be sued when the considerable risk and expense involved in doing so on one side is countered by very profound injury or death on the other.  A significant, but not usually life altering injury like say a broken limb may not justify suing a product manufacturer.  Lawyers often will not be able to economically justify taking such cases and, as a result, the vast majority of people injured in motor vehicle crashes would be out of luck.  Many would be left without a means for paying for a heap of medical bills and other expenses.

Legislators in each state should be prepared to prevent drivers and their auto insurers from rotely deflecting blame to the manufacturers of driverless cars in the event of a crash.  That need not be difficult.  Any time a driverless motor vehicle is involved in a crash causing bodily injury or death the owner of that vehicle should bear the burden of proving by clear and convincing evidence that a third party, such as the manufacturer, acted negligently so as to be the sole cause of the injury or death. Without such evidence then the driver/auto insurer should be held financially responsible. Such a rule of law would not make the car owner liable in all cases.  It would, however, shift the burden, and all of the cost and complexity that goes with it, onto the car owner and their insurance company to proving the car manufacturer's responsibility rather than onto the injured victim.  This, it seems to me, is the way it should be.  For one, this rule would encourage "drivers" of driverless cars to pay attention to what is happening around them;  to act as a fail safe back up for the machine.  If these vehicles work the way they are supposed to, they should be involved in few crashes anyway.  Secondly, it would make sure that recourse remains available for all injury victims.  If the car was defective in some way and malfunctioned it should be the vehicle's owner or their insurer that foots the bill for proving that the manufacturer was negligent.  Nothing in this proposal would prevent an injury victim from suing a manufacturer under legal theories presently available for doing so.  In cases with very profound consequences for the victim and their families that will sometimes be necessary.  But it would not always be required.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Isn't It Time To Make Milwaukee Avenue More Accommodating For Bicyclists?

Every urban bicyclist has them, those occasional, quick moments of terror where nothing happens, but could have.  Those times when you suddenly find yourself in an unlucky situation from which you escape only thanks to quick reflexes, a "sixth sense" or dumb luck.  Recently, I was going through some old video on my GoPro camera and came across one such moment where had things gone just a little differently . . . well, I wouldn't be around to tell you about it.

I was riding to work traveling south on Milwaukee Avenue as I do every day when the break lights of a car parked along the curb caught my eye.  A split second later, I saw the back up lights flash.  The driver must have just parked.  I'm sure I wondered if the driver was about to open his door.  Listening to the audio I heard myself apply the brakes.  Thankfully I did not swerve left.  As I continued to watch I suddenly realized why.  I also realized that, yeah, I was probably terrified when I saw what had been coming up from behind me.  Check it out:


I do not remember this event, but I am guessing that I heard the semi coming up on me from behind.  But I easily could have swerved, fearful that the driver of the red car was about to throw their door open into my path.  Glad I didn't.

A similar incident occurred a few years ago on Wells Street in Old Town.  Then, the bicyclist, a young attorney named Neill Townsend, wasn't so lucky.  The door did swing open and he did swerve left right into the path of a large truck which ran him down.  He died at the scene.

Milwaukee Avenue is one of the most bike traveled streets in the United States.  Yet, according to the City of Chicago's own study, it is also one of the streets in Chicago most prone to bicycle crashes.  Our law firm presently represents more than 160 injured bicyclists.  I haven't counted but I can assure you that a lot of those crashes occurred on Milwaukee Avenue.  That thoroughfare is popular among cyclists, particularly bike commuters, because it links Logan Square, Bucktown, Wicker Park, and River West to the Loop.  Parts of Milwaukee Avenue have protected bicycle lanes, but perhaps it is time for a much larger swath to become more accommodating for cyclists, especially given the amount of bike traffic it sees during the morning and evening rushes.  The City should also consider banning large trucks and buses from Milwaukee Avenue, at least from North Avenue to Kinzie.

Cyclist Riding On Naperville Bicycle Route Is Seriously Injured By Van Driver

A bicyclist traveling on a designated bicycle route in Naperville was seriously injured after being struck by a van on Monday afternoon.  There have been no updates provided in the media regarding the cyclist's condition since Tuesday.  Neither the victim's name nor gender have been reported.

In crash occurred at around 4:45 p.m. at the intersection of Modaff Road and 75th Street, according to the Chicago Sun-Times.  The person on the bicycle was traveling north on Modaff when he or she was struck by the driver of a white 2009 Chevy Express van traveling west on 75th Street, the Sun-Times reported.  The intersection is controlled by traffic lights, but it has not been reported who had the right of way at the time of the collision.

Modaff Street is a clearly designated bicycle route, according to a 2013 Naperville Neighborhood Traffic Study.  "There is . . . an advanced warning crosswalk on the east leg of 75th Street at Modaff Road supported with Bicycle Crossing and Bicycle Advance Crossing assemblies," according to the Study.  A review of the area on Google Street View reveals signage identifying Modaff as a bicycle route.  Also, the Southern DuPage County Regional Trail runs through the intersection.  A bright yellow bicycle sign indicates where the trail crosses the intersection.

