Category Archives: Bicycle Accident Cases in Court

Carbon Fiber Bikes and Components: Great or a ticking time bomb?

It’s worth reading a great new article by Eric Barton in Outside magazine, “Why Carbon Fiber Bikes Are Failing,” because he writes a balanced account about what’s happening with these bikes. There are more and more lawsuits nationwide every day because of components failing on aging bikes, poor quality production, and more.

I talk in the story about my experience with the bikes as a lawyer and avid cyclist. But don’t read it just to see what I have to say – the story captures the joys and dangers  of owning carbon fiber bikes. It’s important reading for all cyclists, whether you own a carbon fiber bike or are thinking of buying one. (It’s also a good reminder for any bike owner to inspect their bikes often for the early signs of trouble before a crash sends them tumbling into the street, often with catastrophic consequences.)

I own two carbon-fiber bikes: a Trek Madone road bike and a Giant mountain bike because I love riding lightweight bikes. And I have also represented two carbon fiber bike owners who suffered catastrophic injuries in crashes where carbon fiber components failed, and have heard of many other similar cases because I am a Bike Law lawyer in New York.

Carbon fiber is not always a dangerous material for bikes. If manufactured properly and professionally inspected for wear and tear, carbon bikes and components can be safe. But this is the problem: not all carbon fiber bike makers and component makers have the necessary high production standards, and many owners can’t tell when key parts are in danger of failing because they are not able to do the kind of inspection professionals can do.  It is the hidden dangers of carbon that can bite you…..

So word to the wise….. have your carbon fiber bike and components regularly maintained and serviced by experienced bike mechanics who are trained to properly install components following manufacturer recommended torque settings and who can carefully inspect for early signs of carbon damage or failure.

This is what I had to say in the story:

Attorney James B. Reed is a New York state representative of Bike Law and has handled two lawsuits where clients suffered catastrophic injuries when carbon-fiber components failed below them. He has heard about numerous others from people on the Bike Law listserv.

Reed and other experts in carbon fiber agree that any material can fail. Wrecks happen from faulty aluminum, steel, and even rock-hard titanium. The difference with carbon fiber is that it can be difficult to detect signs of damage that might signal imminent failure. Cracks and dents in other materials are typically easy to see, but fissures in carbon fiber often hide beneath the paint. What’s worse is that when carbon fiber fails, it fails spectacularly. While other materials might simply buckle or bend, carbon fiber can shatter into pieces, sending riders flying into the road or trail. And this kind of catastrophic destruction can happen to any part of a bike made with the material.

“I’ve seen accidents from a whole range of carbon-fiber components—handlebars, forks, seatposts, entire frames,” Reed says. “As a lawyer, the question is, ‘What’s the cause of the failure?’”

Carbon fiber used to be used only in expensive bikes, but now it’s used in many bikes, and crashes that follow part failures are on the rise, and based on the court ruling in Illinois, more lawsuits are likely on the way related to carbon-fiber bike parts.

Lucas Elrath, a bicycle-accident expert for a forensic company in Philadelphia and the owner of a home-built carbon-fiber bike, had a few great quotes in the story worth noting:

“There’s an old saying in bike manufacturing: It can be lightweight, durable or cheap – pick two. A lot of these carbon-fiber components are lightweight and cheap, but they are not durable.”

“It’s completely reasonable for someone who wants a lightweight bike to look at carbon fiber, but they need to understand the risks. Absolutely this is getting ignored.”

Roman F. Beck, another bicycle-accident forensic expert, warns of the long-range implications of bike makers using carbon fiber material, including mountain bike companies, especially now that there are so many secondhand bikes on the market.

“As good as (many) frames are, what happens when someone rides five or 10 or 20 years from now? Mountain bikes take a lot of punishment, but nobody knows how long these frames will last in that environment.”

Thank you for reading!

