Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Joining The Tribe. . .

Illinois Bicycle Accident LawyerFor many years I worked with a much older attorney who used to talk about the strength of numbers.  The way he used to do it was amusing.  He would describe a group of heavily armed soldiers in the old west peering out from the turrets of their high walled fort.  They felt safe because they were big, firmly entrenched, and well supported.  "If," he would say, "One of those soldiers peered over the wall and saw a single Indian glaring menacingly in his direction he would just think, Well, to hell with you." The old attorney would continue, "But, if the soldier looked across the way and saw a large number of Indians, organized and preparing to attack, well, then he knew he had a problem."

Our law firm is proud to announce that we have joined a tribe (of sorts) of attorneys committed to representing bicyclists nationwide, Bike Law USA.  Jim Freeman, myself and our committed staff have always been committed to representing bicyclists throughout Illinois. Now we will continue to do it with the support of a nationwide network of bicycle accident attorneys.  Mind you, Bike Law is no internet marketing gimmick.  We wouldn't bother with it if it was.  Bike Law is the brainchild of long time South Carolina bicycle attorney, Peter Wilborn, who has represented hundreds of bicyclists injured by motorists, dangerous road conditions and unsafe products.  He is a former bike racer and present bike enthusiast and commuter.  He is one of us.  He founded Bike Law as a means of bringing together lawyers committed to working with cyclists to unite in strength, to form a collective to fight for the rights of bicyclists.

Bike Law is also Ann Groninger in North Carolina, Amy Benner in Tennessee, Bryan Waldman in Michigan, Vance Preman in Missouri and Kansas, Charlie Thomas in Mississippi, Louisiana and Texas, Jason Crawford and Brian Weiss in Colorado, Jackie Carmichael in Utah and former U.S. Olympic cyclist, Bob Mionske in Oregon.   Each is a lawyer fighting for cyclists.

Each Bike Law attorney does more than just represent injured bicyclists.  They write about cycling and the law, and work to educate cyclists and motorists alike about making the road safe for all users.  Bob Mionske is the author of Bicycling & The Law, the go to book providing an overview of what the law is and how it has developed.  Freeman Kevenides Law is honored to be a part of this esteemed and committed group.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Powerful Video Encourages Road Users To Stay Calm and Share The Road

Recently, a journalist contacted me about a story he was writing about the (seemingly) increased vitriol between motorists and cyclists.  We spoke for a while about the matter, covering several recent incidents. The Craigslist letter.  The Washington Post anti-bicycle screed.  But the question he kept coming back with was, Why?  The only sensible answer I found that I good give was not much of an answer at all, I don't know.

We can speculate about numerous factors and perceptions that play into this war of sorts:  The infrastructure sucks.  Drivers are selfish, air polluting assholes.  Cyclists are entitled, law breaking dickweeds.  We can ponder whether there is even really a war between cyclists and drivers at all.  Many of us drive and bike and do not define ourselves by the mode of transportation we choose to utilize at a particular moment.  But the bottom line is that humans like to be able to travel safely, unmolested and unslowed.  When something, or someone, gets in the way of our ability to do so tempers flare.  It is probably not a biker thing or a driver thing.  It is a people thing.

Perhaps recognizing this Transport For London has created a PSA video that holds up a mirror to all road users, pointing out the madness that may ensue when tempers flair.  It is well done.  Check it out.

Monday, July 7, 2014

Visitation Tomorrow For 28 Year Old Chicago Cyclist Killed By Truck Driver

Barbara Eno,
courtesy DNAInfo
Visitation will be held on Tuesday for Barbara Eno, a 28 year old Chicago bicyclist who was killed on July 3rd by a right turning cement truck.  Her funeral will be held on Wednesday.  For information on times and location, please click here.

