Nationwide, the number of road assaults against bicyclists has skyrocketed. The quickly growing popularity of cycling as a healthful and cheap alternative to motor commuting has led to some hard feelings between drivers and cyclists. Generally, these “meeting” are limited to some harsh words, horns and a few hand gestures. However, in some instances there can be physical violence. In Chicago, as in other urban areas, the level of bicyclists taking to the city streets has doubled in the last 7 years, leading to a new class of rapidly growing plaintiffs in personal injury lawsuits with the bicyclist as an assault victim. Grazian and Volpe has received an increasing number of calls from cyclists who have suffered serious personal injury due to criminal activity from a motorist or, more rarely, from a pedestrian.
The most recent case involved a woman cycling home from work on Damen Avenue on the north side of Chicago. A passenger in a Ford Bronco traveling in the same direction grabbed the strap on her backpack, dragging her for approximately 15 feet before speeding up and letting go, causing her to careen into a bank of parked cars. The victim sustained a traumatic brain injury, broken collarbone and wrist. The Bronco took off and the woman was taken to the hospital by ambulance, where a police report was taken. Fortunately, city cameras documented the whole incident and the victim was able to press criminal charges as well as make a
claim against the driver’s car insurance for her injuries. The driver’s insurance was insufficient to fully compensate her, and she was able to file a claim against her auto insurance for the balance of her injuries and a new bicycle.
We chose to pursue a criminal prosecution because the incident was fully documented on video and therefore very helpful in our civil lawsuit for personal injury. However, it is not necessary and not always advisable to file criminal charges. In many cases, we have determined that it is more advantageous to file a personal injury lawsuit and save the plaintiff the time and emotional strain of a criminal trial, where the standard of proof is more rigorous and favors the defendant. In general, each case needs to be assessed on its own merits, especially where the pursuit of a criminal action may be a moral duty of the plaintiff to deter similar crimes in the future through prosecutorial action.
Often times the cyclist is unable to identify their assailant due to the trauma of the incident. In this case, it is considered presumptively to be an uninsured motorist claim, and the victim may file a claim for injuries with their auto insurance carrier or with the insurance carrier of any blood relative with whom they live. Yes, you may file a claim with your cousin’s, your father’s your sister or brother’s auto insurance if you live in the same home. Millions of dollars in potential compensation has been left on the table because cyclists are not aware that they can avail themselves of either the driver’s, their own auto insurance or that of a blood relative in their home.
Chicago is becoming a mecca for cyclists and also a city of increasing bicycle accidents. Cyclists need to wear full safety gear, obey appropriate traffic directives and be aware of their legal rights and liabilities on the road. This is a fascinating area of evolving law, and Grazian and Volpe is a law firm leading the charge in advocacy for injured cyclists. Please do not hesitate to contact us with any questions regarding bicyclist’s rights and safety.