Jim

James B. Reed
NY & PA Bike Crash Lawyer
Ziff Law Firm, LLP
Office: (607)733-8866
Toll-Free: 800-ZIFFLAW (943-3529)
Blogs: NYInjuryLawBlog.com and
            NYBikeAccidentBlog.com

 

 

Inspect Your Quick Release To Avoid Devastating Failure While Riding

It’s winter in NY and PA — cold and icy and snowy, definitely not bicycle season — so it’s a good time to head to your garage, get your bike out, and complete a safety check. We will get our first taste of spring soon, I hope, so be ready.

quickrelease2If you have a quick-release seat or front wheel, that’s a good place to start your winter inspection. I will focus on that today because failure, of either the front wheel or the seat, can lead to very serious injuries and destroy your bike.

Please watch the instructional video above by Global Cycling Network. It’s a great primer for new and future quick-release users.

So you and your buddy installed quick-release seats and wheels last fall, and had a few safe rides? You think you have nothing to worry about, right?

I hope so, but … I have handled a few bike crash cases caused by quick-release failures. As you might imagine, if the quick-release fails and your wheel suddenly separates from the bike, injuries can be catastrophic.

Quick-release failures can be caused many ways:

  • Improper installation.
  • Improper adjustment.
  • Poor manufacturing.

The point is that if someone is injured because of a quick-release failure, they should:

  • Immediately preserve the bike and wheel and …
  • Contact an experienced bike crash lawyer who can then investigate the details of the crash and determine the cause of the failure.

I would recommend you take your bike to a local bike shop this winter and have them inspect your quick-release levers. Also be sure they observe how you remove and return your wheel and/or your seat. They might have safety suggestions after observing your methods that will save you thousands in medical costs.

Losing a front wheel while riding could send you head-first toward the pavement, so be as prepared as you possibly can before spring arrives.

Be safe on our roads, and thank you for reading!

Jim

James B. Reed
NY & PA Bike Crash Lawyer
Ziff Law Firm, LLP
Office: (607)733-8866
Toll-Free: 800-ZIFFLAW (943-3529)
Blogs: NYInjuryLawBlog.com and
            NYBikeAccidentBlog.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

After Son’s Bike Crash, Father Gears Up Fight For Safer Streets For Cyclists, Pedestrians In Ithaca

Armin Heurich with some of his yield signs.

Armin Heurich with some of his yield signs.

Armin Heurich of Ithaca, the president of the Finger Lakes Cycling Club, has written an excellent guest blog post about his long battle for bicycle and pedestrian safety in Ithaca, a big issue in a progressive – but unsafe – city. The turning point in his struggle for safer streets is very personal ….

Why is a state traffic law almost completely ignored and unenforced in some cities, and almost universally respected in others?

I’ve been pondering this question for many years now in Ithaca, N.Y., where I have lived since 1997. Section 1151a of the New York State Traffic Law states that: “[w]hen traffic-control signals are not in place or not in operation, the driver of a vehicle shall yield the right of way, slowing down or stopping if need be to so yield, to a pedestrian crossing the roadway within a crosswalk on the roadway upon which the vehicle is traveling, except that any pedestrian crossing a roadway at a point where a pedestrian tunnel or overpass has been provided shall yield the right of way to all vehicles.”

Most states in the U.S. have similar laws in the books. Most of us have visited a city or town where we can step foot in a crosswalk where there is no traffic light and marvel as all oncoming vehicles travelling in both directions respectfully come to a complete stop.

I have visited many cities in Vermont, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Maine, Washington, Oregon and California where one can safely assume that motorists will indeed yield. Yet in Ithaca and so many other cities and towns across the country, casually stepping into a crosswalk at an intersection with no traffic light involves putting your life at risk. When a vehicle does finally slow down, you can’t count on vehicles travelling in the other direction to follow suit, since all bets are off.

I am decidedly an urban dweller. When I was hired for a job as a librarian at Ithaca High School, my wife and I initially considered living in the lovely countryside, since we love all forms of outdoor adventure from cycling and hiking to cross-country skiing. Ultimately, we decided to live in the heart of the downtown Northside neighborhood, since it allowed us to bike or walk to work.

