Thursday, May 28, 2015

Could Barrier Protected Bike Lane Have Prevented Collision Between Motor Vehicles?

Courtesy, Jury Verdict Reporter, a
Division of Law Bulletin
Publishing Co.
Earlier this year I read about a verdict in a Cook County injury case that got me thinking about bike lanes.  Interestingly, the case did not involve a bicycle at all.

The case, Hernandez v. Valenzio, which our firm had nothing to do with, involved two drivers.  The injured driver, the plaintiff, was stopped in a 63 foot semi tractor trailer at a red light on 31st Street waiting to turn right at the intersection with Western Avenue in Chicago.  As he did, the defendant, pulled up next to him in her SUV in a bike lane immediately to his right.  According to the Cook County Jury Verdict Reporter, "When the light turned green, plaintiff looked both ways but was unable to see defendant's car because she had stopped in his blind spot.  He proceeded to make his right turn, at which time the truck's passenger side tugged against the driver's side of defendant's vehicle."  The truck driver then slammed on his brakes which caused him to be thrown forward, injuring himself.  He again looked in his side view mirror and saw the defendant driver talking on her cell phone.  At trial, the truck driver won his case receiving a substantial verdict.  This result came despite defendant's allegation that the truck driver was the one primarily at fault for failing to keep a "safe and proper lookout" for vehicles to his right.

A few things came to mind when I read this.  First, I was heartened by the jury's recognition that motor vehicles do not belong in bike lanes. I am guessing that they also did not like that the defendant was seen on her cell phone at the time of the crash.  These are very positive takeaways from a trial in which the plaintiff's attorneys, Trapp & Geller, clearly did a very good job of making sure the jury understood the rules of the road.  However, as I thought longer about the case I became concerned about the truck driver's conduct as well.  What if there had been a person on a bike in the bike lane rather than a SUV?  If he did not see a SUV, surely he would not have been a bicycle.  This could have lead to disastrous consequences.  There can be no doubt that the truck driver had a duty, as any motorist would, to look for bicycle traffic before executing a right turn across a bike lane.  Did the jury also wonder about such a hypothetical situation?  Would they have held the trucker responsible had he injured a cyclist?  It is impossible to know, of course.  However, it seems to me that there is something that could have prevented this incident, and my hypothetical situation, entirely:  A real protected bicycle lane.

On the date of the crash, July 14, 2009, the bike lane in which the defendant driver stopped consisted only of white lines on the roadway.  While white paint certainly creates legal separation, obviously it is no barrier to a driver unconcerned about the law or the safety of others.  Recently, the first concrete, curb protected bicycle lane was installed in Chicago, on Sacramento through Douglas Park.  Hopefully, more are on the way.  Bike lanes protected by concrete barriers would resolve a lot of the problems that crop up over and over again for cyclists who use bike lanes.  They would prevent taxi cabs for using bike lanes to load and unload passengers.  They would prevent drivers from using bike lanes as parking spaces.  They would prevent -- or at least strongly discourage -- reckless motorists from dangerously veering into lanes designated for bike traffic.  Had a barrier existed at 31st and Western back in 2009 it is unlikely that the defendant would have pulled to the right next to the semi tractor trailer.  A barrier of sufficient size may also prevent the type of collision that killed Chicago bicyclist Barbara Eno who was killed by a right turning truck driver in 2014.

Friday, May 15, 2015

Brain Injuries and Bicycle Cases

By Jim Freeman

We see brain injuries over and over in our bicycle cases.  The severity of theses injuries varies widely from a headache to permanent functional brain damage.  My experience is that there is no bulletproof preventative when it comes to brain injuries.  Although helmets may help to reduce injury, bicyclists who use helmets suffer brain injuries too.  If the hit is hard enough you may still sustain a brain injury despite proper helmet use.

Rural collisions tend to yield a higher percentage of head injuries than collisions in town.  Speed limits on rural roadways tend to be much higher than speed limits in town.  In my experience, speed of the automobile at time of impact is directly correlated with the likelihood that a given accident will result in catastrophic injuries.  The faster the vehicle, the more likely that injuries sustained by a bicyclist will be severe. 

Your brain has the consistency of gelatin suspended in fluid.  It is cushioned from everyday jolts and bumps by the cerebrospinal fluid in which it floats.  In an accident you may experience a blow to the head causing your brain to bounce forcefully against your skull.  This can result in bleeding in or around your brain and damage to nerve fibers.  Common symptoms of a brain injury are loss of consciousness, memory loss, headaches, nausea or vomiting and slurred speech.

Concussions are fairly common brain injuries.  People who have had a concussion in the past are at higher risk of having concussions in the future.  The concern after a concussion is that the blow to the head may have caused serious bleeding or swelling inside the skull. Symptoms of such injuries may not appear until hours or days after the injury.

If you experience symptoms of a concussion it is best to see a doctor.  Neurologists typically specialize in such injuries.  A doctor may prescribe a CAT Scan or conduct a neurological exam.  Such an exam usually includes checking your memory and concentration, vision, hearing, balance, coordination and reflexes.  People who suffer concussions often suffer from post-concussion syndrome in which concussion symptoms last for weeks or months following the accident.  I often hear client who have suffered a head injury complain of "fogginess" or an inability to concentrate.  Such injuries should be taken seriously and examined by a specialist.

A common story we hear when a bicyclist is struck by a car goes like this;

The last thing I remember I was riding my bike down the street, then I woke up in the hospital with my family around me.

When a bicyclist is struck by a car and they hit their head it is common to experience some loss of memory around the time of the accident.  In such a case it is important that you conduct a independent investigation to determine how the accident happened before you speak to the driver's insurance company.

You should understand that some insurance companies will take advantage of your loss of memory.  We see time and time again that negligent drivers are all too prepared to lie about the events of an accident because they are worried about their own liability or an increase in their insurance rates.  The driver will give a statement to his insurance company that blames the bicyclist for the collision.  If you can't remember how the accident happened the insurance company will defend the case based on their insured's version of the events.  Your claim may be denied outright.

At my law firm we have years of experience investigating collisions in which the bicyclist can't remember what happened.  We conduct our own investigation and do not depend on the police or driver statements for a determination of fault.  It is always best if the client calls us before calling the insurance company in such an instance.  It is also best if we get the case as soon as possible.  Evidence starts to disappear or be destroyed the moment the accident occurs, so it's best if we can start our investigation as soon as possible.   

Thursday, May 7, 2015

More Facts Are Needed To Explain Why Driver Who Struck and Killed Cyclist in Sauk Village Was Not Cited By Police

A 59 year old male bicyclist was struck and killed by a driver in Sauk Village earlier this month, according to The incident occurred near the intersection of East Sauk Traill and Route 394 at around 7:49 p.m. on April 29th.  The man, Robert Kirn, died several hours later at Stroger Cook County Hospital.

It is not clear how the fatal crash occurred as few facts have been reported by news outlets. According to, the driver did not receive a traffic citation following the incident.  At the time of the crash the motorist was driving his Dodge Intrepid northbound on 394 when he struck Mr. Kirn in the intersection.  Mr. Kirn was attempting "to cross both north and southbound traffic" when he was struck, according to CBS Chicago.  This description insinuates that Mr. Kirn was doing something wrong when he was hit.  But without more it would be unfair to draw that conclusion.  

East Sauk Trail is not a trail, but a four lane roadway.  Its intersection with Route 394 is controlled by a traffic light.  It would have been entirely legal for Mr. Kirn to have pedaled his bike across Route 394 on East Sauk Trail assuming the traffic light was in his favor.  It would be wise not to jump to conclusions about how this tragedy occurred without more information.

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