Thursday, July 29, 2010

Update On Supposed Hit and Run Involving Chicago Bicyclist

For the past day and a half many in Chicago's bicycle community have been concerned about a supposed hit and run on Tuesday evening that left a bicyclist dead or dying in the street at Lawrence and Kimball.  The event was posed by Chicago Redeye blogger, Goatking, who described a horrible scene he apparently witnessed first hand.  Turns out that the story was quite different than was reported.  At the request of concerned bicyclists the Active Transportation Alliance investigated and learned the following:

The person mentioned in the “Goat King” blog was not struck by a car but actually fell off of her bike around 11pm.

Active Trans staff did some research regarding the cyclist mentioned in this blog. According to the 17th Police District, the only traffic accident reported in that area on July 27, 2010, occurred at 11pm at 3318 W. Lawrence. There was a cyclist who had fallen off of her bike and was taken to the hospital where she was treated for a bump to the head. Initial reports into 911 speculated that a vehicle was involved, but the statement that the cyclist gave the police negated that fact. No fatalities or other bicycle related incidents occurred in that area on that date.

I'm not sure what Goatking was thinking in speculating about what had happened.  What is even more disturbing is that a main stream media source, Chicago Redeye/Chicago Now, allowed this falsity to be published on its website.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Tragic Hit and Run Leaves Chicago Cyclist Unconscious

A hit and run motorist left a female bicyclist laying unconscious in the street near the intersection of Kimball and Lawrence last night, according to Chicago Redeye blogger, Goatking.  In his first hand account, the blogger describes a "gruesome" scene in which the woman lay seemingly dead in the street near "the wreck of metal that was once her bike" with her "groceries still strapped onto the handlebars" as police and EMTs worked to care for her.  Click here to read Goatking's post.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Riding Naked May Expose Bicyclists to Prosecution

On Friday night Seattle police prevented several naked bicyclists from participating in a World Naked Bike Ride event.  It was the first time anyone could remember when police in that city stopped folks from riding naked in an event that is a long standing tradition.  Chicago too has a tradition of naked rides.  Though it is my impression that Chicago police generally look the other way (or try to) during these events, what happened in Seattle certainly could happen here.  Chicago ordinance and state statute prohibit public nudity, on or off a bike:

The Chicago Municipal Code states:
8-8-080  Indecent exposure or dress. 
Any person who shall appear, bathe, sunbathe, walk or be in any public park, playground, beach or the waters adjacent thereto, or any school facility and the area adjacent thereto, or any municipal building and the areas adjacent thereto, or any public way within the City of Chicago in such a manner that the genitals, vulva, pubis, pubic hair, buttocks, perineum, anus, anal region, or pubic hair region of any person, or any portion of the breast at or below the upper edge of the areola thereof of any female person, is exposed to public view or is not covered by an opaque covering, shall be fined not less than $100.00 nor more than $500.00 for each offense.
The Illinois Criminal Code states:
Sec. 11-9. Public indecency.
    (a) Any person of the age of 17 years and upwards who performs any of the following acts in a public place commits a public indecency:
        (1) An act of sexual penetration or sexual conduct
     as defined in Section 12-12 of this Code; or
        (2) A lewd exposure of the body done with intent to
     arouse or to satisfy the sexual desire of the person.
    Breast-feeding of infants is not an act of public indecency.
    (b) "Public place" for purposes of this Section means any place where the conduct may reasonably be expected to be viewed by others.
    (c) Sentence.
    Public indecency is a Class A misdemeanor. A person convicted of a third or subsequent violation for public indecency is guilty of a Class 4 felony. 

While Chicago tends to be a "no harm, no foul" city, while biking in the buff you are exposed (pun intended) to the whim of the police who may choose to enforce the law.  

