Friday, June 26, 2015

Here's How You Should Exit A Taxi In Chicago

Photo property of Freeman Kevenides
Law Firm, LLC
The full version of this post appears in Time Out Chicago.

Following the 2012 death of a young attorney who was run down by a truck when he swerved to avoid an opened car door, the city of Chicago has made efforts to try to prevent such incidents. The term "dooring" is well known to regular city cyclists. It occurs when an occupant opens a vehicle door into a bicyclist. A significant number of these incidents are caused by passengers exiting taxi cabs. The problem has been significant enough for the city to mandate that taxi companies place window stickers inside their vehicles reminding disembarking passengers to look before exiting. Here are some steps you can take when exiting a taxi cab to reduce the chance you will injure an unsuspecting biker...  Continue reading.

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Skateboarding Should Not Be A Crime

Back in the mid-1980s when I was a little skate grommet I remember t-shirts and stickers declaring that "Skateboarding Is Not A Crime!" being pretty ubiquitous.  The slogan was a declaration of what we felt was a sort of comic truth.  Unfortunately, often it was not legally accurate.  It was around that time that small towns and big cities nationwide where passing ordinances outlawing skating, particularly on sidewalks in downtown areas.  In those days, skate parks did not exist. Stairs, loading docks and public benches were our skate parks.  Trying to avoid the police was, well, part of the fun.

Nowadays I see lots of skaters and longboarders riding around Chicago.  Longboards in particular, with their bigger, softer wheels are a particularly quick, easy and fun way to get around the City. They are not mere toys, but a means of transportation.  Shorter boards are generally better for tricks and Chicago has invested quite a bit constructing several skate parks to accommodate people who like to grind.  I have not heard of anyone being ticketed by police for skating in Chicago, at least not on public property.  I continue to skate and had never really considered my legal right to do so. Recently, I wondered what ever happened to Chicago's anti-skating ordinance so I looked it up.  To my surprise I found that it is still on the books.  It states:
No person shall ride a skateboard upon any roadway or sidewalk in a business district.
No person upon roller skates, or riding in or by means of any coaster, skateboard, toy vehicle, or similar device, shall go upon any roadway except while crossing a street on a crosswalk. 

Skating is not allowed on the sidewalk in a "business district" and is prohibited in the street everywhere.  This means that while you can skate in Chicago's gorgeous $2.65 million Grant Park skate park, the law prohibits you from riding your skateboard through downtown to get there. Starting Saturday, June 6th, you may kick and push your way along The 606, Chicago's newest path.  But skating through Wicker Park to get there would be a legal no-no.  Soon you will be able to shop in the big new Zumiez skate shop under construction in the heart of the Loop at State and Madison. Step outside the store and try to board your new ride and you could get a ticket.  

Isn't it time to take this section of the Code off the books?

Skateboards are fun, but than isn't a sin.  They also happen to be a relatively cheap (even compared to bikes) means of transportation.  Our City is presently undergoing an infrastructure renaissance, building bike lanes, skate parks and innovative trails that are meant to encourage people powered transportation.  Skateboards should be a part of that mix.  Skateboarding also means business in Chicago.  Small businesses like Uprise, Windward Boardshop, Zumiez, Character, Bluetown and Caravan should be encouraged and supported in their efforts.  One way to do that would be to decriminalize the products they make and sell.

Yes, there are times where skating on a sidewalk crowded with pedestrians is a bad idea.  Part of Section 9-80-200 states, "Any person upon a sidewalk on roller skates or riding in or by means of any coaster, skateboard, or similar device shall yield the right-of-way to any pedestrian and shall give audible signals before overtaking and passing such pedestrian."  This is perfectly reasonable and should remain in force.  But let's get rid of the rest of it and allow people to shred respectfully.

Thursday, May 28, 2015

Could Barrier Protected Bike Lane Have Prevented Collision Between Motor Vehicles?

