Friday, December 28, 2012

Driver's Attempt To Divert Blame For Darting In Front Of Lake Front Bicyclist Fails

His time in the Marine Corps toughened him, but did not prepare him for being launched headlong into the side of an SUV.  The 40 year old Chicago man suffered a separated shoulder when he collided with the side of a 2007 Ford Explorer while riding along the lake front bicycle path on November 15, 2011.  With my law firm's help, the bicyclist's claim against the driver has successfully resolved for a significant sum of money.

The collision occurred at around 11:15 a.m. near the 1600 block of North Lake Shore Drive where the bike path is intersected by West LaSalle Drive.  When the southbound cyclist approached the short crossing he encountered a large truck parked nearby.  Its precise location at the time was a matter of considerable controversy during the case.  It was there to repair a malfunctioning light near the intersection.  As he approached the area, the bicyclist slowed to pass in front of the truck, which was pointed east toward the lake.  Unbeknownst to him, at the same time the Explorer was crossing on the other side of the International 4300 into the area from the adjacent off ramp of North Lake Shore Drive.  West LaSalle Drive at that location serves as an entry point for North Avenue Beach's parking lot.  With the truck blocking his sight of the off-ramp, the bicyclist was unaware what was happening.  When he rounded the truck the SUV suddenly appeared.  The bicyclist struck the driver's side of the vehicle, spearing it with his helmeted head and his shoulder.  He was taken from the scene by a City of Chicago ambulance to Northwestern Memorial Hospital nearby.

The driver of the SUV attempted to lay much of the blame for the crash on the operator the International truck.  He claimed that the truck was parked in the middle of the intersection so as to obscure view of bicycle traffic on the path, and that the operator actually waived him through causing the collision.  We conducted a thorough investigation of the incident.  The driver of the International emphatically denied that her truck was parked in the middle of the intersection.  She also denied that she waived the SUV driver through.  Further, we took the position that regardless, the SUV driver had a duty to proceed with caution across what he knew, or should have known, was a well used bicycle path.  If his view was obscured then there was all the more reason for him to proceed cautiously.  He could not transfer his responsibility to someone else.

The bicyclist lost consciousness at the crash scene.  He was placed on a backboard and in a cervical collar.  At the emergency department x-rays were performed on his pelvis and chest, and CT scans were done of his brain and cervical spine.  Thankfully, he was wearing a helmet and did not suffer a serious, permanent head injury.  However, he sustained a “grade 2 acromioclavicular separation.”  After discharge from Northwestern pain in his neck and right shoulder compelled medical follow up at the Lakeside Veterans Administrations Hospital and the Jesse Brown Veterans Administrations Medical Center.  (He was on active duty in the U.S. Marine Corps from 1995 to 1999.)  At the VA he was noted to experience significant pain in his right shoulder and upper back that was 7 on a 10 scale with motion.  He was “having difficulty dressing, driving and lifting things.”  This was not surprising given the nature of his injury.  A Grade II separation means that the acromioclavicular ligament is completely torn and that the joint is at least partially torn with some displacement.  He was prescribed physical therapy which he underwent from mid-November until late December.  On December 30, 2011 he was finally able to see an orthopedic surgery consult.  At that time he was noted to have a “right shoulder with obvious deformity at AC joint.”  However, his healing had plateaued.  Presently, he still suffers from periodic pain in his right shoulder which waxes and wanes.  His pain increases while wearing a backpack and is impacted by the weather.  He continues to take significant doses of Motrin to help abate these flare-ups.

The bicyclist is presently enrolled in law school in Valparaiso, Indiana.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

66 Year Old Chicago Bicyclist Doored, But Undaunted

Getting doored by a careless driver did not slow her down for good.  A 66 year old bicyclist, struck by a car door in June, suffered serious injuries, but just a few months after the crash she was back on a bicycle doing what she loved.  Now she will also receive monetary compensation, my law firm successfully resolving her case for the full amount of the driver's auto insurance policy.

The incident occurred on a pleasant summer day just after 11:00 a.m.  The female cyclist was riding her mountain bike eastbound near 1437 West Argyle in Uptown on her way to the dentist.  Suddenly the driver of a 2001 Toyota threw his door open, striking the right side of the bike.  The impact threw it and its rider across the narrow street and into another parked car.  The heavy crash knocked the woman unconscious and snapped her right arm.  She was rushed via ambulance to Advocate Illinois Masonic Medical Center, a level I trauma center.