Cycling and walking are my primary means of transit both for business and pleasure, and we are only a mile away from some beautiful county roads that are very welcoming to cyclists, so living in the city was a great choice for us. It’s hard to imagine a better place for cycling, if you love the challenge of hills and appreciate breathtaking terrain. My direct bike commute is actually too short, so I typically add some hills and extra distance for a good morning workout.

While the county roads are mostly quiet and safe, with lots of low-traffic options, the same cannot be said for the city streets of Ithaca. Our small city is criss-crossed by state highways running east/west and north/south, including routes 79, 96 and 13.

These highways turn into mostly one-way city streets with a steady high volume of traffic, especially during business hours. Many motorists seem to be impatient and annoyed while driving through the city to their final destination. Ithaca is a waypoint to many, and pedestrians and cyclists are just another impediment along their way. Only one example of the challenges facing pedestrians is Seneca Street, which is Route 79 as it continues east through the city.

Try crossing Seneca Street at the Geneva Street intersection, and you are in for a rude awakening. There is a stop sign on Geneva Street, and there is no sign reminding motorists of the state law requiring them to yield to pedestrians. In fact, there is a dearth of such signs anywhere in the city. I have waited upwards of five minutes at that intersection waiting to cross, even with two feet in the crosswalk as I attempt to make eye contact with motorists. Of course, cyclists face the same exact challenges as they attempt to brave the crossing.

For many years, I have been asking mayors, members of Ithaca’s Common Council and the city engineers for more signs to no avail. I also ask why we have such an unfriendly pedestrian and cycling culture compared to many other municipalities, when we take such pride in being a caring and progressive-minded community. The best answer I get is that it is a cultural thing and a mystery that might not ever get resolved. I have attended Common Council meetings, Board of Public Works meetings, and open houses in which specific infrastructure projects are shared for public feedback. I keep asking the same questions, and get unsatisfying answers. I usually end up feeling ignored or sidelined, even though I have carefully chosen my words and present my perspective in a polite and thoughtful manner.

This summer, our family enjoyed a trip of a lifetime, which involved cycling and walking through many great European cities, including Copenhagen and Amsterdam, two of the most cycling- and pedestrian-friendly cities. We marveled at the infrastructure and the feeling of safety for cyclists of all ages and skill levels. We biked every day and logged nearly 100 miles of urban cycling in our week of sightseeing in those two cities. I took endless mental notes about how the cities were completely transformed through seamless infrastructure, and looked forward to sharing insights with friends and community members.

Then, a week after our return, my 16-year-old son was hit by a car while cycling in Ithaca. He stopped at a four-way, then continued on his way north on Albany Street until he was struck by a motorist heading west on North Titus Street.

The driver ran the stop sign and claims not to have seen Toby, who has struck hard in the ribcage. Toby rolled onto the hood of the car, causing some noticeable damage to the bodywork, then rolled onto the pavement after the motorist came to an abrupt stop. He spent seven days at Upstate Medical Center in Syracuse with a fractured rib and a collapsed lung, but was very lucky, since he did not concuss.

While I was sitting at his bedside during his painful convalescence, I became increasingly frustrated about Ithaca’s unfriendly streets. I felt like I failed him as well as the membership of the Finger Lakes Cycling Club by not being a more decisive advocate for bicycle and pedestrian safety. It was time for action. I thought up a renegade action that would likely start a community conversation about this issue; I got to work on social media and touched base with my local copy shop about the logistics of printing signs on rigid plastic.

My plan was to print the official state sign that states, “State Law: Yield to Pedestrians in Crosswalks” on rigid plastic, the kind used on political yard signs. I would make as many as I could, then assemble a team of like-minded friends in the community to zip tie the signs at dangerous intersections. The signs would have to be installed in a convincing manner, so as to fit right in with existing signs and not obstruct the view of motorists.

First, I contacted an Ithaca printer and emailed the graphic file for my prototype signs. Then I started a GoFundMe account and set a goal of $500 to cover the expense of sign production. Finally, I took to Facebook and shared a few posts about this idea on my wall, along with a link to my fundraising site. I have a good number of Facebook friends, many of whom live in and around Ithaca, but I was unprepared for the staggering response. In just three days I had raised over $400, and after a week I had surpassed my goal by nearly $100.

