My client and I had a problem. The young man who hired our firm had a separated shoulder after getting hit by a taxi. That was his biggest worry. My concern, however, was how to demonstrate the cab driver's negligence. You see, the bicyclist was not completely without fault in the matter.
On January 6, 2013 at around 12:30 a.m. the male bicyclist was riding home from a friend's house in the shared bike lane north along the 3300 block of North Damen Avenue when the taxi, which had been stopped along the curb, suddenly pulled out in front of him. The cyclist could not avoid striking the front wheel well of the cab. The cyclist had had a few beers, though he was not drunk. He was also riding without a front headlight on his bike, a clear violation of the Illinois Vehicle Code. He was also wearing dark clothing. Yeah, we had problems. I was not worried about the beers. I had no reason to believe that that contributed to cause the crash. The folks at the hospital did not feel the need to draw his blood to run a toxicology screen. The defense would have no admissible evidence regarding intoxication we needed to worry about. But his lack of a headlight worried me a lot. I wondered, had the taxi driver looked in his mirror before pulling from the curb, could he have seen the cyclist? I decided to find out.
A few weeks after the crash the client and I, with the help of Aaron Bussey of LOOK! Chicago and Elizabeth Adamczyk of Ride of Silence who graciously offered up their time, went out to the scene of the crash to investigate. The plan was to replicate the conditions of the crash as closely as possible. We brought the client's bike, absent any lights. Aaron would play the part of the cyclist and wore the same sort of dark clothing worn by the cyclist on the night of the crash. I parked my car in the same spot the taxi had occupied. Elizabeth sat in the driver's seat with a video camera pointed at the vehicle's side view mirror. Outside of the vehicle I yelled, "Action!" (I always wanted to do that) and Aaron tracked the same route the cyclist had on the night of the crash, riding in the bike lane. The video below shows the results of our test:
The bicyclist would have been more visible if he had a light on his bike. But, the video demonstrates that had the driver looked he certainly could have seen him. The area was very well lit due to the presence of street lights and a gas station across the street. I would argue that since the driver would be pulling from the curb into a portion of roadway marked for bicycle traffic that he should have carefully looked for cyclists in the area.
The taxi company's insurer was persuaded by our efforts. This week, they agreed to a substantial settlement to compensate the cyclist.
I want be perfectly clear that if you are riding in pitch dark without a light on your bike and get tagged by a motor vehicle the mostly likely outcome is that you will not be compensated for any injuries you sustain. We are good lawyers, but we are not miracle workers. However, drivers and insurance companies should understand that a lack of lighting does not necessarily preclude liability for harming a cyclist. In big cities like Chicago there is ample lighting on most main roads at night. Drivers have a duty to look -- not just glance -- but look for cyclists at night.