Friday, May 30, 2014

Woman Killed By Hit and Run Driver While Biking In Bridgeport

On a quiet, narrow one-way street next to a park a 59 year old woman was killed yesterday by a hit and run driver as she rode her bicycle.  The crash occurred at 5:30 p.m., according to DNAInfo, well before dark on a sunny late Spring day along the 2900 block of South Poplar Avenue in Chicago's Bridgeport neighborhood.  The driver left the scene, fleeing eastbound, according to DNA Info.  It has not been reported whether anyone witnessed the crash.  However, given the time of day, location of the crash next to a park and the beautiful weather it is possible that someone saw what happened.

The name of the bicyclist has not been reported.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Victim of Left Cross Compensated $490,000

On a pleasant April morning last year a 59 year old Chicago accountant was riding his bicycle to his accounting job.  He was obeying the law and wore a helmet.  He was a very experienced city cyclist, typically spending thousands of miles each year in the saddle.  Those factors did not prevent one foolish driver from plowing into him causing very serious injuries.

At around 10:20 a.m. on April 14, 2013, the bicyclist was riding southbound in a marked bicycle lane on Broadway Street in Chicago with a solid green traffic indication.  At the same time, the 24 year old driver of a 2012 Dodge Charger, travelling northbound on Broadway attempted a left turn onto westbound Grace crashing into our client.  The impact was heavy.  His heavy steel bicycle was destroyed.  The man suffered fractures to both lower bones of his left leg, a torn left meniscus, a fractured left hand and a broken nose.  He underwent several surgeries to treat his injuries and spent months in a wheelchair.  

The driver was ticketed by Chicago police at the scene for failing to yield to a bicyclist under Section 9-16-020(d) of the Municipal Code of Chicago which states:

The driver of a vehicle intending to turn to the left within an intersection or into an alley, private road, or driveway shall yield the right‑of‑way to any vehicle approaching from the opposite direction which is so close as to constitute an immediate hazard, but said driver, having so yielded may proceed at such time as a safe interval occurs.

Months after the crash, we accompanied the cyclist to traffic court, making sure that he was prepared to testify against the driver.  His presence at the hearing compelled the driver to plead guilty to the charges against him.  That admission of guilt could have been used against the driver if the civil personal injury case went to trial.

We later secured a settlement from the driver's insurance company for the full amount of his coverage, $100,000, plus $1,600 for the damage to his bicycle.  Thankfully, our client's own auto insurance policy had a high underinsured motorist limit.  Though he was not driving at the time, we were able to secure a $390,000 settlement from our client's auto insurer bringing the total settlement to over $490,000.

Our client has made a good recovery.  His left knee is still periodically painful.  His comfortable walking speed is about half of what it was prior to the crash.  He also has yet to achieve full flexibility of his left hand.  However, he is back on his bicycle, and remains physically active.  This is not luck.  Rather, his recovery is attributable to his own good health, his internal fortitude and excellent healthcare.  

Monday, May 12, 2014

American Access Denies a Right Hook.

by Jim Freeman

In this case my client, a bicyclist, was traveling southbound on Clark.  As he approached the intersection of Clark and Deming a pickup truck over took him and made a quick right turn onto Deming, crossing the path of the cyclist.  The cyclist was unable to avoid the truck and struck the passenger side.  My client suffered a fractured vertebra.  He had no health insurance. 

As with almost every case we handle, we gave the driver's insurance the opportunity to settle without the wasted time and expense of litigation.  American Access denied the claim stating, "Our insured was stopped on Clark with his right turn signal activated waiting to make a right turn onto Deming.  While our insured was stopped, your client drove up to our vehicle at a high rate of speed and struck the passenger side of our vehicle with the front end of his bicycle.  It was your client's negligence that caused this loss to occur."

Logically, it makes no sense that a bicyclist would spontaneously run into the side of a truck.  It also makes no sense that the truck would be stopped waiting to make a turn at such an angle that a bicyclist would be able to run into the side of the truck.  Nevertheless, American Access denied all liability and refused to pay anything.  We were forced to file suit to obtain a fair result for the bicyclist.

Friday, May 9, 2014

Universal Casualty Company Tries to Deny a Left Cross.

by Jim Freeman

Years ago a girl came to me after being left-crossed by a driver at Damen and Elston.  Her injuries were severe, and she had no health insurance to pay for her medical.  The case seemed to be straight forward.  There was an independent witness who was waiting at a red on southbound Elston.  He saw the whole thing.