Meanwhile an Ithaca-based journalist named Mark Anbinder read about my project and interviewed me for an article that was to appear on 14850.com. Also I heard from many others in the Ithaca area who had accidents or near misses, including Ithaca Alderman Ducson Nguyen, who was hit by a car while cycling a month before Toby’s accident. The collective sense of frustration with the status quo and the encouraging words about the project kept me motivated.

I ended up getting about 50 signs printed, and with the help of friends, managed to get the signs placed on the most dangerous intersections by mid-August.

The community reaction was immediate. I was having conversations with neighbors and friends daily, and the overwhelming consensus was that the signs were making a difference. Drivers were more likely to yield to pedestrians in some of the most troublesome intersections. Local citizens and members of Common Council were urging the Board of Public Works and the city traffic engineer to install permanent signs and do more to get motorists to comply with state law. Residents were discussing the issue regularly on online forums, and the support for increased signage and enforcement was overwhelming.

About the time that I gave up on seeing Mark’s article on 14850.com, he published his piece, which was timed to appear during the first week of school

Mark’s excellent article raised much greater awareness about my campaign, and increased pressure on city leaders to take action.

I received a warning email from the supervisor of public works that my signs were out of compliance with state DOT regulations, and that they would be removed. While I fully anticipated this eventual action by the city, I was hoping that the signs would last much longer. My dream was that they would be systematically replaced by permanent ones, but that was not the case.

IMG_20170815_111408848_HDRHowever I am more hopeful and optimistic now than ever before. I have heard that the BPW has agreed that more signage is necessary, and that it will be installed in a reasonably short order. The question about increased enforcement keeps coming up as well, and the city is looking at possible solutions to address this problem.

After my temporary signs came down, I circulated an online survey, asking respondents to reflect on the impact of signs, the process of requesting safety signage, and to suggest intersections that need increased signage and enforcement. My next step is to summarize the survey results from nearly 50 residents and present it to the mayor, Common Council, city engineers and the BPW.

If you are feeling helpless about the pedestrian and cycling safety concerns in your community, I hope that my story gives you hope and possible strategies for being a catalyst for change. While Ithaca has a long way to go, I believe that the emotional energy invested in this project has already paid off. Ultimately, my goal is to change the culture of our city with regard to respect for non-motorized transportation, even while our downtown experiences unprecedented growth.

Please feel free to contact Armin at [email protected] if you have suggestions on or questions about his initiative.  

Armin Heurich is the president of the Finger Lakes Cycling Club and the faculty adviser of the Ithaca High School Cycling Club, where he works as a school librarian.

Check Out Great Video Series On NY Bicycle Laws

If you or someone you love rides a bike in New York State, take 12 minutes or so and watch the two-part video series above that explains bicycle law in New York State. It’s an investment in your family’s safety on the roads!

I am sure even experienced NY bicyclists and drivers will learn something new about state law when they watch these videos, so I HIGHLY recommend these videos to all NY bicyclists and drivers.

Remember, ignorance of the law is no excuse!

The NY Bicycling Coalition made the videos with the Albany Police Department, thanks to funding from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration with a grant from the New York State Governor’s Traffic Safety Committee.

The videos will be used by law enforcement agencies around the state to improve knowledge and enforcement of vehicle and traffic laws relating to bicycling, according to NYBC.

Check out my NY Bicycle Law Primer 2017 for a PDF summary of state laws that you can download and keep in your home!

The NY Bicycling Coalition made the videos with the Albany Police Department, thanks to funding from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration with a grant from the New York State Governor’s Traffic Safety Committee.

Be safe on our roads, and thank you for reading!

Jim

James B. Reed
NY & PA Bike Crash Lawyer
Ziff Law Firm, LLP
Office: (607)733-8866
Toll-Free: 800-ZIFFLAW (943-3529)
Blogs: NYInjuryLawBlog.com and
            NYBikeAccidentBlog.com

 

For Steuben County Magistrates, Bicycle Law 101 Was An Eye-Opener, Says NY and PA Bicycle Law Lawyer

I recently spoke with members of the New York Magistrates Association at a meeting in Corning. The members are town and village judges and justices who often don’t have the legal training of lawyers, so they welcome presentations by top lawyers.