A hospital stay was followed by months of painful rehabilitation and a long, hot summer in a confining and uncomfortable cast and arm sling.  Independent and athletic, she could not wait to get back in the saddle, even facing the risk of another crash.  She told me that she always felt that the risk to her health from a sedentary lifestyle was far greater than the potential harm from another crash.  When the cast came off and she regained some range of motion in her limb, she was riding again.  She has not completely healed and it is unclear now for how long the effects of her injuries will burden her.  However, she has no plans to stop riding.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Chicago High School Student Finds Inspiration From Dooring Incident

Maxine Soss
The hastily opened car door affected two Chicago bicyclists in very different ways.  For one, the inattentive driver's action inflicted hideous harm.  For another, it released inspiration.

Thirteen year old Maxine Soss was riding her bicycle with her mother north on Lincoln Avenue in Chicago's Lakeview neighborhood at around 4:00 p.m. on July 10, 2012. As they pedaled passed Lincoln's intersection with West Webster Avenue there was another cyclist riding about 25 feet in front of them.  He was 34 years old and riding his daily commute home from work in Lincoln's dedicated bike lane. Maxine saw the car stopped along the curb to the right of the bike lane.  She saw the door spring open and slice through the man's lower right leg.  She and her mom raced ahead and stopped.  The driver was screaming.  Blood was pooling.  Maxine could see the exposed bones in the man's lower leg.  She and her mom helped quell the bleeding and waited with the fallen cyclist for help to arrive.

As the weeks passed, the images and sounds of those terrible moments refused to leave Maxine.  But the events of that July day did not just leave a dark mark on her memory. They challenged her.  They presented a problem in need of a solution; one that she would not just leave to others to solve.  What can I do to prevent another person from getting doored?  The student science fair at Whitney Young High School presented Maxine with the platform she needed.  She decided that her project would be to find an engineering solution to the threat of dooring.  She reflected intently on what could be invented to alert a driver that a cyclist was approaching. 

"After research, meeting with a few physics teachers, and some consultation with a local engineering executive, she came up with an alarm system that could be produced on a small scale, and built a model," said Maxine's mom, Kelly Friedl.

Maxine's display at the Whitney Young Science Fair
Like most good ideas, Maxine's was relatively simple.   "By utilizing the general physics principals of a proximity sensor system, she rewired the mechanics of a cordless doorbell system," said Ms. Friedl.  "On her scale model, she inserted proximity reader mechanics inside of a toy car.  She then attached a proximity sensor (a magnet) to a model bike.  As the bike approached the car, an alarm would sound" to alert the driver.  In the real world, a small magnetic band would be placed on the bicycle and would communicate with the sensor of a vehicle implementing the system.  Maxine and her mom imagine selling the system very cheaply, or even giving it away for free at cycling events, to bicyclists who also drive.  The hope is that the bicycling community would help get the project off the ground, creating momentum by using the system on their own vehicles.

The science fair has come and gone, but Maxine plans to continue her project.  She intends to repeat the same project next year, and hopefully start testing it in the real world.  Funding is needed to take it to the next level, but her youth and desire to do good fuel a boundless optimism.

Maxine can be reached at maxinesoss@gmail.com.  Her mom can be reached at kelly@urbaninfant.com.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Family Of Brain Damaged Bicyclist Seeks Help From Community

Justin Carver
It is the worst case scenario.  Justin Carver was struck by a truck while riding his bicycle home from work.  The crash left him in critical condition with a traumatic brain injury and many broken bones.  He "is still in the ICU fighting for his life after surgery to remove part of his skull and relieve the pressure in his brain," according to his wife, Kim.  What's more, his young family will continue to be burdened by enormous medical costs from Justin's ongoing care and treatment.  The driver that struck him had only minimal insurance coverage.

A fund has been set up to accept donations to help pay for what may be a lifetime of medical care for Justin.  Please go here to offer your donation:  Fund For Justin.

The crash occurred on December 3rd at around 5 p.m. at the intersection of 26th and East Avenue in Berwyn, according to The Berwyn News.  The truck struck him as the driver attempted to turn "off of East Avenue" while Justin was attempting to cross 26th.  Unconscious, he was transported to Loyola University Medical Center.