My client, the bicyclist, was southbound on Damen.  The bicyclist intended to proceed straight though the intersection of Damen and Elston to proceed southbound on Damen.  The hitter, northbound on Damen, entered the intersection and made a quick left turn to Northbound Elston.  In so doing he struck my client causing severe injuries and destroying the bicycle.

The driver was issued a ticket for negligent driving.  At the traffic court hearing he plead guilty to the ticket and essentially admitted fault.

We gave the driver's insurance company, Universal Casualty Company, every opportunity to do the right thing and pay their policy limits (which were woefully inadequate to satisfy my client's claim) to avoid the unnecessary burden of filing suit.  I thought the case would be easy to resolve since they basically had no defense and their client had admitted fault.  Much to my surprise, Universal Casualty Company refused to tender their policy.  As to the issue of fault, Universal Casualty Company stated, "...a bicyclist has a greater duty to maintain a proper lookout and retain control of their bicycle as they have a greater risk of harm."  I'm not kidding folks, I couldn't make this stuff up if I tried.    

We were forced to file suit.  In the end we obtained a result that was well in excess of Universal Casualty Company's policy limits. 

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Insurance Denials on Bicycle Doorings.

by Jim Freeman

Some people think that the best thing to do after an accident is to just deal with the insurance company directly.  There is an idea that exists in such people that is promulgated by the insurance industry.  I call it "The Myth of Nobility."  People under the illusion of this myth seem to think that if they don't hire a lawyer, no lawyer will be involved in their claim against the insurance company.  This completely ignores the reality that every insurance company has an army of in-house lawyers.

Don't take my word for it though.  Take a look at some examples of real insurance denials on some real basic cases.  I like denials on doorings best because there is no effective defense to a broad daylight dooring, and yet insurance companies deny these claims.

Scenario 1:  A driver, parked northbound on Milwaukee, doors a cyclist traveling northbound on Milwaukee.  The driver is insured by Universal Casualty Company.  Three days following the collision Universal Casualty Company sends the bicyclist a denial stating, "Our insured reported his car was parked when you ran your bicycle into his parked car."  They also claim to regret being unable to pay the claim.  I'm sure they regretted paying the claim after we filed suit.  Needless to say, their defense wasn't too effective.

Scenario 2:   A box truck is parked next to a bike lane.  An independent witness, who was driving by when the dooring occurred, verified that the driver opened his door directly into a passing bicyclist causing several injuries.  The insurance company, Traveler's Insurance in this case, sent an unintelligible letter in which they claimed the collision was 50% the fault of our client stating, "The box truck's door was ajarred for almost a minutes before your client was aware and did not react to avoid a collision."  They paid us on that one as well. 

In a way I'm grateful when insurance companies are unreasonable, because if insurance companies were always fair with people making claims I'd be out of business.  Next up; a left cross denial...

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Mountain Of Evidence Buries Driver Who Denied Dooring Chicago Bicyclist

It would have been funny if someone had not gotten hurt.  The lengths to which a driver was willing to go to deny that he doored a woman, our client, riding her bike on North Milwaukee Avenue were absurd.  In the end, however, the mountain of evidence against him buried him.

Today, we reached a settlement with the driver who opened his door into a 27 year old Chicago woman last April knocking her unconscious and leaving her with an open wound to her right leg that required stitches. The amount of the settlement was more than three times the total of her medical bills.

At just before 10:00 p.m. on April 27, 2013 the woman was riding northbound in the clearly marked bicycle lane at 1165 North Milwaukee Avenue.  It was a dry, pleasant evening.  She was wearing jeans, an orange top and a leather jacket along with a bright white bicycle helmet.  Her bike's headlamp was switched "on".  She was coming from her home, and was riding her old, steel framed bike to meet a friend in the Logan Square neighborhood.  At the same time, the driver was parking his silver, 1999 Volvo S70 along the curb, to the right of the bike lane at 1165 North Milwaukee.  He was on his way to see a friend perform in a play at a nearby theatre.  During his deposition taken during the course of litigation, he testified that after parking his car he sat in the vehicle searching his smart phone for directions to the theatre.  He opened his driver's side door just as the bicyclist was approaching in the bike lane.  She had no warning that the door was about to open and she was thrown hard into a passing taxi cab before landing in the street. 