Courtesy, Jury Verdict Reporter, a
Division of Law Bulletin
Publishing Co.
Earlier this year I read about a verdict in a Cook County injury case that got me thinking about bike lanes.  Interestingly, the case did not involve a bicycle at all.

The case, Hernandez v. Valenzio, which our firm had nothing to do with, involved two drivers.  The injured driver, the plaintiff, was stopped in a 63 foot semi tractor trailer at a red light on 31st Street waiting to turn right at the intersection with Western Avenue in Chicago.  As he did, the defendant, pulled up next to him in her SUV in a bike lane immediately to his right.  According to the Cook County Jury Verdict Reporter, "When the light turned green, plaintiff looked both ways but was unable to see defendant's car because she had stopped in his blind spot.  He proceeded to make his right turn, at which time the truck's passenger side tugged against the driver's side of defendant's vehicle."  The truck driver then slammed on his brakes which caused him to be thrown forward, injuring himself.  He again looked in his side view mirror and saw the defendant driver talking on her cell phone.  At trial, the truck driver won his case receiving a substantial verdict.  This result came despite defendant's allegation that the truck driver was the one primarily at fault for failing to keep a "safe and proper lookout" for vehicles to his right.

A few things came to mind when I read this.  First, I was heartened by the jury's recognition that motor vehicles do not belong in bike lanes. I am guessing that they also did not like that the defendant was seen on her cell phone at the time of the crash.  These are very positive takeaways from a trial in which the plaintiff's attorneys, Trapp & Geller, clearly did a very good job of making sure the jury understood the rules of the road.  However, as I thought longer about the case I became concerned about the truck driver's conduct as well.  What if there had been a person on a bike in the bike lane rather than a SUV?  If he did not see a SUV, surely he would not have been a bicycle.  This could have lead to disastrous consequences.  There can be no doubt that the truck driver had a duty, as any motorist would, to look for bicycle traffic before executing a right turn across a bike lane.  Did the jury also wonder about such a hypothetical situation?  Would they have held the trucker responsible had he injured a cyclist?  It is impossible to know, of course.  However, it seems to me that there is something that could have prevented this incident, and my hypothetical situation, entirely:  A real protected bicycle lane.

On the date of the crash, July 14, 2009, the bike lane in which the defendant driver stopped consisted only of white lines on the roadway.  While white paint certainly creates legal separation, obviously it is no barrier to a driver unconcerned about the law or the safety of others.  Recently, the first concrete, curb protected bicycle lane was installed in Chicago, on Sacramento through Douglas Park.  Hopefully, more are on the way.  Bike lanes protected by concrete barriers would resolve a lot of the problems that crop up over and over again for cyclists who use bike lanes.  They would prevent taxi cabs for using bike lanes to load and unload passengers.  They would prevent drivers from using bike lanes as parking spaces.  They would prevent -- or at least strongly discourage -- reckless motorists from dangerously veering into lanes designated for bike traffic.  Had a barrier existed at 31st and Western back in 2009 it is unlikely that the defendant would have pulled to the right next to the semi tractor trailer.  A barrier of sufficient size may also prevent the type of collision that killed Chicago bicyclist Barbara Eno who was killed by a right turning truck driver in 2014.

Friday, May 15, 2015

Brain Injuries and Bicycle Cases

By Jim Freeman

We see brain injuries over and over in our bicycle cases.  The severity of theses injuries varies widely from a headache to permanent functional brain damage.  My experience is that there is no bulletproof preventative when it comes to brain injuries.  Although helmets may help to reduce injury, bicyclists who use helmets suffer brain injuries too.  If the hit is hard enough you may still sustain a brain injury despite proper helmet use.

Rural collisions tend to yield a higher percentage of head injuries than collisions in town.  Speed limits on rural roadways tend to be much higher than speed limits in town.  In my experience, speed of the automobile at time of impact is directly correlated with the likelihood that a given accident will result in catastrophic injuries.  The faster the vehicle, the more likely that injuries sustained by a bicyclist will be severe. 

