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Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Video Captures Bicycle, Taxi Crash; Lawsuit Filed

A lawsuit has been filed against a taxi cab company and its driver for causing a crash that seriously injured a Chicago man as he rode his bicycle in Bucktown.  Our law firm represents the cyclist.

The 34 year old man sustained a skull fracture and bleeding into his brain from the crash.  He spent six days in Advocate Illinois Masonic Medical Center before being released into his family's care.  He continues to undergo treatment for a brain injury.  He was wearing a helmet at the time of the crash.

The incident occurred at the intersection of North Damen Avenue and West Fullerton Avenue at 11:47 p.m. on November 8th.  The cyclist was riding from his parent's home to his apartment traveling north on Damen in a bicycle lane.  He was riding with operating front and rear lights on his bike.  At Damen's intersection with Fullerton the driver of a white 2011 Ford Escape taxi, also northbound on Damen, turned right without signaling onto Fullerton directly into the bicyclist's path.  The driver's sudden maneuver caused the cyclist to strike the passenger side of the vehicle.  The cyclist hit his head and was rendered unconscious at the scene. The driver immediately pulled over and three passengers rushed from the taxi to the downed man's aid and called 911.

The Illinois Traffic Crash Report pertaining to the incident reflects a very different version of events.  It states that the bicyclist, "was NB [northbound] on Damen and disregarded traffic signal and collided with [taxi] which was EB [eastbound] on Fullerton."  See below.  (The report confuses Unit 1 and Unit 2.  But it seems to communicate the reporting officer's understanding that the bicyclist caused the crash by running a red light.)

Narrative portion of Illinois Traffic Crash Report
Concerned, I spoke with the people who were riding in the cab at the time of the crash.  They told me that the crash occurred just as the driver was making a right turn.  They told me that the Crash Report did not accurately reflect what they told the police at the scene.

Hoping to uncover more solid evidence regarding how the crash occurred, we sent a Freedom of Information Act request to the Chicago Department of Transportation requesting video from the red light cameras in the intersection.  One of the cameras recorded the crash.  The video, taken by a camera looking south on Damen, shows the white taxi (a small SUV) proceeding north on Damen.  The light at Fullerton is green and when it reaches the intersection, it turns right.  Just as it does the blinking white light on the front of the bicycle is seen going down to the street.  The taxi driver immediately pulls over to the curb on Fullerton. See below.

video

We do not know who the source was for the narrative contained in the Crash Report.  However, the red light camera video contradicts it.  Also, the taxi passengers told me that on the night of the crash they were traveling from Big Star, a Wicker Park restaurant located at 1531 North Damen, to Wrigleyville.  It would certainly make sense for them to have traveled north on Damen to Fullerton, then east.

What the video shows is a classic "right hook" crash, one of the most common types of collisions between motor vehicles and bicycles in an urban setting.  We have alleged that by turning right in front of a person riding a bike, that the cab driver violated several portions of the Illinois Vehicle Code, including the section that requires drivers to give cyclists three feet of space when passing.  We have also alleged that the driver violated numerous sections of the Municipal Code of Chicago, including 9-16-020(d), which explicitly prohibits drivers from turning right in front of a bicyclist when it is not safe to do so.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

No Ticket, No Compensation?

The following originally appeared in Urban Velo as part of my regular column, Cycling Legalese:
If you’re involved in an automobile/bicycle collision it is in your best interest to call the police and get a report, but how will it impact a potential claim for injury or damage compensation if the police officer doesn’t issue a ticket to the driver on the spot?
Q:After I was hit by a car, the police did not give the driver a ticket. How will that affect my ability to receive compensation from the driver for my injuries?
A traffic ticket issued to a driver for causing a crash may aid a bicyclist’s personal injury case. But, failure of the police to ticket a driver will generally have no impact at all on the cyclist’s case.
Most police officers try hard to do the right thing. But strip away the badge and the uniform and what you are left with is a fallible human being. After a crash, you may know with cosmic certainty that the driver that hit you was in the wrong. Police officers arriving after the fact will not have a clue about what happened. They may have a pissed-off, injured bicyclists telling them one thing, a frustrated, nervous driver telling them another, and a mess of backed-up city traffic. Figuring out what happened and who was at fault may not be knowable, and/or may be the least of their concerns. Sometimes the responding officer will take his or her best guess as to what happened and issue a ticket. Let the judge sort it out. Other times a cop will throw his or her hands up and keep the ticket book tucked away.
To be sure, I sometimes shake my head when the police fail to ticket a driver. It is astonishing when a driver is not ticketed, for example, after dooring a cyclist in broad daylight. Other times I suspect that a police officer holds an anti-bike prejudice. Just the other day, I was in court in a suburb of Chicago defending a bicyclist who was hit from behind by a vehicle whose driver crossed a double yellow line and hit him as the cyclist began a left turn. The officer ticketed the cyclist for failing to signal his intent to turn, even though the officer documented that witnesses reported that the cyclist had indeed signaled. The judge ultimately threw out the ticket, but, sheesh!
When a driver is ticketed after a crash, he or she will generally be given a date to appear in court and enter a plea, guilty/not guilty. It is very important that the bicyclist appear at that court date. The cyclist will be the complaining witness, without whom the prosecution will not be able to prove a traffic violation (assuming the issuing police officer did not actually witness the incident). The officer that wrote the ticket will generally not be permitted to testify as to what someone else said happened. Such testimony is considered hearsay and cannot serve as a basis for a conviction. It is a good idea to arrive at the hearing early so you or your lawyer can seek out the prosecutor and let them know that you are present and ready to testify against the driver. In city traffic court the prosecutor will have about a zillion cases he or she is dealing with at once and will likely appreciate the presence of a complaining witness willing to cooperate and explain what the case is about. Depending on what the presiding judge generally allows, the prosecutor may then seek out the driver in the courtroom and explain their options. Sometimes an agreement to plead guilty will result in a lesser punishment for the driver then a finding of guilt by the judge after a time consuming trial. In my experience, many drivers take that deal. This is important. A plea of guilty in the criminal/traffic case is admissible in evidence as an admission in the subsequent civil/personal injury case. The driver will have a very difficult time wiggling free from a claim of negligence after pleading guilty. However, a finding of guilt (or not) at trial is not admissible in the personal injury case. In most jurisdictions a jury considering the personal injury case would never learn of the earlier verdict arising from the traffic citation.

