'The true Soldier fights not because he hates what is in front of him, but because He loves what is behind him.' -G. K. Chesterton

10 December 2011

Rules Of The Road Bicycle Edition

Let me say right up front that I am a bicyclist. Lu and I do ride on the roads of America. But we avoid narrow, well traveled streets and obey all rules of the road (though I did once give Lu and the DO a near coronary by bombing down a mountain road at breakneck speeds with them following in the truck..another story). Names have been omitted to protect the innocent.

Joan has a post up about those bicyclists who can't seem to act like reasonable people. You know, the ones you fantasize about sideswiping off the road and into the annals of the Darwin Awards. In that light I'll pass along this story to hopefully give you a little satisfaction that there really is justice in the world. Occasionally. I was also nearly punched out by a lawyer. There was spit and screaming and everything.

Back in the day when I rode a motorcycle for my daily bread I was also one of our accident reconstructionists. I was dispatched to and investigated complex accidents, including injury and fatals. On this occasion I was sent to an auto/bicycle crash where the bicyclist received significant but not life threatening injuries.

Here's the stage. There's a doc in the box located near our recreation trail. The parking lot is surrounded by a 6 foot wooden fence. The exit crosses a sidewalk that makes a bend so it runs parallel to the fence on the drivers right. The sidewalk run from the parking lot exit to the curve and fence was short (I can't recall the exact distance but it was short). A careful driver can see pedestrians with no problem. Anything faster? Not so much. The cross street is divided by a raised concrete median with a cutout. The recreation trail ends at the street, requiring that trail users cross a city owned wharf parking lot or use the cutout and the street to pick it up again.

The driver was leaving the clinic after a visit with the ships doctor masquerading as qualified medical professional (another sore spot for me. Don't ask). Witnesses state she came to a complete stop at the parking lot exit whereupon, not seeing any pedestrian traffic close enough to be a hazard, she moved forward and across the sidewalk to enter traffic.

Enter the bicyclist. He decided to leave the recreation trail path and travel down the sidewalk in order to cut off the extra 100 feet or so he'd have to travel to use the cutout and pick up the trail again. He promptly crashed into the side of the car and managed to injure himself and damage the car and his bicycle.

I got there and conducted my investigation, including a time/distance calculation that showed the bicyclist was traveling at considerably faster than a walking pace, fast enough that it would have been impossible for the driver to see him. I found the bicyclist at fault for riding on a sidewalk (against the law in California) and cited him. In the report I noted the blind spot created by the fence and curving sidewalk as well as the bicyclists speed and short sidewalk run as factors mitigating against the driver being able to see the cyclist as well as there being no reasonable expectation on the drivers part to be looking for a bicyclist riding down the sidewalk in the first place. Her responsibility was to check for immediate hazards and when none were present she was free to navigate freely.

Fast forward 3 years and the inevitable civil suit. I was deposed by the plaintiff's attorney and on the fateful day arrived at the appointed place at the appointed time. I should have known what was coming. When I got into the conference room where the deposition was to take place the defendant's attorney was sitting back in his chair with a shit eating grin on his face. Through the whole deposition he said exactly two words.

The plaintiff's attorney started out by getting my training, education and experience in the record. Then he went on the attack. You know those small dogs commonly referred to as ankle biters? The ones who bark furiously and growl and snap and generally threaten without biting until you get a hand just a little too close? Yeah, that was this lawyer to a T. We went back and forth for hours. He just couldn't wrap his mind around the idea that in an auto/bicycle accident the driver wasn't automatically at fault. I imagine the injuries suffered by the rider were enough that he was eyeing a fairly hefty fee for his services and as we continued he saw that settlement disappearing further and further into the distance. At one point he asked me if bicyclists were fair game. If a driver could just completely disregard cyclists and injure them out of hand. My answer sent him into spasms of apoplexy. In that moment I understood what a conniption fit looks like. I was actually concerned that he was going to have a stroke. I told him that as long as a bicyclist was in violation of the vehicle code, operating his conveyance in a place he shouldn't have, in a manner disregarding his own safety and the driver exercised due caution then what happened to the bicyclist was his own fault. He leaned across the table toward me, spittle flying from his lips, and screamed that it was now open season on bicyclists according to me and there would soon be blood in the streets, cats and dogs living together and generally the end of the western world as we know it. I really thought he was going to punch my lights out he was so angry. The defendants lawyer just sat there, a log, and watched the plaintiff's case going down in flames, a smile on his lips. I hated him for that but what you gonna do? Has to be the easiest case he ever took. The deposition wound down from there but that lawyer was obviously a defeated man. I was right and he was wrong and the fact that he couldn't rip me apart and make me recant my investigation and testimony deflated him like a pin popped balloon. You could actually see the dollar signs flying away from his eyes.