Barbara was riding her bike northbound on Cicero Avenue when the driver of a Kenworth W900 truck struck her as he turned from northbound Cicero Avenue onto eastbound Belmont Avenue in Chicago's, Portage Park neighborhood, according to the Chicago Sun-Times.  The collision occurred at around 10:00 a.m. as Barbara was riding along the right side of Cicero Avenue.  The driver apparently never saw the cyclist to his right as he made his turn.  He reportedly brought his truck to a halt after nearby witnesses screamed at him to stop, the Sun-Times reported.

This type of collision between a motor vehicle and bicyclist occurs with disturbing frequency.  It is so common that it has a name, "right-hook."  Because cyclists are required by law to travel along the right side of the roadway, they may find themselves cut off by a careless driver traveling in the same direction who attempt to turn right without looking for bicycle traffic.  All drivers own a duty of reasonable care to all roadway users, including people on bicycles.  For the right turning driver this duty requires:  (1)  Using a turn signal; (2)  Turning right from the right lane; and (3)  Looking right for bikes before starting to turn.  Click here to read more about avoiding right hook collisions.  There are red light and OEMC cameras located at the intersection of Cicero and Belmont so it is likely that investigators will be able to determine the cause of the crash.  As of July 4th, the 51 year old driver had not be arrested or issued a traffic citation, but right hook collisions in our experience are often caused by a driver's failure to look for bicycle traffic before turning.

Collisions between large trucks and cyclists are far too common, so much so that some cities are looking into how to provide increased protection to cyclists.  By the end of 2014, London will prohibit large trucks - those over 3.5 tons - from operating in the city without, "side guards to protect cyclists from being dragged under wheels, as well as mirrors to improve a driver's view of cyclists and pedestrians," according to The Guardian.  The measure was proposed in the wake of the deaths of several cyclists killed in London after being swept under the wheels of large trucks.  The measure will be enforced by on street checks and via closed circuit video cameras, The Guardian reports. There will reportedly be large fines for non-compliance.

There has been some interest in the United States for similar measures.  In 2008, the City of Portland adopted a resolution recommending that large trucks be fitted with side guards.  While not binding policy, at least some trucks operating in the City, including city owned vehicles, were outfitted with the guards.  Also, last year the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), published safety recommendations that included truck side guards.  It called for the development of,
[P]erformance standards for side underride protection systems for single-unit trucks with gross vehicle weight ratings over 10,000 pounds.
Once the performance standards . . . have been developed, require newly manufactured single-unit trucks with gross vehicle weight ratings over 10,000 pounds to be equipped with side underride protection systems meeting the performance standards.
The NTSB also recommended the installation of "visibility enhancement systems to compensate for blind spots" in order to protect bicyclists and pedestrians. The recommendations came on the heels of a NTSB safety study, Crashes Involving Single-Unit Trucks that Resulted in Injuries and Deathswhich found injuries and fatalities to cyclists caused by turning heavy trucks a significant hazard.

Since 1998, large trucks in the United States have been required to have rear impact guards to protect motorists in the event of a rear end collision.  While some have questioned the overall effectiveness of the rear guards, there have been a reported reduction in fatalities since implementation of the requirement.  While it is not yet clear whether a side guard could have prevent Barbara Eno's death, it is the time to take similar measures to protect bicyclists by requiring large trucks to be outfitted with side guards.

Monday, June 30, 2014

Schaumburg Bicyclist Left With Serious Head Injuries After Being Struck By Hit and Run Driver

A 52 year old Schaumburg bicyclist was left in serious condition after he was struck by a driver that fled the scene, according to the Daily Herald.  The collision occurred at the intersection of West Wise Road and Cranbrook Drive in Schaumburg at around 2:43 p.m. on Saturday.  Police are still looking for the driver of a white two door sports car with damage to its right front fender which may have caused the crash, according to The Chicago Tribune.  Anyone with information about the crash should contact the police at 847.348.7055.