Your brain has the consistency of gelatin suspended in fluid.  It is cushioned from everyday jolts and bumps by the cerebrospinal fluid in which it floats.  In an accident you may experience a blow to the head causing your brain to bounce forcefully against your skull.  This can result in bleeding in or around your brain and damage to nerve fibers.  Common symptoms of a brain injury are loss of consciousness, memory loss, headaches, nausea or vomiting and slurred speech.

Concussions are fairly common brain injuries.  People who have had a concussion in the past are at higher risk of having concussions in the future.  The concern after a concussion is that the blow to the head may have caused serious bleeding or swelling inside the skull. Symptoms of such injuries may not appear until hours or days after the injury.

If you experience symptoms of a concussion it is best to see a doctor.  Neurologists typically specialize in such injuries.  A doctor may prescribe a CAT Scan or conduct a neurological exam.  Such an exam usually includes checking your memory and concentration, vision, hearing, balance, coordination and reflexes.  People who suffer concussions often suffer from post-concussion syndrome in which concussion symptoms last for weeks or months following the accident.  I often hear client who have suffered a head injury complain of "fogginess" or an inability to concentrate.  Such injuries should be taken seriously and examined by a specialist.

A common story we hear when a bicyclist is struck by a car goes like this;

The last thing I remember I was riding my bike down the street, then I woke up in the hospital with my family around me.

When a bicyclist is struck by a car and they hit their head it is common to experience some loss of memory around the time of the accident.  In such a case it is important that you conduct a independent investigation to determine how the accident happened before you speak to the driver's insurance company.

You should understand that some insurance companies will take advantage of your loss of memory.  We see time and time again that negligent drivers are all too prepared to lie about the events of an accident because they are worried about their own liability or an increase in their insurance rates.  The driver will give a statement to his insurance company that blames the bicyclist for the collision.  If you can't remember how the accident happened the insurance company will defend the case based on their insured's version of the events.  Your claim may be denied outright.

At my law firm we have years of experience investigating collisions in which the bicyclist can't remember what happened.  We conduct our own investigation and do not depend on the police or driver statements for a determination of fault.  It is always best if the client calls us before calling the insurance company in such an instance.  It is also best if we get the case as soon as possible.  Evidence starts to disappear or be destroyed the moment the accident occurs, so it's best if we can start our investigation as soon as possible.   

Thursday, May 7, 2015

More Facts Are Needed To Explain Why Driver Who Struck and Killed Cyclist in Sauk Village Was Not Cited By Police

A 59 year old male bicyclist was struck and killed by a driver in Sauk Village earlier this month, according to The incident occurred near the intersection of East Sauk Traill and Route 394 at around 7:49 p.m. on April 29th.  The man, Robert Kirn, died several hours later at Stroger Cook County Hospital.

It is not clear how the fatal crash occurred as few facts have been reported by news outlets. According to, the driver did not receive a traffic citation following the incident.  At the time of the crash the motorist was driving his Dodge Intrepid northbound on 394 when he struck Mr. Kirn in the intersection.  Mr. Kirn was attempting "to cross both north and southbound traffic" when he was struck, according to CBS Chicago.  This description insinuates that Mr. Kirn was doing something wrong when he was hit.  But without more it would be unfair to draw that conclusion.  

East Sauk Trail is not a trail, but a four lane roadway.  Its intersection with Route 394 is controlled by a traffic light.  It would have been entirely legal for Mr. Kirn to have pedaled his bike across Route 394 on East Sauk Trail assuming the traffic light was in his favor.  It would be wise not to jump to conclusions about how this tragedy occurred without more information.

Thursday, April 30, 2015

44 Year Old Bicyclist Killed By Driver In Oak Lawn

A 44 year old male bicycle was killed in Oak Lawn on Monday after being struck by a driver, according to The Chicago Tribune.  Ricardo Longoria was struck as he rode his bicycle in the 9500 block of South Mayfield Avenue, a small two lane street which links with West 95th Street in the south suburb.