The defense attorney's response? The only two words he uttered through about 4 hours of questions, answers and bitter recriminations? "No questions".

I never heard the final outcome but I didn't receive a subpoena for trial so it's pretty certain that the case was settled. I hated that the bicyclist was injured but the bottom line here is the the rules of the road apply equally. If you ride on the road your health and safety is your responsibility. Knowing and obeying the statutes regulating cars and bicycles isn't just a good idea it's essential to remaining a breathing, uninjured person.

But yeah, winning an argument with a lawyer so thoroughly that he nearly smacked me in the snot locker was one of the highlights of my career. It was a good day.

Six

7 comments:

Joan of Argghh! said...

Oh yeah. Had to link to this!

Great story. Great writing, Six.

Borepatch said...

A grateful Intarwebz thanks you for this post.

LauraB said...

You wouldn't know that Trooper actually "hates bicyclists!" - at least according to the woman with the bike rack on the back whom he had to pull over because she went AROUND his stopped and lit up vehicle on a two-lane road.

I know he had to do his standard "seven step violator" approach but inside? "Not until I met you, lady..."

Me? A guy in our office left in a snit when he went on about his two-wheeled obsession and I asked why they seemed to always take side roads without the handy emergency lane that TX provides, forcing cars to go around them in the oncoming lane. I figure the nut pinching removes their sense of humor.

Either you have an extra large one (sense of humor) or no nuts. :)

Brigid said...

Good day yes. I'd call it, not just great investigation and skill but Car-ma (sorry, had to sneak the pun in there).

Jess said...

Being deposed by an animate and loud attorney is something everyone should experience at least once in their life.

My experience was due to an accident that was of no fault to the contractor I worked for. The "famous" personal injury attorney was left with a winning performance, but a losing case. In a way, I felt sorry for the attorney. He whipped his own ass in a room full of witnesses.

rgranger said...

I have almost sent a few into the annals of the Darwin's. I used to tow a car trailer with my F250, seems like seeing a heavily laden truck makes them want to pull a Lance and hop out into the traffic lane to pass their buddies. More than a few times I just managed to miss them or slow truck and trailer down enough to give them time to tuck back in their bike lane. I hate to say it, but I have made a conscience decision to NOT swerve into oncoming traffic to avoid hitting one, my passengers and myself do not deserve to be put in that jeopardy for some idiot.

Jewel said...

My adventures in lawyer self-defeation came when I was called to be an interpreter in a preliminary hearing. The young man spoke flawless English, having lived his entire life in the United States. His mother, on the other hand only spoke Russian. The lawyer, a Russian speaking, suave, expensive suit from Philly entered the kitchen-sized courtroom and proceeded to behave like a mob boss, much to the family's annoyance.
At stake was whether the boy, now 18, could be deported back to Russia because of being caught breaking and entering.
As a Christian, he faced persecution and instant deployment to the Chechen front, and the various Russian families raised about 20,000 dollars to hire the big gun from PHilly.
Long story short: Never piss off a country judge. He's king in his own courtroom, even if it's only the size of a kitchen. The lawyer lost his bid to keep the boy out of jail and have the case dismissed.