Friday, January 31, 2014

Chicago Police Officer Gets Law Wrong, Lawsuit To Be Filed For Injured Bicyclist

The Chicago police officer at the scene got it wrong.  As a result, a lawsuit will need to be filed on behalf of a bicyclist who was struck by a turning driver at the intersection of West Chicago Avenue and North Green Street.

The cyclist, Camilo Fero, 29, was riding his Fuji Classic east on Chicago at around 9:30 a.m. on September 24, 2013.  He was on his way to work at Better Bag, an environmental business that he owns located at 325 West Huron Street.  It was a clear, dry early fall morning.  When he reached the uncontrolled intersection of Green a motorist, westbound in a 2001 Chrysler Town & Country, made a left turn through a gap that opened up in traffic.  Mr. Ferro, helmeted and riding lawfully to the right of stopped eastbound traffic, was struck by the turning minivan.  An ambulance rushed him from the scene to Northwestern Memorial Hospital with injuries to his right knee, wrist and neck.  He is expected to recover from his injuries.

The incident was a classic "left cross," one of the most common types of crashes between cyclists and drivers in urban settings.  The law as to who owns the right of way between a driver and cyclist approaching from opposite directions in an intersection is quite clear.  Chicago Municipal Ordinance 9-16-020(e) states, 
The driver of a vehicle within an intersection intending to turn to the left shall yield the right-of-way to a bicycle approaching from the opposite direction which is within the intersection or so close thereto as to constitute an immediate hazard.
Also clear is the cyclist's proper position in the roadway.  Section 9-52-040 (c) states that a, "bicyclist upon a roadway at less than the normal speed of traffic at the time and place and under the conditions then existing shall ride as near as practicable and safe to the right-hand side of the roadway."  Also, 9-52-040(d) states, "Any bicyclist upon a roadway is permitted to pass on the right side of a slower-moving or standing vehicle..."

The eastbound cyclist in this matter was riding on the right side of Chicago Avenue, passing slower moving motor vehicles.  Because Mr. Ferro was proceeding straight ahead, it was the duty of the left-turning, westbound driver to yield.  Unfortunately, the police officer that responded to the crash scene did not know the law.  He or she wrote in the narrative section of the Illinois Traffic Crash Report that it was the cyclist that had a duty to yield.  Here is that narrative section ("Veh #1" is the bicycle):

Narrative Section of IL Traffic Crash Report
Mr. Ferro was not ticketed by the police officer, but the effect of the cop getting it wrong is significant.  Police reports like this are not admissible as evidence in litigation.  If this matter proceeds to trial the officer's opinion as to what the law is is not relevant.  However, insurance companies, when considering whether to settle a claim, place heavy emphasis on the contents of police reports.  A few weeks ago the driver's insurer sent our firm a letter stating that it is denying the bicyclist's claim because, "The police report and our insured confirm that your client failed to yield the right of way.  Your client is the proximate cause of this loss."  Therefore, a lawsuit will need to be filed so that Mr. Ferro may receive the compensation he needs to satisfy the costs, harms and losses he incurred from this incident.  

We certainly do not mind filing a lawsuit.  Bluntly, that is what we do on behalf of injured cyclists.  But it should not be necessary in a matter like this.  The issue of fault is - or should be - crystal clear.  Mr. Ferro had the right of way and the driver failed to yield, causing the crash and his injuries.  Unfortunately, because he was unlucky enough to have a Chicago police officer respond to the crash scene that did not know the law, he will need to wait an unnecessarily long amount of time to see just resolution of this matter.  I wish I could say that this sort of thing is rare.  It is not.  We often see police reports written by police officers who do not understand the law as it applies to people on bicycles.  The City of Chicago and municipalities throughout Illinois should education their police forces about the laws that pertain to bicyclists.  When the police do not know the law, justice is delayed, unnecessary lawsuits clog our courts, and the important trust between the police and citizenry is undermined.


  1. It is a shame, although, as you know, the insurance company might have forced you to the lawsuit anyway. Some officers are not just confused about law as it applies to cyclists. Back in the day, I used to see reports by officers who were confused about traffic laws in general!

  2. I noticed that the officer referred to the cyclist as a vehicle, thus someone unfamiliar with the details would assume this involved two vehicles. Is this common? Could this be a point of contention brought up in the lawsuit?

    What steps can be taken to efficiently correct the lag in police understanding of bicycle laws?


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