Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Bicycle Commuter Seriously Injured Near 4900 Block of South California Avenue

We have been retained to represent a cyclist who was seriously injured when he was struck from behind by a vehicle along the 4900 block of South California Avenue in Chicago on September 12th. Our client, a former United States Marine, was rushed from the scene unconscious via ambulance to Mount Sinai Hospital where he was diagnosed with a concussion, a fractured shoulder, and deep gouges in this head, face, arm and leg requiring surgical closure. He continues to work toward recovery, but he is expected to have some permanent scarring and disfigurement.

The incident took place at around 5:30 p.m. The bicyclist was on this way home from work at the time we was struck. Our firm is initiating a full investigation of this matter, and is looking into allegations that the driver of the vehicle was intoxicated at the time of the incident.

Friday, September 25, 2009

30% Increase In Bicycle Commuting In Chicago

Chicago commuters are part of a nationwide increase in the number of people bicycling to work. Between 2005 and 2008 30 percent more Chicagoans biked to work, according to statistics from United States Census Bureau's American Community Survey for those years. During that three year period the city experienced a 7.78 percent increase in the total number of workers 16 years of age and over. The nation as a whole saw a 36 percent gain in the number of bicycle commuters during the same period. Nationwide, there was a 43 percent increase in bicycle commuting between 2000 and 2008.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

When May A Public Entity Be Held Liable For Injuries Caused By Roadway Defects and Hazards

Bicyclists can and do sustain injuries from defects and hazards in the roadway. These cases are actionable in Illinois; a lawsuit can be filed against a local town, city or municipality for injuries sustained due to a failure to properly maintain the roadway. However, in order to be successful such cases must overcome two substantial hurtles. Firstly, the injured cyclist must demonstrate that he or she was a permitted and intended user of the portion of roadway upon which the injury occurred. Secondly, he or she must prove that the municipality had actual or constructive knowledge of the injury causing hazard.

Many Illinois bicyclists may be surprised to learn that they are not necessarily the intended users of many of our state's roadways and streets. Illinois law explicitly grants bicyclists "all of the rights and . . . duties applicable to the driver of a vehicle" on roadways. 625 ILCS 5/11-1502. But that statute only makes the bicyclist a permitted user of Illinois roads, not necessarily an intended user of those roadways. The Illinois Supreme Court took up this issue in Boub v. Township of Wayne, 183 Ill.2d 520, 702 N.E.2d 535 (Ill. 1998). In that case, a cyclist sued rural Wayne Township after sustaining an injury while crossing a one-lane bridge the township maintained. "The surface of the bridge consisted of wood planking; some time before the accident, asphalt patching between the planks had been removed as part of a bridge renovation project, in preparation for the installation of a different bridge deck" Boub, 183 Ill. 2d at 522. The cyclist alleged that he was "thrown from the bicycle when his front tire became struck between two of the planks on the bridge." Id. Wayne Township, in response to the suit filed against it, alleged that it was immune, pursuant to Section 3-102(a) of the Tort Immunity Act, from liability unless the bicyclist could demonstrate that he was both a permitted and intended user of the bridge. There was no controversy that the cyclist was permitted to bike across the bridge. However, the township asserted, and the Supreme Court ultimately agreed, that he was not an intended user of the bridge. The Court stated, "In the present case, there is nothing in the roadway or bridge that would suggest that it was intended for use by bicycles. No special pavement markings or signs indicated that bicyclists, like motorists, were intended to ride on the road or bridge, or that bicycles, rather than vehicles, were the intended users of the route." Boub, 183 Ill.2d 529. The bicyclist's claim was, therefore, dismissed.