From the night of the collision through the course of the subsequent litigation, the driver went to extraordinary lengths to deny his involvement in this incident.  He told the responding police officer that as he sat in his parked car parked, "He observed [the cyclist] lose control of her bike and she fell (sic.) off and struck [the taxi]."  He was listed as a witness in the Illinois Traffic Crash Report, rather than a participant in the collision.  During his discovery deposition, the driver testified that he did not see what caused her to crash and had no idea why she crashed.  He stated that when he first grabbed for his door handle, the bicyclist was already on the ground.  The video of the collision produced by the driver of the taxi cab shows that that was not so.  It demonstrates that the door of the silver Volvo -- which the driver admitted was his -- opened just as the cyclist approached.  See for yourself:

Photographs of the car taken after the crash reveal significant damage to the driver's side door where it tore into the woman's right leg.  Check it out:

The grey Volvo from the video.

Close up of the damage to the driver's door.

Getting these photos required some leg work.  The driver sold the car after the crash.  Thanks to some great work by our staff we were able to find the vehicle parked outside of the home of its new owner.  We then sent a private investigator out to photograph it.  We had no idea that he would find such obvious damage to the door. 

The video, the photos of the car and the significant bruising to the top of the cyclist's right arm and shoulder all pointed to the indisputable fact that she had been doored by the driver of the Volvo from her right side.  I confronted the Defendant driver with all of this evidence during his deposition.  He continued to deny his involvement.  He said that he had purchased the Volvo some years ago from his father in law with existing damage to the door.  He claimed that the video did not clearly show contact between the cyclist and his door.  He was determined to go down with his ship.  His attorneys insisted that the cyclist herself was unable to recall what had happened to her, citing numerous parts of her medical records in which physicians noted that she said she was hit by a taxi.  In fact, that is what she thought initially.  She was knocked cold and awoke next to the taxi.  She was not quite sure what happened to her and assumed she was hit by the cab. That is also what the police at the scene told her had happened.  Of course, the police received their information from the Volvo driver.  It was not until several days passed that her memory of what had happened came flooding back.

By opening his car door into a marked bike lane without first looking for bicycle traffic the driver violated Chicago Municipal Ordinance 9-80-035 and Section 11-1407 of the Illinois Vehicle Code which prohibit driver's from opening car door's into a lane of travel unless it is reasonably safe to do so.  He also violated Chicago Municipal Ordinance 9-40-160 for failing to exercise due care to avoid colliding with a person riding a bicycle.  Had he looked before opening his door he would have seen her.  She was riding with an operating headlight.  Also, the driver admitted in his deposition that the area where the crash took place was well lit.

Several weeks ago, an intermediary for the driver's insurance company contacted me to ask if we were willing to try and resolve the case.  A settlement conference occurred earlier today.  It was apparent pretty quickly during the negotiations that the insurance company had finally recognized they were fighting a no win battle.

Sunday, May 4, 2014

Chicago Police Officer Behaves Badly, Nearly Nails Bicyclist In Bike Lane (Video)

Sadly, sometimes the police behave badly around bicyclists.  This weekend a reader of this blog forwarded a video to me of himself being cut off by a Chicago police officer driving a department SUV.  As you will see, the cyclist was riding in a clearly marked, dedicated bike lane when the officer suddenly turned right in front of him.  Some heads up braking by the cyclist was the only thing that averted a crash.

The near miss was what we commonly refer to as a right hook, and is one of the most common types of motorist versus cyclists incidents.  It occurs when a driver, traveling in the same direction as the bicyclist, suddenly turns in front of the cyclist at an intersection.  It is an illegal maneuver and a violation of Chicago Municipal Ordinance 9-16-020(f) which states that a driver, "shall not turn to the right in front of the bicycle at that intersection or at any alley or driveway until such vehicle has overtaken and is safely clear of the bicycle."  The officer also failed to operate his or her turn signal, another violation of local ordinance and the Illinois Vehicle Code.

Hopefully it goes without saying that police officers are subject to the law like everyone else.  Our firm has filed lawsuits against the CPD where its officers have caused crashes with cyclists.  The officer driving the SUV depicted in the video was very lucky that the bicyclist he or she never saw was paying attention and was able to take quick, evasive action.

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