Friday, July 23, 2010

Chicago Bicyclist Injured At Lakefront Bike Path and Wilson Avenue

A Chicago bicyclist was injured on July 15th when he violently collided with a car while riding on the Lakefront Bike Path (LBP) where the trail crosses West Wilson AvenueOur law firm has been retained to represent him in his claim against the driver who failed to yield to bicycle traffic.  Our client was riding southbound on his Schwinn road bike along the LBP at the time of the collision.  As he rode the path across Wilson Avenue he slowed his pace and looked around for moving vehicles.  Bicyclists, in-line skaters and others who typically use the path are not required to stop before crossing the road.  However, eastbound and westbound traffic is controlled by stop signs.  Visibility is excellent and drivers would have no reason not to see cyclists using the bike path.  The incident occurred at around 6:15 p.m. on a beautiful, sunny evening.  As the cyclist peddled across the road, the driver suddenly pulled in front of him, seeming to ignore the stop sign.  Though he immediately grabbed his brakes, our client was not able to avoid the vehicle, a 2007 Toyota Corolla, and was thrown onto the car's windshield then onto the street on which he struck his head and shattered his hand.  Fortunately, he was wearing a helmet.

The bicyclist was taken from the scene via ambulance to Advocate Illinois Mason Medical Center, a level one trauma center, where he was admitted and received treatment.  He is currently expected to require several months of healing and rehabilitation.  We are, of course, taking this matter very seriously and will aggressively pursue the at fault driver and make sure she is held accountable.

CDOT Video Highlights The Dangers of Sidewalk Riding

In Chicago, adults are not permitted to ride their bicycles on the sidewalk.  A new video from the Chicago Department of Transportation highlights this law and demonstrates why sidewalk riding is dangerous and, frankly, a drag.  Check it out:

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Insight and a Silver Lining Discussed at Legal Round Table

Last night I participated in a legal round table discussion about bicycling and the law with criminal defense attorney, Ian S. Kaspar.  The prime focus of the informal meeting with concerned cyclists was to talk about the light sentences recently handed out to two men who intentionally struck cyclists with their car in Brookfield.  Though he did not represent either of the men accused, Ian did a wonderful job of explaining the in's and out's of the criminal justice system, especially with regard to sentencing.  It was satisfying to hear that the punishment handed out by Judge Kipperman was not as insignificant as it sounded at first.  In short, both men are now felons and that tag is something that will profoundly affect each of them for the rest of their lives.  Ian explained that perhaps the silver lining in all of this is the new relationship that has apparently been created between the State's Attorney's Office and the Active Transportation Alliance which initiated a letter writing campaign that has brought media attention to this case.  We may now hope that the prosecutor's office will let the ATA know in advance of sentencing in future cases, which in turn can communicate with the broader cycling community.  According to Ian, even a modest presence of concerned bicyclists at a sentencing hearing can make a difference when a judge is considering punishment for an attack on a cyclist.

Ian and I also discussed what to do if you find yourself the victim of an incident with a motor vehicle, whether it be an intentional criminal assault or an act of negligence.  Here are my thoughts on that subject, most of which was covered last night:

Gather - After gathering yourself, and your bike, it's time to gather as much information at the scene as possible. While you have your mobile phone out, click a few photos of whatever it was that caused your crash, e.g. the driver's vehicle and license plate, the road hazard, the broken bicycle component, etc. If there are people around you, ask if anyone saw the accident. If so, get their name and telephone number. If you were struck by a motor vehicle ask the driver for his or her name, address and telephone number. Ask to see a driver's license and insurance card.

Shortly after being involved in bicycle accident you may be contacted by a representative of an insurance company who will ask you to give a recorded statement. Questioning will focus on how the accident happened and the nature and extent of your injuries. This is most likely to occur where you have been hit by a motor vehicle. You may even be contacted, in person or via telephone, while you are still in the hospital. Do not give a statement until you have sought legal advice. Why? Because you need time to recover physically and collect your thoughts before making a statement to which you will be bound later. You may not at that point even fully appreciate the full extend of your injuries or the care and treatment that you will need. There is no good reason not to wait before giving a statement. The driver's insurance company may even make a quick offer to settle your claim and ask that you, in return, sign a document releasing its insured from further liability. Do not do it without seeking legal advice. Again, there is no good reason not to wait until after you can fully appreciate what happened and what the repercussions are or will be. The driver's insurer will want to take it fast to resolve the claim quickly for as little as possible. You take it slow.

Talk to a lawyer - Speak with an attorney even if you believe your injuries are minor. It should be noted that following a cycling accident you may not be best served by seeking legal advice from Uncle Bernie who handles bankruptcy cases. Seek advice from a personal injury lawyer, preferably one with experience handling bicycle accident cases. The initial consultation with an attorney should not cost anything. If the attorney decides to take your case, he or she will -- or should -- only receive a fee when and if the case resolves in your favor. This is called a contingency fee agreement. A lawyer is most likely to agree to represent you when your injuries are severe, with significant medical bills. Again though, call a lawyer even if your injuries seem minor. When I've received such calls I spend time offering guidance on how I think the victim should proceed, then recommend that he or she negotiate with the driver's insurer on their own. There may be no point in an attorney taking a piece of the pie in a claim that can be resolved quickly and easily for a relatively small sum of money.