Justin works as an Adult Library Services Assistant at the Stickney-Forest View Library.  A co-worker, Allison Mackey, reported on The Chainlink that Justin, "is a safe cyclist and always wears a helmet."  Click here to read more about this incident on The Chainlink.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Riding Chicago's New Dearborn Bike Lane, In Beta

Since my holiday shopping plans took me to the Loop today I decided to check out the new Dearborn bike lane for the first time.  I secured a video camera to my helmet and rode.  (See the video below).  I was concerned that riding it on a grey and cloudy Sunday would not provide a "typical" downtown riding experience.  Usually, the Loop is deserted on a Sunday.  However, today being only nine days until Christmas it was quite busy with both pedestrians and motor vehicles.

All and all I enjoyed the experience.  It was down right luxurious to have space to ride through the Loop that I as a bicyclist could call my own.  That said, the new bike lane is definitely in beta, and as such, great caution should be taken when riding it.  Many pedestrians and motorists clearly do not know how to deal with the new infrastructure.  The most interesting parts of the video are:

4:20 - A pedestrian crosses right in front of me without looking.  (I suppose I could have been more polite in reminding her that she should do so.)

4:30 - Four pedestrians are just standing in the lane apparently unaware of where they were.

6:59 - A taxi driver enters the lane and confronts me head on.  We have a brief conversation in which he tells me that there is a taxi stand at that location.  He is right, but I tell him that he no longer can stop there.  He is quite pleasant actually and seemed genuinely confused as to what he was supposed to do.  I watch him exit the bike lane.  In fairness to him, taxi drivers should receive some instruction regarding relocation of taxi stands in light of the new bike lane.

As the video shows there is a great deal of standing water in the bike lane.  It rained all day yesterday.  Were it colder that water would have of course turned to ice making travel in the bike lane quite dangerous.  Certainly the City will need to monitor the situation throughout the winter so the bike lane can be utilized safely.


Thursday, December 13, 2012

Chicago Bicyclist Doored By Uninsured Driver To Receive Compensation

The bottom edge of the car door sliced into the bicyclist, a huge bloody curtain of skin and muscle drawn back revealing the two large bones of his lower right leg.  It seemed as if a shaky surgeon cut a large slab from the side of his leg below the knee.  Minutes later an ambulance would rush him to the hospital to undergo surgery.  Weeks later he would have insult added to injury:  The driver that doored him was uninsured.

At around 4:00 p.m. on July 10th, a 34 year old male cyclist was doored on his way home from work on North Lincoln Avenue, just north of West Webster Avenue, in Chicago's Lakeview neighborhood. He was pedaling at a leisurely pace in Lincoln Avenue's dedicated bicycle lane when the driver of a 2002 Mitsubishi parked along the curb carelessly open her door just as the cyclist was riding by.  The bottom of the door sliced open the man's leg as he passed and caused him to crash hard to the street.  Thankfully, he avoided being hit by passing vehicles.  The wound to his leg was very serious however.  He was rushed via ambulance to Advocate Illinois Masonic Medical Center where he underwent surgery that evening.

The bicyclist incurred over $25,000 in medical bills.  At first he tried to resolve the matter with the driver himself.  However, when he learned that she had let her auto insurance coverage lapse before the crash, he contacted my law firm for help.  We immediately notified the bicyclist's own auto insurer that he was injured by an uninsured driver.  If an injured bicyclist has his or her own motor vehicle insurance policy, or is covered under another family member's policy, the cyclist may look to the uninsured or underinsured motorist provision of that policy. This is permitted even though the victim was riding a bicycle and the accident did not involve his or her own motor vehicle. Generally, your uninsured or underinsured motorist coverage protects you even when you are injured by a motor vehicle while a bicyclist or pedestrian.  Yesterday, after some hard work and diligence we were able to resolve the bicyclist's uninsured motorist claim for the full amount of coverage, $100,000.

Friday, December 7, 2012

Bicyclist Doored In Bucktown By Taxi Discharging Passenger

She was pedaling in the dedicated bicycle lane on Damen Avenue in Bucktown when the door sprang open in front of her.  There was nothing she could do to avoid the inevitable.