Subsequent cases clarified when a bicyclist is an intended user. In Brooks v. City of Peoria, 305 Ill.App.3d 806, 712 N.E.2d 387 (3rd Dist. 1999), the appellate court held that a seven-year-old bicyclist who was injured riding on a city sidewalk was a permitted and intended user of the sidewalk and, therefore, could maintain his personal injury action against the city. The Court felt that the injured bicyclist's age was important in reaching its holding. It stated, "Common sense would indicate. . . that the nature of a sidewalk includes use by children in strollers, motorized wheelchairs, tricycles, training bicycles, junior bikes, roller blades and roller skates." Brooks, 305 Ill.App.3d at 808. Had the injured cyclist been of majority age, the Court would have ruled differently. In Latimer v. Chicago Park District, 323 Ill.App.3d 466, 752 N.E.2d 1161 (1st Dist. 2001), a cyclist brought a lawsuit alleging that she was injured when she fell from her bicycle on a municipal street that was broken and uneven. The appellate court held in dismissing the bicyclist's suit, however, that because the accident occurred in a place where there were no bicycle lane markings she was not an intended user of that portion of roadway and was not entitled to damages under the Tort Immunity Act.

The bottom line is this: a bicyclist may not maintain a lawsuit against a local governmental entity, such as a city, town or municipality, for injuries sustained due to hazards or defects in the roadway unless there was present at the time of the accident some signs, markings or other clear indication that the roadway was intended for use by bike traffic. In light of the state of the law in Illinois, bicyclists are encouraged to ride in bike lanes and designated bike paths. Should you become injured while doing so due to a hazard or defect in the road, you will be able to seek compensation of the harms and losses you sustain as a result.

The second hurtle a bicyclist must overcome to bring a lawsuit against a local municipality for injury caused by a hazard or defect in the roadway is notice. The relevant portion of the Tort Immunity Act states that a governmental entity "shall not be liable for injury unless it is proven that it has actual or constructive notice of the existence of such a condition that is not reasonably safe in reasonably adequate time prior to an injury to have taken measures to remedy or protect against such condition." 745 ILCS 10/3-102(a). The notion of "actual notice" is easy enough to understand. If one of the public entity's "employees has actual knowledge of the defect in question" then that entity may be found to have notice. Glass v. City of Chicago, 323 Ill.App.3d 158, 751 N.E.2d 141 91st Dist. 2001). Also, if the municipality, through its employees, actually created the road hazard or defect then it will be found to have had knowledge of its existence. In the absence of actual knowledge, the courts will consider whether the public entity had "constructive notice" of the defect. The notion of constructive notice is that even if the municipality did not know of the defect, it should have. "Constructive notice of a condition is said to exist where the condition has existed for such a length of time or is so conspicuous or plainly visible that the public entity should have known of its existence by exercising reasonable care and diligence." Ramirez v. City of Chicago, 318 Ill.App.3d 18, 22, 740 N.E.2d 1190 (1st Dist. 2000). For example, in Ramirez a lawsuit was brought against the City of Chicago by a pedestrian who was injured after tripping over sidewalk slab deviation. The appellate court upheld the trial court's finding that the city had constructive notice of the condition where a witness testified that the sidewalk slabs at the place of the fall "were separated by a height of maybe a couple of inches" and that the condition had existed there for some sixteen years prior to the fall. Id. This rule of law certainly makes sense. A municipality charged with maintaining a roadway cannot be expected to monitor the condition of the road at all times of the day and night. If you are unlucky enough, for example, to ride your bicycle into a sink hole that developed only hours before reaching the accident site, you will not be able to establish that the public entity charged with maintaining the area had constructive notice of the defect.

Liability on the part of a public entity for injuries caused by the condition of the roadway must, of course, be determined on a case by case basis. The devil is always in the details. But, as a general rule, a public entity must take reasonable precautions to protect permitted and intended users, including bicyclists, from roadway hazards it knew of or should have known of.
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Monday, September 21, 2009

ABA Journal's Top 100

At the end of every year the American Bar Association publishes a list of the top 100 law blogs. Click here to view a list of the best from 2008. If you would like to nominate The Chicago Bicycle Advocate for inclusion on the 2009 list please click here. Thanks!