Compensation - Many people ask me what kind of compensation they are entitled to following a bicycle accident. The money "damages" to which you will be entitled include reimbursement for:

  • Medical bills;
  • Lost wages;
  • Cost to have your bicycle repaired;
  • Pain and suffering (both past and future);
  • Loss of a normal life; and
  • Disfigurement.
If your injuries are permanent and profound, or you are killed, your family, i.e. your spouse and children, are entitled to compensation for:
  • Loss of financial support that you would have provided to them; and
  • Loss of consortium/society; that is their loss of the love, guidance and services you would have provided to them.
Ninety-nine times out of a hundred, monetary compensation is paid by the at fault person's, or entity's, insurer rather than out-of-pocket.

Litigation - Sometimes it is necessary to file a lawsuit in order to wrest fair compensation from the at fault person's or entity's insurance company. Generally, this occurs where the insurer believes that its insured is not at fault based on the facts, or where there is strong disagreement over the amount of compensation that the injured bicyclist should receive. It can also occur where the at fault person has "substandard insurance," coverage from a crumby insurance company that tends to litigate every case in order to delay payment for as long as possible. Depending upon the type of accident at issue, the attorney will take differing steps in his or her investigation. If the accident involved a motor vehicle, an accident reconstruction expert may be retained. If the crash was caused by a defect or hazard in the roadway, a different sort of expert may be consulted. In a product liability case, involving failure of a bicycle component, an engineer or metallurgist will probably need to be retained. Most bicycle accident cases, however, do not require retention of experts. A thorough and aggressive investigation of the facts by the law firm will suffice. In all cases, the cyclist's medical bills and records will be obtained from care providers. After the lawsuit is drafted, filed and served on the defendant(s), your attorney and the defendant's attorney will trade written questionnaires called interrogatories, request production of relevant documents, photos and other materials, and interview all those involved in the matter, including parties, witnesses, physicians and experts, in a deposition. After that, the matter will proceed to trial if a settlement agreement cannot be reached. The vast majority of cases filed settle without going to trial, but trials certainly do occur. It is important to make sure you hire an experienced trial lawyer just in case.

Criminal prosecution - In bicycle accidents involving a motor vehicle, the driver will often receive a traffic citation and will need to appear in court to defend himself or herself. What happens in the traffic or criminal case will have little if any bearing on what occurs in a civil lawsuit. In fact, I have successfully resolved bicycle accident personal injury cases in which the at fault driver was found not guilty of violating the motor vehicle code.
Every case is different and will be resolved on its specific facts. If you have any questions that have not been sufficiently answered in this post feel free to contact me directly or post a comment

Thanks again to Ian and to everyone who came out last night.  If you find yourself in need of a criminal defense attorney click here to view Ian's contact information.  He handles cases throughout the Chicagoland area.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Legal Round Table Discussion Tonight

There will be an informal legal round table tonight at Quencher's Saloon, 2401 North Western Avenue, Chicago, Illinois from 9:00 p.m. to 10:30 p.m.  The discussion will feature criminal attorney Ian S. Kasper who will "help illuminate the internal workings of the justice system as it relates to the unfortunate events which took place when a pair of drivers recently hunted down cyclists in Brookfield and escaped with outrageously light sentences."  While the focus of the round table will be the criminal justice system, I will also be there to answer any questions regarding the legal protections that the civil justice system offers to bicyclists.  Click here to learn more and to RSVP.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Why I Run Red Lights

I run red lights.  Stop signs too.  Not just sometimes, but often.  When I do it, it is because I view it as the safest way to approach traffic conditions.  I do not do it to simply thumb my nose at the law; and let me be clear, in Illinois running red lights and stop signs on a bicycle is against the law.  Bicyclists in Chicago can and do get ticketed for doing so.  (So far, I've be lucky in that regard.)  I do not do it to be cool.  I'm a 40-something year old, dad and lawyer.  I ain't cool.  I do it because I love to ride in the city and surviving Chicago's congested streets in my opinion sometimes requires disobeying the rules of the road.