Thursday, March 5, 2015

A Case For Chicago's Red Light Cameras

The following post by Brendan Kevenides appears on the Time Out Chicago blog:

Red light cameras are present at 174 of Chicago's intersections. When a driver runs a red light, the camera snaps a photo of the offending vehicle and its license plate. A traffic ticket is then mailed to the driver. The city touts the cameras as a means for keeping Chicago's streets safer by encouraging drivers to resist the urge to run lights. Others feel that the whole project is little more than a money grab by Mayor Rahm Emanuel's administration. His opponent in the current mayoral run-off, Jesus "Chuy" Garcia, recently told Reuters that . . . 

Friday, February 20, 2015

California's Proposed Bicycle Helmet Mandate Is A Bad Idea

Last week a state senator in California introduced a bill that would require all adults to wear a helmet while riding a bicycle.  While some jurisdictions in the United States require minors to wear bicycle helmets, if the proposed bill were to become law, California would be the first state in the country to mandate helmet use for adults.  

Mandatory bicycle helmet laws are a terrible idea.  Just in case an Illinois legislator gets an idea about introducing a similar bill here, let's revisit why.  Cycling as a form of recreation and transportation offers a myriad of benefits to the individual and the community as a whole.  An adult or child riding a bike to work or school takes one motor vehicle off the road thereby reducing traffic congestion and pollution.  It also reduces the strain on mass transit.  Buses and trains are less crowded and more pleasant to ride.  Also, motor vehicles place a physical strain on infrastructure that a much lighter bicycle does not.  Bicycle trips save the community money but taking heavy cars and trucks off the road.  In this age of rampant obesity, cycling helps promote good health.  This too saves the community money by reducing expenditure for health benefits such as Medicaid, particularly with regard to treatment for ailments closely associated with obesity like diabetes and heart disease.

These benefits are placed at substantial risk by helmet laws, because such mandates discourage higher rates of biking.  This very concern recently prompted the City of Dallas, Texas to repeal its adult bicycle helmet ordinance.  That city wanted to see more cyclists on its roads through a bike share system.  However, civic leaders recognized that such a program would likely be doomed to failure if casual bikers were required to fetch a helmet in order to rent a bike.  Australia is one country that requires all adults to wear helmets when cycling.  The impact has been unfortunate. According to the Institute for Public Affairs, an Australian think tank, "When the laws were introduced in the early 1990s, cycling trips declined by 30-40 per cent overall, and up to 80 per cent in some demographic groups, such as secondary school-aged females."

If the goal is to reduce the likelihood of serious injury for the individual bicyclist, then helmet mandates are the wrong way to go.  Yes, wearing a helmet while biking is safer than not doing so.  But the factor most likely to reduce the likelihood of bicycle versus motor vehicle collision is to increase the number of riders on the road.  More people on bikes means motorists are more likely to anticipate a bicyclist when turning or opening a car door.  More bicyclists also encourages municipalities to invest in bicycle specific infrastructure like protected bike lanes, and to keep them in good repair.  Understandably, city officials are less likely to push for such measures if they do not think people will use them in substantial numbers.

Laws that require helmet use can also have a devastating impact on a cyclist's ability to receive just compensation should they be injured due to someone else's negligence.  The way some laws are written, failure to obey a helmet requirement could be used against a bicyclist in personal injury litigation as evidence of their own negligence, even if failure to wear a helmet had nothing to do with how or why the crash happened.  (But see Deerfield, Illinois municipal code Sec. 22-121A(c) which states, "A violation of this Section shall not constitute negligence, contributory negligence, assumption of risk, be considered in mitigation of damages of whatever nature, be admissible in evidence, or be the subject of comment by counsel in any action for the recovery of damages arising out of the operation of any bicycle.")

We are not anti-bicycle helmet.  Daily we see the clients with injuries that are worse than they might have been for failure to wear one.  But legislation requiring helmets are a bad idea.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Smartphone App Promises To Alert Drivers To People On Bikes

A new smartphone app may help alert drivers to the presence of bicyclists.  The Bike Shield App, free for iPhone and Android users, sounds an alarm to drivers also using the app when a cyclist is nearby.  The app works if both cyclist and driver have it running in the background.  

I recently downloaded Bike Shield onto my iPhone.  It is pretty cool.  The interface and appearance is very simple.  It is a set-it-and-forget-it sort of thing that one day could prove quite helpful.  Of course, that day is in the future.  For it to be effective lots and lots of drivers and cyclists would have to download the app to their phones.  A map on the application shows drivers and cyclists using the app worldwide.  Thus far, U.S. users amount to a handful of people in California, and, now, one guy in Chicago.  But with a price that can't be beat, hopefully it will catch on.  The developer of the app is apparently trying to establish partnerships with bike share companies and municipalities to get them to install the app on public bikes and buses.

To learn more about Bike Shield click here and here.  

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