Friday, September 18, 2009

Insurance Coverage For The Bicycle Accident Victim

Bicycle accident litigation is about money. If you are injured while riding your bicycle due to someone else's negligence you may look to the person at fault to compensate you for your harms and losses. In Illinois, an injury victim may be compensated for his or her medical bills, lost wages, loss of a normal life, disfigurement and pain and suffering. Most of the time, monetary compensation will come from the at fault person's insurance. (I have settled cases that involved compensation from a defendant's personal assets, but that is rare. Frankly, most people do not have significant cash assets to contribute to settlement.) Which insurance policy or policies may the injured bicyclist look to? Here is an overview of the three most common scenarios that tend to arise in bicycle cases:

1. Bicyclist injured by insured motorist. This one is a no-brainer. If you are injured by a negligent motorist you are entitled to compensation from his or her motor vehicle insurance policy. The driver's policy will generally have two separate provisions that may provide the injury victim with compensation. First, you may look to the "medical payments" provision of the driver's policy. That provision will usually provide for a relatively small amount of coverage for medical expenses incurred regardless of who was at fault for causing the accident. Additionally, you may look the the policy's liability coverage provision for compensation. To receive compensation under that provision you will need to demonstrate that the driver was negligent in causing your injuries. All Illinois drivers are required to have motor vehicle coverage in an amount not less than $20,000.

2. Bicyclist injured by uninsured or inadequately insured motorist. Though Illinois law requires motorists to have insurance coverage, many do not. Also, if the injuries sustained are very severe, or if the incident resulted in the cyclist's death, the motorist may have coverage that fails to fully compensate the victim or the victim's family. In those instances, if the 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.

3. Bicyclist injured by another bicyclist. Most serious bicycle related injuries arise from tangles with motor vehicles. However, bicyclists certainly do, on occasion, cause serious injury to fellow cyclists due to negligent conduct. My own experience suggests that that is especially true along Chicago's crowded lake front bike path during the very busy summer months. Under this circumstance, the injured cyclist may look to the at fault cyclist's homeowner's or renter's insurance policy for compensation. The applicability of homeowner's coverage is not a given, and will depend on the specific wording in the policy. (For those interested in an in depth analysis of the matter please see the Illinois Supreme Court's decision in United States Insurance Company v. Schnackenberg, 88 Ill.2d 1, 429 N.E.2d 1203 (Ill. 1981)).

Of course, many bicyclists will look to their own medical insurance to cover them, if they are lucky enough to have it, in the event of an injury. Doing so is perfectly fine and will not preclude also looking to the at fault party's insurance for coverage. Bare in mind, though, that your medical insurance provider will probably look to be reimbursed for a portion of the amounts it paid toward your medical bills once you are compensated by the other party's insurer.

It is worth noting that bicycle accidents can and do arise from negligently placed roadway barriers or negligent roadway design or maintenance. In those instances, the injured bicyclist may look to the party responsible for the design and/or maintenance of the road, path or trail for compensation. Consideration of when and how the cyclist may recover in that circumstance will be covered in a later post.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

A Warning To Chicago Motorists

Attention Chicago motorists: Before you decide to cut-off that bicyclist whom you think is probably some messenger punk with militant tendencies, be advised that he just might be an off-duty Chicago police officer who really, really does not like being cut-off. You have been warned.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Illinois Senate Bill Seeks Added Protection For Bicyclists

A bill has been introduced in the Illinois General Assembly that would penalize drivers who recklessly endanger the health and safety of bicyclists. Senate Bill 1916 was introduced in February, 2009 by Senator William Delgado (D) of Chicago's 2nd District. Its purpose is to amend section 5/12-5 of the criminal code expanding penalties for reckless conduct to persons "who, while operating a motor vehicle, cause bodily harm to or endanger the bodily safety of a vulnerable user of the public way," including bicyclists on Illinois roads. Reckless conduct in Illinois is that which shows a conscious disregard for the safety and well-being of another. The bill proposes that a motorist's reckless conduct that causes great bodily harm or permanent disability to a bicyclist be considered a class 4 felony. The violator may be subject to a fine of up to $10,000.

Were this bill to become law, the General Assembly would be sending a strong message to motorists that they must be especially vigilant of the safety and well-being of bicyclists, and other vulnerable users of Illinois roads.
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Monday, September 14, 2009

Improvement Planned For Chicago Lake Front Bicycle Path

Construction is planned to start next year on a pathway near Chicago's Navy Pier that would fix one of the lake front bike path's most notorious pinch points, according to Crain's Chicago Business. Additional funding is still needed, but the city has applied for the necessary $13.7 million in federal money that has been set aside for projects that may reduce the number of cars on the road, the article said.