Any city cyclist will tell you that the name of the game is staying alive; to not get poleaxed by the much faster, much heavier, fully mechanized vehicles with which we must share our streets.  That means doing whatever possible to just stay away from cars, trucks, buses.    Controlled city intersections often provide the bicyclist with a good opportunity to break away from traffic, to acquire that little cocoon of space so prized in the urban street scape.  For example, when I commute to my office in the Loop I travel in the southbound bike lane along Milwaukee Avenue, make a left on West Kinzie Street , then turn right into the bike lane at North Wells.  The route is reasonably comfortable, until Wells crosses Wacker Drive.  At that point the bike lane ends and I, and many other commuting cyclists must share the one-way street with motor vehicles underneath the "El" tracks.

View Larger Map

At that point riding anywhere but in the main lane for traffic is undesirable to say the least.  Both shoulders are guarded by "El" track support columns, parked cars and rough, uneven pavement.  Between Wacker Drive and the alleyway that accesses my building's bike room I cross three controlled intersections, West Lake Street, West Randolph Street and West Washington Street.  I slow or stop at each, but take any opportunity -- within the bounds of reason and sanity -- to traverse these cross streets when the light is red.  Doing so allows me to get away from motor vehicle traffic behind and adjacent to me.  Illegal?  Yes.  But reasonable and safe in my opinion.  The goal is to say away from motorized traffic whenever and where ever possible.

Here is what the intersection of Wells and Washington looks like:

View Larger Map

My approach is certainly open to valid criticism.  Some may argue that if I, and other bicyclists, want to be treated like traffic we should act like it by obeying the rules to which other roadway users must submit.  I have been a proponent of the "We Are Traffic" slogan often used by bicycle advocates.  Indeed bicyclists are entitled to use the road, equally entitled as a matter of fact to use it just as are cars and trucks.  This is what I think the slogan was originally meant to emphasize.  However, the angry enemies of bicycles have attempted to turn the "We Are Traffic" slogan on its head, to pick nits with every occasion a bicyclist fails to act as a motor vehicle in a given situation as an excuse for railing against cyclists.  To these would-be strict constructionists of decal slogans I would say, we are traffic, but we are not cars.  To require people on bikes to lumber around the city like a 2,000 lbs vehicle is to ignore reality, and, as I've attempted to demonstrate, to prohibit them from exercising a safe and reasonable approach to congested conditions, to selectively contravene traffic signals.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Bicycle Safety Video Library Online

Chicago's Soles and Spokes blog reports that the Pedestrian and Bicycle Information Center (PBIC) has created an online library full of bicycle and pedestrian safety videos.  Very cool stuff.  Check it out by clicking here.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Illinois State's Attorney Responds In Writing To Outraged Bicycle Community

The outrage at the light sentences received by two men who got drunk then got into a car and proceeded to hunt down and strike bicyclists in Brookfield, Illinois has been widespread.  The Illinois State's Attorney has responded in writing to a flood of criticism and numerous requests for an explanation.  Click here to see the official response.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Illinois Governor Signs Bike Safety Bill Declaring, "Road Belongs To Everyone."

Declaring, "The road belongs to everyone," Illinois Governor Pat Quinn signed tough new bicycling safety legislation into law yesterday in a ceremony held in an Arlington Heights bike shop.  The law, to take effect January 1, 2011, strengthens Illinois' anti-buzzing law which prohibits motor vehicles from passing less than three feet from a bicyclist on a roadway, by providing for criminal penalties.  Sentences are to vary depending on whether injury results.  The new law also provides for the creation of "Share The Road" license plates to be purchased through the Illinois Secretary of State's office.  Fees for the plates will be used to fund a bicycle safety education program.

Here is video of the signing ceremony:

Governor Quinn Signing Bicycle Bills from Julie Hochstadter on Vimeo.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Felt Bicycles Recalled Due to Faulty Steering Tubes

Felt Bicycles and the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission announced the recall of several 2009 Felt road bike models due to faulty steering tubes.  The recall affects Felt time trial/triathlon models B12, B16 and S32.  The company has received seven reports of the bikes' aluminum steer tubes breaking.  The steer tube inserts into the head tube, connecting the folk to the bike's frame.  Click here for more details.

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