Jim Reed.

Jim Reed.

I talked to about 35 judges and justices about New York state bicycle laws, and many told me afterward how much I opened their eyes to the unsafe conditions faced by bicyclists on the roads.

The video at the top of this page was taken by one of my clients who was seriously injured in a collision with a vehicle that turned left in front of him in Pennsylvania. Even the seasoned judges were surprised by the violence of the crash captured on the bicyclist’s helmet cam.

To engage my audience, I did most of the presentation in quiz format, and it was quite effective.

Here are my questions, with the answers I provided to members.

  1. May bicyclists in New York state legally ride side by side?
    Answer ….  Yes but not when passing parked cars, other bicycles or pedestrians.
  2. Is it legal for a bicyclist to ride in the driving lane?
    Answer ….  Yes, bicycles are permitted to use the entire driving lane when it would be unsafe for them to stay to the right or when they are preparing to make a left turn.
  3. Are all bicyclists in New York required to wear helmets?
    Answer ….  No for anyone older than 14.  Yes for 14 and below.
  4. Must all bikes in New York be equipped with lights?
    Answer ….  Yes if riding after dark.  No during the day.
  5. Is it legal to ride with headphones?
    Answer ….  Two headphones, no.  One headphone, yes.

It was surprising to me that many of the judges didn’t know that legally a bicycle rider has all of the same rights and obligations as if they were a motor vehicle.

Bicycle law is an area where many magistrates are not well informed because they don’t deal with it on a regular basis, like they do with the state’s Vehicle and Traffic Laws, said Annette Viselli Thorne, Painted Post Village Justice and vice president of the county’s magistrate association.

“With the increase in the number of bicyclists on the roads, and Jim’s advanced experience as a cyclist and bicycle law expert, he was a perfect fit for an educational presentation to the association,” she said. “His presentation was extremely informative and the resource documents he provided will be an asset to every judge and justice who sits on the bench.”

NY Bicycle Law Primer 2017

Click above for a copy of the NY Bicycle Law Primer 2017 that I shared with the judges and justices.

Thank you for reading!

Jim

James B. Reed
NY & PA Bike Crash Lawyer
Ziff Law Firm, LLP
Office: (607)733-8866
Toll-Free: 800-ZIFFLAW (943-3529)
Blogs: NYInjuryLawBlog.com and
            NYBikeAccidentBlog.com

NY Highest Court Ruling Could Make Streets Safer In NY For Bicyclists

Injured Bicyclist

Jonathan Maus, the publisher and editor-in-chief of BikePortland.org, had a great recent post about a New York Court of Appeals ruling about city street design and accident liability that could be great news for bicyclists all over the country.

Jonathan writes:

  • “After years of assuming cities had blanket immunity from liability when it came to street design decisions, a recent decision by New York’s highest court has thrown that into question. The court found that the City of New York can be held partly liable for a man’s death because they knew the road encouraged speeding and unsafe driving but they failed to study and implement measures to mitigate the risk.
  • “The ruling is being hailed as a “landmark” and “game-changing” decision by New York City nonprofit organization Transportation Alternatives.”
  • Bigger“Here’s what Transportation Alternatives said in its statement: The New York high court just ruled that the City can be held liable for failing to study and implement traffic calming measures, which the jury determined were a major factor contributing to the crash. In a 2004 incident, the driver was traveling at 54 mph on Gerritsen Avenue, which had a speed limit of 30 mph. Prior to the incident, the City had been advised by local residents, elected officials, and the Department of Transportation that speeding was common on the street, but that no sufficient speed study or traffic calming review was performed. The Court found the City liable for failing to adequately study and mitigate the road conditions that contributed to the speeding, stating that “an unjustifiable delay in implementing a remedial plan constitutes a breach of the municipality’s duty to the public.”
Jonathan Maus.