This would be a most welcome change. Anyone who has ridden the lake front path near Navy Pier and over the Chicago River knows how treacherous it becomes there. Bicyclists, joggers, pedestrians and inline skaters are now required to squeeze through a pretty small area. Redesigning and fixing that part of the path is a no-brainer in order to make the lake front safer and more enjoyable.
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Saturday, September 12, 2009

City Will Remove Bikes From Meters Tomorrow

The City of Chicago will remove the parking meters on California Avenue near its intersection with Milwaukee Avenue tomorrow, Sunday September 13th. There are signs posted on the meters stating that bicycles must be removed. If you have a bike locked to one of those meters move it or loose it.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Who Causes Bicyclists' Deaths?

So who tends to be at fault for causing fatal bicycle accidents? I would be willing to bet that most people would say that most such incidents are caused by lawless, arrogant (I've even heard "militant") bicyclists who ride too aggressively and obey the rules of the road infrequently. Well, not so much as it turns out. The New York Times' Freakonomics blog reported last month that "an analysis of police reports on 2,752 bike-car accidents in Toronto found that clumsy or inattentive driving by motorists was the cause of 90 percent of these crashes." Read the post and check out more statistics from the study here.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Website Helps Bicyclists Plot A Safe Route Through The City

When I was a bit younger (I'm 40), while riding my bicycle through the city all I cared about was getting from point A to point B as quickly as possible. I weaved, dodged and/or zipped about our crowded streets with abandon. Of course, I wanted to get to my destination in one piece, but I did not think much about getting into an accident. Now, riding around performing errands or commuting to and from the office I want my ride to be smooth, peaceful and, frankly, non-thrilling. All of those white ghost bikes scattered around the city freak me out. These days, I am apt to contemplate the safest bicycle route when heading out, rather than the quickest. I want a bike lane, fewer vehicles, wider roads. I know Chicago's streets pretty well, but I still often find myself wishing I had picked a different route when I'm out riding. Recently, I discovered a website that offers an assist.

Ride The City started in 2008 by Vaidila Kungys (@vaidila) and Jordan Anderson (@jordan_anderson) who met as students at New York University's urban planning program. According to the website, "Like . . . other mapping applications, Ride the City finds the shortest distance between two points, with a difference. First, RTC avoids roads that aren't meant for biking, like highways and busy arterial streets. Second, RTC tries to steer cyclists toward routes that maximize the use of bike lanes, bike paths, greenways, and other bike-friendly streets." The site started out offering mapping services for New York City bikers, but in June, 2009 it added Chicago. Austin and Louisville were also added this summer. Much like Google Maps and Mapquest, the user chooses two points on a map and the application depicts a route. You get to choose whether you'd like to see the most direct route, a safe route or a "safer" route. The service works well for middle-agers like me and for folks more like my mid-20s self who just want to get there fast. My only complaint with Ride The City at this point is that you have to be at a computer to use it. An iPhone or other smartphone application would be tremendously helpful.
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Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Video Offers Lessons On Chicago Bicycle Law

In June, the Chicago Department of Transportation and Chicago Police Department created a video that demonstratively outlines the legal duties and responsibilities that bicyclists and motorists owe to one another on city streets. The video was created as a training aid for police and CDOT personnel. I've watched it, and it is an excellent resource for all people using Chicago's streets. Many bicycle accidents are caused by simple inattention. However, I suspect that many accidents are due to a lack of knowledge. How many motorists know that they must give bicyclists at least three feet of space, or that they must yield to cyclists when attempting to turn left? How many bicyclists realize that, unless they are under 12 years of age, it is illegal to ride on city sidewalks? Take notes.

Traffic Enforcement for Bicyclist Safety from Chicago Bicycle Program on Vimeo.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Bicycle Accident Claims Life of 5 Year Old in West Rogers Park

A 5 year old girl was struck and killed on Sunday while riding her bicycle in West Rogers Park by a vehicle emerging from an alley. The driver remained at the scene and was present when police arrived. Click here to read more.