No details of the crash have been reported by any news outlet.  However, the Tribune, and other sources, report that following an autopsy, the Cook County medical examiner's office rule the death "an accident."  That unimportant finding offers no insight into how the collision occurred or whether the driver is culpable in Mr. Longoria's untimely death.  

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

City of Chicago Refuses To Fix Road Hazard It Knew About. Cyclist Is Compensated For His Injuries.

Our client's bike wheel trapped by the
hazardous drainage grate at 4738 West
Lawrence. This photo was taken weeks
after the crash to demonstrate what had
caused his injuries.
The City of Chicago has lost its attempt to deny responsibility for injuries caused by a drainage grate that it knew posed a danger to bicyclists.  The grate, located in the 4700 block of West Lawrence Avenue, was identified by the Chicago Department of Transportation (CDOT) in 2006 as among those posing a hazard to cyclist and needing to be replaced.  The work never occurred. As a result, a 50 year old male cyclist suffered a broken arm when the front wheel of his bike became trapped in the grate in August, 2011. The grate was located within a clearly designated bicycle lane.

Our law firm filed a lawsuit on the bicyclist's behalf alleging that the City was negligent for failing to replace the dangerous grate with a safe one.  The City subsequently sought dismissal of the lawsuit claiming it owed the bicyclist no duty to replace the grate.  A Cook County judge denied the City's motion for dismissal, which recently lead to successful resolution of the case.  Unfortunately, the hazardous grate remains to this day.

The case arose from an incident in which our client was riding his bicycle in the marked bike lane westbound near 4738 West Lawrence Avenue.  The area is where Lawrence passes over the Edens Expressway.  The crash occurred just as the cyclist was approaching the bridge.  As he pedaled in the bike lane motor vehicle traffic to his left was backed up. Without warning, one of those vehicles veered into the bicycle lane causing the bicyclist to swerve to his right to avoid a collision. When the car swerved it blocked his vision of the sewer grate.  The front wheel of his bicycle dropped into one of the slots of the grate and became trapped, stopping his bike suddenly. His body was thrown forward off of the bike and into the street where he broke his arm.

With its dismissal motion the City tried to avoid responsibility on several fronts.  Firstly, it claimed that the grate was not located on City property and that it, therefore, had no duty to address the hazard.  Secondly, it argued that the cyclist was not an intended user of the place where the grate was located.  The City claimed that the grate was not in a bike lane, but was in the gutter area. Thirdly, the City claimed that it was the cyclist's fault for not watching where he was going.  Our firm filed a responsive brief demonstrating why each of the City's arguments should fail.  We explained to the Court that while the area where the grate was located fell under the jurisdiction of the State of Illinois rather than the City of Chicago, that the State had contracted with the City for the City to maintain its roadways, including the area where the grate was located.  Therefore, the City's argument that it owed no duty to cyclists to replace the grate should fail.

We also addressed the City's argument that the grate was not located in a place that a bicyclist was intended to be.  The City's position in this regard relied on the infamous case of Boub v. Township of Wayne, 183 Ill.2d 520, 702 N.E.2d 535 (1998).  In it, the Illinois Supreme Court created the rule of law that local municipalities may be liable to bicyclists only for injuries caused by a road hazard when the hazard was encountered upon an area permitted and intended for use by bicyclists.  In other words, the a municipality could be held liable only where the hazard was in an area explicitly designated for bicycle traffic like a bike lane.  In our case, the City argued that the grate was not located in the bike lane.  Here is a photograph of the grate as it was around the time of the crash:

The City argued that the bike lane goes from the white pained line to the cement gutter in which the grate was located.  To us, that seemed awfully convenient for the City.  Just under what authority was the City claiming that the bike lane ended at the cement "gutter" rather that the curb?  And just how was a cyclist supposed to know that the bike lane ended where the City claimed?  During the course of the litigation I took the deposition of CDOT Deputy Commissioner, Luann Hamilton.  During her deposition she she stated that on a road with no curbside parallel parking, the bike lane runs only to the gutter at the edge of the roadway. However, when shown a photograph of another bike lane along a curb in the City of Chicago -- the bike lane along Dearborn Street -- she admitted that the gutter area there is part of the bike lane.  Here is the photo from the Dearborn bike lane I showed to her:

She was at a loss to explain this inconsistency.  Furthermore, in an internal memo originated by Ms. Hamilton in 2006, the City had specifically identified the grate at issue as being within a "bikeway," and posing a hazard to bicyclists "because the slots of the grates are aligned parallel to the curb so that the wheel of a bicycle can easily get caught in the slots causing the bicyclist to crash."  We argued that the City itself had identified the grate as being within the bike lane.  We also had case law on our side.  In turned out that the City's argument was not novel.  The very same position was taken by the City of East Peoria, Illinois more than two decades earlier in Cole v. City of East Peoria, 201 Ill.App.3d 756, 559 N.E.2d 769 (3rd Dist. 1990).  In that matter a child was injured when she was riding her bicycle on the edge of a road, and the tire of her bicycle fell through a storm sewer grate with openings parallel to the edge of the road, just as in our case.  The grate at issue then was located "on the side of the road" between the curb and white stripes painted four feet from the curb. Cole, 201 Ill.App.3d at 759.  The girl's family alleged that the City had a duty to maintain the area free of such hazards and was negligent for failing to do so.  Intially, the trial court granted the defendant municipality's dismissal motion.  However, the appellate court reversed that ruling stating:  
The necessary factual question of liability is raised here by evidence that (1) the City       ordered a white line painted a distance from the curb (four feet), indicating an intention   the area be used by others than those driving automobiles; (2) the City became aware the area was being used by many bicyclists; (3) the City became aware that at least one         person had been injured locally when a bicycle tire was caught between similar grates;     and (4) the City had become aware that the type of grates used did not meet then existing standards and replaced parallel grates when they were damaged.  Thus, evidence was       produced that the City both intended and permitted cyclists to use the four-foot strip; it    was foreseeable that the use would continue; the condition was unsafe. . .
Cole, 201 Ill.App.3d at 761-2 (emphasis added).
The similarities between the Cole case and ours could not be overlooked.  As in that case, the City of Chicago placed a single white line the the left of the curb indicating that the area was to be avoided by motor vehicles.  The City was also aware of the dangers posed to cyclists by the grate as evidenced by the findings in the 2006 memo.  For these additional reasons we urged the Court to deny the City's request for dismissal.

The City's final argument, that the grate was an "open and obvious" hazard, seemed especially cynical.  The obvious implication of the City's position was that the crash was the bicyclist's own fault.  He wasn't paying attention.  We addressed this part of the City's motion in two ways:  Firstly, the danger posed by the grate was not open and obvious.  Sure, if you looked you could see a grate. But there are thousands of grates throughout Chicago.  Most of them are not particularly dangerous for cyclists.  However, that the grate at 4738 West Lawrence had very large slots that ran parallel to the direction of bike traffic would not have been obvious to a cyclist.  Secondly, under Illinois law, even if a danger is open and obvious if a person is likely to be distracted and therefore not notice the hazard then the defendant cannot escape responsibility.  In this case, the bicyclist was indeed distracted by a car which had entered the bike lane.  For that reason he was forced to alter his course and his bicycle wheel ended up caught in the grate.

The judge ultimately agreed with our arguments and did not allow the City to avoid its responsibility to compensate our client.  We were able to reach resolution of the case, providing our client with the means to pay his outstanding medical bills and compensating him for the considerable pain and suffering he experienced.  Sadly, however, the dangerous grate remains in precisely the same condition now as it was in 2006 and 2011.  I went out to take a look at it on March 28, 2015 and snapped the following photographs:

Approaching the grate cycling west on Lawrence.

This photo demonstrates how easily a bicycle wheel
can become wedged in the grate.

The grate swallows my front wheel.
We proposed making correction of the grate a part of settlement of the case.  At first the City's attorneys were amenable to this, but later declined to make the necessary fix.

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