Jonathan Maus.

Jonathan continued: Experts testified during the trial that “it was known among traffic engineers that straight, wide roads” that lack pedestrian-friendly features “encourage speeding because drivers feel more comfortable on roadways with those characteristics.” The Court distinguished these types of thoroughfares from streets that have traffic calming measures in place, which “cause drivers to be more cautious” and “are known to reduce the overall speed on roadways. … The ruling is a major development because it means the City can potentially be held liable for unsafe street designs.”

Jonathan also got reaction from my fellow BikeLaw.com lawyer and Bicycling Magazine columnist Bob Mionske, who said the decision is a “watershed moment for cycling advocates.”

Here are Bob’s comments to Jonathan:

Bob Mionske

Bob Mionske

“Traffic violence is the issue for advocacy efforts and this decision opens the door to holding liable the only party who can make the changes necessary for a safer transportation environment. I applaud their decision as all cycling advocates should.” Bob said he thinks the ruling will lead to more lawsuits against public entities for unsafe road design which will in turn compel municipalities to make the roads safer.

“My guess is that the Turturro decision out of New York Court Of Appeals,” Bob said, “will be used as support in other jurisdictions, and we will see some jurisdictions agree with New York and others continue to apply their state’s sovereign immunity statutes, especially in states with ‘absolute’ state immunity.”

Thanks for reading,

Jim

James B. Reed
NY & PA Bike Crash Lawyer
Ziff Law Firm, LLP
Office: (607)733-8866
Toll-Free: 800-ZIFFLAW (943-3529)
Blogs: NYInjuryLawBlog.com and
            NYBikeAccidentBlog.com

USA Cycling Teams Up With Bike Law Lawyers, Including Me, To Protect Cyclists

 

There is some very big news in the U.S. cycling world today. US CX Nats

Bike Law, a national network of bicycle crash attorneys, is now the exclusive legal partner of USA Cycling, the governing body for competitive cycling in the United States. This partnership will provide USA Cycling members with respected and professional legal assistance and much more: information, education, and
increased awareness of cycling laws, legal reform and advocacy.

As a proud member of USA Cycling, I can’t wait to see the synergy created by the Bike Law/USAC partnership.  I am one of two New York State attorneys in the Bike Law network. I am available to represent New York and Pennsylvania bicyclists and their families.

Bike Law, has lawyers representing cyclists and advocating for cycling safety across the United States and Canada.

USAC-logo

Bike Law will provide USA Cycling members with exclusive benefits, including:

  • Priority initial consultation with a bike attorney within 24 hours and at no charge.
  • Reduced fees in bicycle crash cases for members.
  • Ongoing consultation for clubs on organizational legal issues at no charge.
  • Speaking engagements on bicycle law to clubs at no charge.
  • Priority consideration for pro bono legal representation by the Bike Law Defense League to advance cycling justice.

Join USA Cycling today to support a great organization and join the fight to help make our roads safer!  USA Cycling has recently added a Ride Membership for those cyclists who love to ride but have no desire to race.

Thanks for reading.

Jim

James B. Reed
NY & PA Bike Crash Lawyer
Ziff Law Firm, LLP
Office: (607)733-8866
Toll-Free: 800-ZIFFLAW (943-3529)
Blogs: NYInjuryLawBlog.com and
            NYBikeAccidentBlog.com

 

Can Drunken NY Bicyclists Be Charged With DWI? NY Bicycle Crash Lawyer Has The Answer

 

wrecked-bicycle

I recently received a question from an Elmira College student, who raised a very interesting – and often misunderstood – issue: bicycling while intoxicated.

Can riders be arrested like motorists?

Here is the question, edited for length:

I recently rode my bicycle to a local bar and had a glass of beer. The bartender cautioned me by saying, “You can still get a DWI on a bicycle.”

I have heard this before, and have witnessed family and colleagues get arrested for driving their cars while intoxicated. The consequences have been devastating emotionally, financially, and socially.