So, if the driver is ticketed after a crash, great. Go to the traffic citation hearing. If the driver does not get a ticket, do not sweat it.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Does Cycling In Chicago Have A Future?

I am worried about the future of cycling in Chicago.

CDOT commissioner, and avid daily cyclist, Gable Klein is stepping down.  Long time Chicago Bicycle Program leader, Ben Gomberg, is gone and has not been replaced.  The city's bicycle infrastructure - while better than what we had before (nothing) - seems stuck in beta.  Far from world inspiring, ours is not even the best cycle-specific infrastructure in the Midwest. Chicago bicyclists continue to face considerable hostility on our streets.  I for one am growing impatient at the speed of the change that so many bicycle advocates, including this one, have praised.  

These are not popular sentiments, I know.  We are told to be thankful for what we have now and just wait; it will get better the City promises.  More bike lanes are being built.  More people are biking in the city than perhaps ever before, increasing awareness among drivers.  Both of those things are plainly true.  But it is not enough.  I am staring at shelves full of carnage, bicyclists hit by cars, injured, often very seriously. "Between 2005 and 2010, there were nearly 9,000 crashes involving bicyclists, with 32 bicyclist fatalities,"  according to the City of Chicago 2012 Bicycle Crash Analysis.

The architects of how far we have come as a cycling city are Gabe Klein and Ben Gomberg.  Commissioner Klein has accomplished a lot in the short time he has been here.  Mayor Rahm Emanuel's choice of an innovative outsider to become CDOT commissioner is to be applauded.  There were no protected bicycle lanes, really no focus on making Chicago bicycle friendly, until Klein got here.  And make no mistake, Klein is someone who gets it.  He is a daily cyclist.  I know because I have seen him on his Masi commuter numerous times around the city.  I have also had the chance to speak with him about biking in the city.  I remember one conversation in particular at a fundraising event at SRAM headquarters last summer.  I was needling him a bit about how the law should be changed to allow cyclists to treat stop as yield, when he admitted that that might make sense and that even he sometimes took that approach at intersections when riding the city.  Now Klein is leaving for the private sector, and I am worried about whether growth of our cycling infrastructure will continue.  It is unclear who his replacement will be.  Whoever it is will they demonstrate the same commitment to cycling that Klein did?  

Also gone from CDOT is Ben Gomberg, another real deal bike guy who worked for decades with the City to advance safe cycling.  Often I saw Gomberg riding Milwaukee Avenue in his bright yellow safety vest on my ride into the Loop.  His small framed, red Giant mountain bike was locked to a street sign outside of 30 North LaSalle Street nearly every day.  (I always wondered why he did not lock up to a bike rack.  I never asked him.  Perhaps he did not want to take rack space away from a civilian.) Gomberg was head of the Chicago Bicycle Program, an initiative within CDOT charged with implementing and directing bicycle infrastructure changes, bicycle parking and rider safety and education.  Earlier this year, Gomberg was also put in charge of launching Chicago's very successful bike sharing program, Divvy.  Now, he too is gone.  The new head of the Bike Program is Janet Attarian.  She is a long time City employee and architect by trade. She also rides her bike to work.  However, she is not just Bicycle Program director.   Actually, the Program itself has been transformed.  At the beginning of the year, the City combined several programs into what is now the Complete Streets Program.  Those programs include the Pedestrian Program, the Streets Keeping Sustainable Design Program, the Green Alley Program, the Green Streets Program and the Bicycle Program. Attarian now oversees all of that.  No longer is there someone whose focus is exclusively on The Bicycle Program.  That is troubling.

