Tuesday, July 28, 2009

How To Protect Yourself After A Road Rage Incident

In Chicago bicyclists and motorists rarely use five fingers to waive at one another. The mutual animosity that exists between these two sets of travelers is strange really. After all, most of us are both motorists and bicyclists. Yet somehow we seem to forget our other selves while operating one mode of transportation or the other. I suppose it is because while traveling on Chicago's roads, whether on bike or in car, we are trying to get somewhere as quickly and easily as possible while sharing a limited resource, usable street space.

Road rage incidents have the potential to turn out much worse for the bicyclist than for the driver. The motorist is, of course, wrapped in a cocoon of metal while the cyclist isn't. Not long ago I represented a young bicyclist who was the victim of such an incident. He was riding his bike on the right side of the road within the city when a motorist aggressively cut in front of him, nearly causing a collision. The bicyclist, pissed, rode after the vehicle, a red BMW, which eventually encountered slow moving traffic. As he rode by the car, the bicyclist wrapped the driver's passenger window and waved hello with a single finger. That should have been it. However, the driver, now also pissed, sped forward at the bicycle and struck its back wheel causing the young man to fly forward, ass-over-teakettle. His injuries were not very severe, thanks to nothing but dumb luck. Later, he contacted me to represent him against the driver, which, of course, I did.

I had one big concern in that case. Of course, making a case against the driver was easy. He seemed to have intentionally struck my client. But that was the problem. I was afraid that the driver's auto insurance carrier would deny coverage because the incident seemed to have been an intentional act. Liability insurance, including auto liability insurance, covers the insured for his or her negligent conduct, not intentional conduct. I could sue the driver and force him to look to his personal assets to compensate my client, but I was not sure the guy had any money. Sure, he was driving a nice car, but it could have been leased; it could have belonged to his parents. As it turned out we resolved the case with the motorist's insurer paying most of the settlement and the driver kicking in some additional money from his own fairly modest assets. The point I wish to make however in recalling that case is that if you are involved in an incident with a motorist be very careful when describing the events to police, witnesses and insurance companies. Do not speculate that the driver acted with malicious intent. If you are badly hurt and decide to pursue a personal injury action against the motorist, having categorized the driver's conduct as intentional may mean that his or her insurer will not cover you for your injuries. If your injuries are bad, requiring a lot of medical care, there is a low probability that the responsible motorist will have enough money or other assets to compensate you fully. There is no need for you to offer commentary when reporting a road rage incident. As they say, just the facts. Vent to your friends or family later.
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4 comments:

  1. Interesting. Got into a minor road-rage incident the other day - luckily it didn't escalate past the finger/words exchanged stage. But it's good to know what the best course of action would be if things get out of control.

    Thanks!

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  2. Sorry to hear about your incident. Good to hear, however, that it didn't spiral out of control. Stay safe!

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  3. I avoid road rage at all costs (I don't bicycle). I always yield to bicyclists even if they are violating traffic laws as the penalty for a traffic law violation should not be someones life. I also yield to pretty much everyone on my motorcycle. I've been driving 20 years and outside of getting pissed when I see bicyclists think they are above the law, I've never been in a RR incident of any kind. In any case, this was a very informative article & I really do love your blog.

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  4. Thanks for the comment, Rob, and thanks for reading.

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