The 27 year old female bicyclist was riding to work southbound on Damen Avenue a few feet north of Cortland Street on August 2nd when the passenger of a taxi stopped in the middle of the road threw the door open in her path.  The crash occurred at around 10:30 a.m. on a warm and sunny Saturday.  The impact was heavy enough to crack the steel of her bicycle's frame.  She was sent hurling to the ground and was left, according to one witness, screaming in pain.  The crash occurring directly across the street from a firehouse, the cyclist was quickly whisked away to Resurrection St. Mary's Medical Center for treatment.

My law firm has been retained to represent the bicyclist.  The driver of the taxi, by stopping in the middle of the road to discharge a passenger into a clearly marked bike lane, violated good sense and City of Chicago Public Chauffeurs Rule 5.18 which requires that taxi drivers, "when discharging passengers, shall do so in a safe and legal manner. . . [and] shall discharge passengers curbside."

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

A Bicyclist Anti-Harassment Bill With Some Real Firepower

Bicyclists:  You want a law that protects you that actually has some teeth?  Well, check out what is going on in Washington D.C.  On November 29th, the Assault of Bicyclists Prevention Act made its way through the city council's judiciary committee on its way to the full council for consideration.  The bill was drafted to "create a civil cause of action for a person who while riding a bicycle is the victim of an intentional assault, injury, or harassment or the threat of assault, injury or harassment, and to provide for civil penalties, punitive damages, and attorney's fees."  Specifically, the proposed bill states as follows:

Irrespective of any criminal prosecution or the result of a criminal prosecution, a person who while riding a bicycle is intentionally physically assaulted or otherwise intentionally injured; threatened with physical assault or injury, whether by words, a vehicle, body part of another, or other object; or intentionally distracted, or the attempt thereof, shall have a civil cause of action in a court of competent jurisdiction for appropriate relief, which shall include: 
(1)  An injunction; 
(2)  Actual damages with regard to each such violation, or up to 3 times the amount of the actual damages or $1,000, whichever is greater; 
(3)  Punitive damages in an amount to be determined by a jury or a court sitting without a jury; and 
(4)  Reasonable attorney's fees and costs.

The bill also states that the remedies prescribed "shall be in addition to all other remedies provided by law" which already exist.

This bazooka of a bill was proposed last year after a D.C. area bicyclist recorded himself being harassed by the driver of a pickup truck who knocked him over.  The cyclist and the cycling community at large were frustrated by the lack of any real legal remedy to be pursued against the driver since no serious injuries were sustained due to the assault.

Illinois and the City of Chicago passed bicyclist anti-harassment laws last year enforcing the so-called 3 foot rule.  But those measures are flaccid compared to the proposed D.C. law.  The Illinois statute states,

The operator of a motor vehicle overtaking a bicycle or individual proceeding in the same direction on a highway shall leave a safe distance, but not less than 3 feet, when passing the bicycle or individual and shall maintain that distance until safely past the overtaken bicycle or individual. 
A person driving a motor vehicle shall not, in a reckless manner, drive the motor vehicle unnecessarily close to, toward, or near a bicyclist, pedestrian, or a person riding a horse or driving an animal drawn vehicle. 
Every person convicted [under] this Section shall be guilty of a Class A misdemeanor if the violation does not result in great bodily harm or permanent disability or disfigurement to another. If the violation results in great bodily harm or permanent disability or disfigurement to another, the person shall be guilty of a Class 3 felony.

The Chicago ordinance states,
The operator of a motor vehicle overtaking a bicycle or individual proceeding in the same direction on a highway shall leave a safe distance, but not less than 3 feet, when passing the bicycle or individual and shall maintain that distance until safely past the overtaken bicycle or individual.
Any person who violates . . . section 9-36-010 . . . of this Code, shall be subject to (i) a penalty of $150.00 or, (ii) if such violation causes a collision between a motor vehicle and a bicycle, a penalty of $500.00, for each offense.

The differences are not small.  Imagine you are harassed or assaulted by a driver in Illinois but not seriously injured.  Assuming you can get a police officer's attention, the driver is subject to a small penalty. Moreover, you will be left to your own devices with regard to convincing the local prosecutor to pursue the matter.  If the D.C. bill becomes law, cyclists there will have the ammunition needed to hire a lawyer to pursue the matter aggressively, and really hit the offending driver where it hurts.

Thanks to Washington D.C. attorney Michael Forster who made me aware of the D.C. bill via Twitter.

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