The Science of Bicycling

Ever wonder about the science behind what keeps you and your bicycle upright? If so, you'll enjoy this article from 1891 (page 766 of link) dissecting the science behind that technological wonder known as the bicycle.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Two Options For Left Turning Bicyclists In Illinois

Making a left turn on a bicycle in urban traffic can be a little scary at times. Generally, bicyclists are required to ride as far to the right as possible on the roadway. Turning left might mean crossing into a regular lane, the realm of motorized traffic. Luckily, Illinois law offers bicyclists some flexibility when it comes to turning left.

Let's use the intersection of Milwaukee Avenue and Armitage Avenue in Chicago to illustrate how to make a legal left:

View Larger Map

The view above is from northbound Milwaukee Avenue approaching its intersection with Armitage. Riding our virtual bicycles, we wish to turn left onto westbound Armitage. Under Illinois law, we have two options for doing so. Section 11-1510 of the Illinois Vehicle Code states:

(a) A person riding a bicycle or motorized pedalcycle intending to turn left shall follow a course described in Section 11-801 or in paragraph (b) of this Section. (emphasis added)

Option 1 (Sec. 11-801): If traffic permits, you may take the extreme left lane of northbound Milwaukee Avenue, in this case the designated left turn lane, and turn as a car would. The law states that, "Any person operating a bicycle . . . upon a roadway at less than the normal speed of traffic . . . shall ride as close as practicable to the right-hand curb or edge of the roadway except . . . When preparing for a left turn at an intersection or into a private road or driveway." 625 ILCS 5/11-11-1505. (emphasis added) Pedaling along the right edge of northbound Milwaukee, you may merge into traffic to the left turn lane as you begin to approach the intersection. Section 11-801(2) states:

The driver of a vehicle [bicycle] intending to turn left at any intersection shall approach the intersection in the extreme left-hand lane lawfully available to traffic moving in the direction of travel of such vehicle, and after entering the intersection, the left turn shall be made so as to leave the intersection in a lane lawfully available to traffic moving in such direction upon the roadway being entered. Whenever practicable the left turn shall be made in that portion of the intersection to the left of the center of the intersection.

Simple, right? You have the same rights and responsibilities as a motor vehicle when it comes to turning left. That point noted, it is sometimes just plain dangerous and frightening to merge across lanes of moving motor vehicle traffic on a bicycle. Recognizing that, Illinois law provides a second option.

Option 2 (Sec. 11-1510 b): This option does not require taking the left lane of Milwaukee Avenue at all. Instead, we would pedal our virtual bike in the right lane of Milwaukee Avenue across Armitage, assuming of course the traffic light is green in our favor. We would then position ourselves in front of Walgreens, facing westbound on Armitage. The best place would probably be to the right and a bit in front of the red minivan in the photo above. After doing so we would wait for the light controlling traffic on Armitage to change before proceeding west. Section 11-1510(b) states:

A person riding a bicycle. . . intending to turn left shall approach the turn as close as practicable to the right curb or edge of the roadway. After proceeding across the intersecting roadway to the far corner of the curb or intersection of the roadway edges, the bicyclist. . . shall stop, as much as practicable out of the way of traffic. After stopping the person shall yield to any traffic proceeding in either direction along the roadway such person had been using. After yielding, the bicycle. . . shall comply with any official traffic control device or police officer regulating traffic on the highway along which he intends to proceed, and the bicyclist. . . may proceed in the new direction.

Option #2 is probably the safer approach but may not be the fastest way to make a left turn. Of course, if you get into a bicycle accident you may not go anywhere quickly for quite some time. The approach you take should depend on the intersection, traffic conditions and your skill and comfort level as an urban cyclist. Remember, that just because you have the legal right to do something does not mean that you should. In a bike accident, the cyclist usually loses.
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Tuesday, September 1, 2009

The Frail Mistress That Is Carbon Fiber

A relationship with a bicycle can be so. . . personal. The bike has needs, air in its tires, lubricant for its moving parts. The rider also asks the bicycle for things, to be fast, comfortable, light weight. It's a give and take relationship. If you want a rugged, forgiving bicycle you may purchase one made mostly of steel and other heavy materials. If weight reduction is more important, you may opt for a bike made of carbon fiber. But, as I said, there is always a price to be paid. I invite you to check out a blog I came across reading Urban Velo, called Busted Carbon that documents in pictures the price sometimes paid for weight reduction.

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