I commute by bike to my office on State Street from my home in Logan Square every day.  Generally, I take Milwaukee Avenue.  As I share that well bike traveled road while being passed by CTA buses, cement mixers and other vehicles that may squash me if I make a mistake, I am reminded that Chicago has a long way to go.  The City is well aware that Milwaukee Avenue is one of the busiest and most dangerous bicycle corridors in Chicago.  The City of Chicago 2012 Bicycle Crash Analysis states, "The largest concentration of bicycle injury crashes were located within and north of downtown Chicago.  There were also large pockets of crashes on primary diagonal streets that serve the Loop area, including Milwaukee Avenue."  The study went on to note that Milwaukee Avenue (along with Lincoln and Clark) has the highest rates of dooring incidents in the City.  Mayor Emanuel himself recently witnessed first hand the dangers cyclists face on Milwaukee Avenue, coming to the rescue of a woman run down by a large truck at the intersection of Milwaukee and Ogden.  Despite this knowledge, the City is not doing nearly enough.  Milwaukee Avenue, between North Avenue and Division does not even have a dedicated bike lane, only faded sharrows lamely direct motorists and cyclists to "Share The Road."  Presently, Milwaukee, between Ogden and the expressway overpass, is torn up due to roadway construction.  Extensive road work sometimes needs to be done.  Okay, but the City and/or its contractors have made no accommodations for bicyclists using Milwaukee Avenue during construction.  Cyclists, cars, buses and large trucks are fighting for space on that bumpy, treacherous stretch of Milwaukee.  This is unacceptable.  A temporary bike lane should be created for use during the construction project so that the cyclists, mostly commuters to and from the Loop, can pass safely on this street that they have come to rely upon.  

Mayor Emanuel has said that, "One of my top priorities as mayor is to create a bike network that allows every Chicagoan - from kids on their first ride to senior citizens on their way to the grocery store - to feel safe on our streets."  Ride Milwaukee and see that we are nowhere close to that.

Can we please stop saying that Chicago is a great cycling city?  It is not.  Yeah, yeah, we have come a long way.  But there was really only one way to go.  Going from nothing to something is technically progress, but I wish the City would stop patting itself on the back.  We are not even the best city for cycling in the Midwest. Minneapolis is generally regarded as one of the best, if not the best, cycling city in the United States.  In terms of innovation, Indianapolis is kicking our ass.  Recently that city completed an eight mile biking and walking path through the heart of the city that is just gorgeous.  Called the Indianapolis Cultural Trail, it separates bicycles and pedestrians from motor vehicle traffic with pleasant looking, sustainable planters.  In most places, cyclists and pedestrians are separated from each other as well.  This is not some recreational path either, a la the Chicago Lakefront Trail.  It connects people to places they actually want and need to go. There simply is nothing like it in Chicago.  The Dearborn bike lane comes closest, but really is not on the same scale.

Aside from the crashes and the injuries, the general hostility cyclists face riding on Chicago's streets is bad.  It could always be worse, but that is no excuse.  Consider, for example a video that emerged this week of a young woman who accidentally found herself riding a Divvy bike on Lake Shore Drive.  The video, displayed with unseemly glee by the media, shows one driver and his passenger, and many others who do not seem to care, mocking a cyclist in serious danger.  It is not pretty.  As one person noted on The Chainlink, a stray dog loose on LSD would have received more kindly attention and help.  This attitude is not surprising and the media likes to fan it.  On Monday, Crain's Chicago Business tried to stoke anger between cyclists and drivers with an article titled, Why everyone hates bicyclists -- and why they hate everyone back. Cyclists do not hate drivers.  We just want to ride with a little space and be left alone.  Stop telling us we need to grow up and stop running stop signs.  Anecdotes about the occasional scofflaw aside, bicyclists obey traffic laws where they make sense.  Where they do not we do what has to be done to stay safe.

We are at a crossroads.  The low hanging fruit has already been plucked with regard to the creation of bike lanes.  The first few miles of protected bike lanes have been around for a while now.  Get over it.  Painting the street next to the gutter green and placing some collapsible plastic poles just will not cut it anymore.  City planners wanted people on bikes and now they have got them.  Chicago's efforts to create a truly viable cycling city must move on to the next level.

Friday, November 8, 2013

Evanston Cyclist Receives $300,000 Settlement From Driver Who Struck Him In Sheridan Road Bike Lane

A driver who seriously injured a 55 year old Evanston bicyclist last year has agreed to a $305,000 settlement. Our law firm represents the bicyclist.

The crash occurred in the bicycle lane at the uncontrolled intersection of Sheridan Road and Forest Avenue in Wilmette.  The cyclist was northbound on Sheridan in the bike lane when the 81 year old southbound driver turned her BMW into his path causing the collision.   The impact threw the man forward off of his bike causing his mouth to strike the roof edge of the car.  A police officer who responded to the scene noted that the cyclist's fragmented teeth were found on the roof of the vehicle.  He also suffered fractures to both bones of his right forearm, and a compression fracture in his lower back.    He underwent surgery to repair his broken arm and had extensive dental work.  His spinal fracture healed on its own.  His medical and dental bills totaled more than $70,000.

Our client is a cancer survivor who took up cycling in an effort to return his body to good health following a long period of therapy.  His bicycle, a 2011 Cervelo RS, was badly damaged in the crash.  We were able to help him get his bike replaced.

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