The bicyclist was left with "serious head injuries" and was taken to Alexian Brothers Medical Center, according to the Daily Herald.  Few details of how the crash occurred have been report though the cyclist is believed to have been riding on Wise Road, a designated bicycle route, when he was hit.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Thirty-One Year Old Chicago Bicyclist Killed By CTA Train

Thirty one year old Ronayne Thomas was killed just after midnight this morning when he was hit by a CTA Brown Line train as he was riding his bicycle across the tracks in Chicago's Albany Park neighborhood.  All of us at Freeman Kevenides Law are especially saddened by the news.  Ronayne had been our client.  I knew him for several years.  He was a good guy and a passionate and experienced city cyclist who rode his bike just about everywhere.  We wish to express our deepest sympathies to his family and friends.

Ronayne was pronounced dead at the scene near the Kimball Brown line station in the 4700 block of North Kedzie Avenue at around 12:30 a.m., according to ABC 7 Chicago.  He was struck by a an approaching northbound train as he rode across the tracks.

Saturday, June 21, 2014

The Bicycle Injury Case That Led To Correction Of Illinois Law Settles

Our law firm has settled "Lilly's case," a high profile lawsuit which arose when a pregnant Chicago bicyclist was doored on Halloween, 2012.  Though her injuries were not terribly severe, given her pregnant state at the time and how she was treated by the police afterwards, the incident was a truly miserable experience for her.  But, for bicyclists throughout Illinois the event led to some positive legal changes.

"Lilly" was actually Rebecca Resman, the feisty development officer of Chicago's Active Transportation Alliance, and a very experienced city cyclist.  Her response in the immediate aftermath of the collision caused a ripple effect that went all the way to the Executive Mansion in Springfield, and to Chicago's City Hall.  At around 9:15 a.m. on October 31, 2012, Rebecca was riding her bicycle along her ordinary route to work southbound along the 1900 block of North Lincoln Avenue in Chicago.  She was five months pregnant at the time.  She was riding along the right side of the roadway in an area designated to be shared by bicycle and motor vehicle traffic.  Cars and trucks were backed up on southbound Lincoln as they were on most days and Rebecca was passing the stopped motor vehicles on the right, a very common practice among city cyclists.  As she attempted to pass a 2000 Buick Electra stopped to her left, a front seat passenger opened his door into Rebecca throwing her hard to the pavement.

Hurt, frightened and angry Rebecca asked the police officer who responded to the scene whether the occupants of the Buick would be ticketed.  The law is quite clear that motor vehicle occupants must look for traffic, including bicycle traffic, before opening their door.  The officer told her that if he was inclined to ticket anyone it would be her.  (In an earlier blog post I wrote that Rebecca was ticketed.  She wasn't.  The officer only threatened her with a ticket.)  He also wrote his police report strongly suggesting that it was Rebecca who was at fault for the collision.  After she hired us to represent her in an injury claim against the driver and passenger we received the following letter from Progressive Insurance Company:

The insurance company had "determined that [our] client, Ms. Rebecca Resman is majority at fault for this accident occurring.  The on-scene police report puts fault on Ms. Resman, states that she improperly overtook on the right causing this collision to occur."  Because of the way the report was written, Progressive was denying the injury claim.

We filed a lawsuit.

We also worked with Rebecca's employer, The Active Transportation Alliance, to get the law clarified.  The police officer was under the mistaken impression that a provision of the Illinois Vehicle Code allowing for right-sided passing only when eight feet of space is available applied to bicyclists. It actually only applied to motorcycles, motorized scooters and the like.  Rarely do Chicago cyclists have eight feet of space available for passing stopped traffic.  As the law was written, however, a cursory read could cause confusion as it had in this case.  We wrote up some simple changes to be inserted into the state statute and into Chicago's municipal code and submitted it to Ron Burke, the executive director at Active Trans.  He and his staff worked hard to find bill sponsors in Springfield and to get our proposal added to pro-bicycle ordinance changes Mayor Emanuel's office had already submitted to the City Counsel.  In Springfield, the bill sailed through both houses of the legislature and was signed into law by Governor Quinn.  In Chicago, we participated in negotiations regarding the language with Ron Burke, representatives from the Chicago Department of Transportation and city lawyers.  Eventually, we reached an agreement and the law was submitted and passed by the City Counsel.   Now, in Chicago and throughout Illinois there can be no question that bicyclists may pass slowed or stopped motor vehicles on the right.  There is no eight foot rule applicable to cyclists, only a requirement that passing be executed if the circumstances made it reasonably safe for the cyclist to do so.  Click here for a thorough description of the law and how it was clarified.  