 

I expect bicycling will get more popular and become a necessity for some riders, so I envision our nation’s bicycling infrastructure will continue to grow in the future. What is the current law in New York State?

Here is my answer to the student:

As an avid cyclist, former President of the NY Bicycling Coalition, and Elmira bike crash lawyer, I can tell you that while bicycling while intoxicated is NOT a good idea, it is incorrect that you can be charged with BWI (Bicycling While Intoxicated in NY).

While in some states riding a bicycle under the influence of alcohol can lead to the same DWI charges as those a motorist could face, in New York you cannot be charged with a DWI for riding a bicycle while drunk. The legislature specifically defines the DWI law as applying to the operation of a “motor vehicle.”

Accordingly, if you are riding a bicycle, skateboard or any other non-motorized vehicle and have had one too many drinks, you cannot be charged with BWI.

However, as with all laws, some exceptions do apply. If you have altered your bike by installing a motor, you will not be exempt from New York DWI laws.

In addition, just because you are exempt from DWI laws when drinking and biking, does not mean that you will not face misdemeanor charges, such as public intoxication or some other form of public endangerment. Although these involve lesser charges with relatively minor punishments, they will nevertheless result in court costs and additional fines.

But as I said, if you choose to drink, the best policy is to err on the side of caution and not ride your bicycle in order to avoid any potential legal trouble and danger to both your own health and those of others on the road.

Thanks for reading, and please ride sober!

Jim

James B. Reed
NY & PA Bike Crash Lawyer
Ziff Law Firm, LLP
Office: (607)733-8866
Toll-Free: 800-ZIFFLAW (943-3529)
Blogs: NYInjuryLawBlog.com and
            NYBikeAccidentBlog.com

 

Police were Wrong but the Judge Gets It Right In Fatal NYC Bike Crash Case

Actress Caitlin Venedam.

Actress Caitlin Venedam.

An actress who struck and killed a bicyclist in 2014 while distracted by her cell phone has been barred from driving in New York state – not by police or a criminal court judge, but by an administrative law judge.

Many times I have had the unfortunate experience of the police simply not getting it right, so this case, where the police were wrong and the administrative law judge was right, is especially impressive.

Police said Caitlin Venedam, 28, a standup comic and actress who portrayed “Chastity” in the TV series “Gossip Girl,” ran down Matthew Brenner, 29, at about 9:30 p.m. on July 6, 2014. Police let her drive away without any charges.

But according to a report on dnainfo.com:

State Administrative Law Judge Regina A. Rinaldi decided that “a contributing factor in Matthew Brenner’s death was (Venedam’s) failure to exercise due care to avoid striking (the cyclist).”

Rinaldi barred Venedam from driving in New York state, starting in March 2016. She can still drive in her home state of New Jersey.

My friend and fellow BikeLaw lawyer, Dan Flanzig, represented the bicyclist’s Estate.  Dan did a great job of exposing evidence that would not have come out but for his efforts.

Daniel Flanzig.

Daniel Flanzig.

“But for our civil suit, certain things would never have been brought to light, including that she was using Google Maps to guide her,” said Flanzig, who said the actress would still be driving in New York were it not for information uncovered in the civil suit.

“That should have been used by (NYPD’s Collision Investigation Squad). The Administrative Law judge would never have had the evidence necessary to revoke her license. The CIS work alone was completely insufficient.”

According to dnainfo.com, the actress told lawyers in a deposition that she was coming from her home in Point Pleasant, N.J., and was rushing to pick up a friend at LaGuardia, but ended up driving away from the airport on the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway.

The report says:

Venedam got off the highway at Sands Street to call her friend and consult Google Maps on her cellphone because she was lost.

With her phone still open to Google Maps sitting on the passenger seat, Venedam drove down the street and veered across a safety triangle in order to make it back on to the BQE, according to the report.

The actress testified that she was traveling between 25 and 30 mph and was using audio prompts from the location app.

A video of the crash shows the actress trailing close behind a car that veered out of the way to avoid Brenner, then she smashed into the cyclist in the safety triangle as he tried to make his way to a bike path on the other side of the entrance ramp.