During the litigation that followed Progressive's rejection Rebecca gave her deposition, during which she answered questions about the crash posed by the insurance company's attorney.  She did a wonderful job of explaining how the crash occurred and gave all those present the distinct impression that she was in no way acting foolishly at the time of the incident.  She established her credibility.  There were three reasons she was able to do this:  First, she is a very smart, awesome person.  Secondly, we spent time working with her to make sure she was well prepared for her deposition.  The importance of working with a client before their deposition cannot be overstated.  For the attorney, depositions are routine affairs, but young lawyers must remember that for the client they are novel and scary events.  Time must be taken to talk with the client and prepare them for what they may expect, the types of questions that will be asked and what the setting will look and sound like.  Rebecca was a good student during preparation and this helped her relax and perform well when the time came.  Thirdly, the facts were on her side.  The truth of the matter was that she was doing everything right when she was hit.  She was the victim of someone else's carelessness.  

Soon after her deposition, the defendants' attorney called me in hopes of reaching a settlement.  After several days of negotiations they made an offer I felt comfortable recommending to Rebecca and the case resolved.

When I work with people who want to learn to ride in the city I teach them to ride confidently.  Understand what your rights are then exercise them.  That does not mean that you will always have smooth sailing.  There are motorists and cops out there that either do not know or do not care about cyclists' rights.  But when you are in the right and something goes wrong there are folks out there who can and will help.  The Active Transportation Alliance is an awesome and powerful group advocating and working for cyclists and pedestrians.  Also, my partner Jim Freeman, me and our kick ass staff are always itching for a fight on behalf of people who ride.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Riding Single File vs. Two Abreast: What's the Law?

Courtesy Higher GearBike Shop
The following article by Brendan Kevenides originally appeared as part of his semi-regular column at Urban Velo, Cycling Legalese:

Q:  I had an angry driver accost us on a casual ride about taking up the whole road. We were in the rightmost lane, riding more or less with traffic, and two abreast. What are the laws on riding two abreast?
The law as it regards riding single file versus two abreast, a.k.a., riding next to each other, tends to reflect the frustration and sometimes hostility between those who like to use their bikes for transportation and exercise and those who think bikes belong on sidewalks or on limited use paths. In many places in the United States riding two abreast is legal; except when it isn’t. In some places it is explicitly prohibited. Unfortunately, it is difficult to provide a bright line rule. Much will depend on the law of the state you are in, the local ordinance of the town you are riding through (which may differ from the state’s vehicle code), the width of the roadway and the judgment of a police officer.
I recognize that this is not a satisfactory answer, but hopefully an explanation will offer some guidance.
The law in New York is as good an example as any of the “it depends” rule. Section 1234(b) of the New York Vehicle Code says:
Persons riding bicycles… upon a roadway shall not ride more than two abreast. Simple, right? You can ride two abreast but not three or more.
But the section continues: Persons riding bicycles upon a shoulder, bicycle… lane, or bicycle… path, intended for the use of bicycles… may ride two or more abreast if sufficient space is available.
The section adds, however, that when passing another user of the bike path or lane, cyclists must do so while riding single file.
Okay, but wait: Persons riding bicycles… upon a roadway shall ride… single file when being overtaken by a vehicle.
So it appears that while street riding in New York, you may ride two abreast; that is until a driver feels that you are in the way and wants to pass. Then you must revert to single file. Got that?
Let’s take a look at Illinois.
As in New York, the Illinois legislature giveth, then it taketh away.
The relevant state statute says: Persons riding bicycles or motorized pedal cycles upon a roadway shall not ride more than 2 abreast, except on paths or parts of roadways set aside for their exclusive use.
That is the give. You can ride two abreast. Now for the take: Persons riding 2 abreast shall not impede the normal and reasonable movement of traffic and, on a laned roadway, shall ride within a single lane…
This does not seem quite as onerous as the New York law. Still, there is much left open to interpretation so as to erode the confidence of cyclists when riding two abreast. What exactly does it mean to “impede the normal and reasonable movement of traffic?” What traffic? Motor vehicle traffic? Bicycle traffic? And who gets to decide? Generally it will be a police officer who makes the controlling judgment call. The officer will likely look to another section of the Illinois Motor Vehicle Code for guidance which states that a person on a bicycle riding: at less than the normal speed of traffic at the time and place and under the conditions then existing shall ride as close as practicable and safe to the right-hand curb or edge of the roadway.
To the extent that the left most rider riding two abreast is not as close as practicable and safe to the right side of the road, he or she may be subject to a traffic citation.
But wait, it gets even trickier in the Land of Lincoln. Some towns/municipalities have taken it upon themselves to regulate this issue. This means that during a single ride the law may change as you pedal across town boundaries. For example, let’s say you would like to begin a group ride with your buddies in Chicago and head north into the suburbs, a very common practice for club riders here. At the beginning of the ride in the City you may ride two abreast, so long as you are not impeding traffic. However, as you reach the North Shore suburb of Winnetka you must “ride single-file, except on paths or parts of roads which are set aside for the exclusive use of bicycles.” To the best of my knowledge, cyclists are not warned of a change in the law as they enter Winnetka. Perhaps a sign that says something like, “Welcome To Winnetka; Now Get In Single File” would alert cyclists to adjust their group riding formation accordingly. Absent that, it seems that before setting out with a buddy on a ride in Illinois, you must research the local ordinance of each town you plan to pass through. Because what’s more fun than preparing for a bike ride by doing a whole bunch of legal research?
California has taken an arguably novel approach to this issue. Its state code says this about two abreast vs. single file riding: Nothing. The California vehicle code does not address the matter at all. So that means you can ride two, three, four, five, etc. abreast in that state, right? Not so fast. As we saw in Illinois, some municipalities in California have taken it upon themselves to address the matter.
For example, a local ordinance in Torrance states: Persons operating bicycles upon a roadway shall not ride more than two (2) abreast except on paths or parts of roadways set aside for the exclusive use of bicycles.
In that city cyclists may ride two abreast at most. As for the rest of the state, the vehicle code’s silence on the issue does not necessarily equate to smooth traveling through the legal landscape. In 2010, The Press Democrat, a California newspaper, documented conflicts between bicyclists and drivers in Sonoma County. The paper asked a member of the California Highway Patrol to offer his take on drivers’ complaints of cyclists riding next to each other rather than single file. Somewhat predictably the patrolman noted that the state’s vehicle code (like that in every other state) requires cyclists to ride as close to the right edge of the road as practicable. However, he admitted that “Riders do not have to ride single file in CA.”
But… He interprets the law as requiring, “If traffic traveling in the same direction approaches them [the cyclists], then they must move as far to the right as practicable. So, even if it is only one car that comes up behind them, if there is a rider that is alongside another, and in the traffic lane, they must pull in behind or ahead of the rider. If they can safely ride abreast in a marked bike lane, they would not have to do this.” In short, cyclists not riding single file where a car wishes to pass are subject to citation.
So, what is the takeaway from this sampling of the law in three big states with major metropolitan areas? It is that unless riding two or more abreast is explicitly outlawed (I’m looking at you Winnetka, IL), you may do so without getting hassled by the police so long as there are no drivers who wish to pass. If a driver going in the same direction wishes to pass the best practice to avoid legal trouble is to revert to single file.

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