Police originally blamed Brenner for riding his bike across the ramp to the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway, but the video shows he was not in the roadway.

Venedam was cited four times from 2006 to 2012 for unsafe driving, speeding, not wearing a seat belt and blocking traffic, according to New Jersey Motor Vehicle Commission records.

Flanzig said criminal charges would be difficult to bring against her because distracted driver statutes require the driver to be holding the cellphone.

Thanks for reading,

Jim

James B. Reed
NY & PA Bike Crash Lawyer
Ziff Law Firm, LLP
Office: (607)733-8866
Toll-Free: 800-ZIFFLAW (943-3529)
Blogs: NYInjuryLawBlog.com and
            NYBikeAccidentBlog.com

 

Blog Post Tells Harrowing Tale Of One Rider’s Personal Hell After Collision

 

bicycle-accident-hit

The Cycling In The South Bay blog had a great post recently that captures very well the agony/frustration/despair that often afflicts my clients who have suffered life-changing bike crashes.

The blog post looks at a January 2015 collision Deb Banks suffered when she was run down  by a drunk driver. She suffered multiple serious injuries:  a fractured pelvis, a huge gash on her arm , and most devastating, severe life-changing leg injuries.

Deb has endured five surgeries since then, and is still fighting for recovery every day. The driver was sentenced to nine years in jail. Sadly, Deb will suffer much longer than those nine years as she will have a lifetime of pain and hurdles to overcome on the road to recovery.

To understand all that she has endured, read the blog post here. It’s heartbreaking, and probably hard for many cyclists to read. But you should read it. Now. It could happen to any of us at any time we are riding.

The blog post has a couple important messages for all of us who ride bikes:

  • “First, it’s an explicit command for you to check your auto liability insurance and make sure that you have at least $500,000 in uninsured/underinsured motorist coverage. If your carrier won’t let you insure to that amount, change carriers.”
  • “Second, it’s a commentary on the trajectory of injury. We see Facebook posts of friends in the hospital, or gory aftermath photos, or black-and-white images of pins and bolts drilled into bone, and then we move on to the next item. It’s difficult to comprehend that after we’ve glanced at the photo, the person is still living with the injury, suffering from it, and in some cases is going to be dealing with it the rest of their life.”
  • “Third, this is the story of how one person deals with having her entire life upended as a result of one drunk driver. It’s not an easy story or a saccharine one, and it doesn’t have a happy ending because there is no ‘ending.’ There’s just a story about being in the wrong place at the wrong time, and moving forward with what you’ve got left.”

The blog post writer concludes with some comments worth highlighting here:

  • “The real jail sentence has been the collateral life damage, and it’s something that every injured cyclist knows about intimately.”
  • Deb’s leg injury “requires constant daily care. It hurts all the time. It gets infected. She can’t swim, can’t bike, can barely walk, sleeps with her leg on a foam pad, and can’t sleep under the covers. In other words, her life has completely changed as she’s been thrust into the alt-universe of the catastrophically injured, i.e., those who carry massive disruptions to their daily life and emotional well-being along with the catastrophic physical injuries.”
  • “… If the ankle never mends, life today becomes a template for the rest of life, which means dealing with a leg that is permanently disabled.”
  • “One unexpected benefit to constantly struggling is empathy. Deb now ‘gets it’ in a profound way. However big her challenges are, she understands and empathizes with people who are in even bigger pain, in even more dire straits with no hope, ever, of recovery.”
  • “… She wants to prove that she can come back, that she can do it again, and then maybe she’ll be done with it. It’s occurred to her that cycling for hundreds of miles may not be her thing anymore, but if she does bow out, she’s vowed to do it on her terms, not on the terms of (driver) Gabriel Ray. ‘He doesn’t get to decide how I choose to live my life. He doesn’t.’”

Thanks for reading, and be sure to read the complete blog post!

Jim

James B. Reed
NY & PA Bike Crash Lawyer
Ziff Law Firm, LLP
Office: (607)733-8866
Toll-Free: 800-ZIFFLAW (943-3529)
Blogs: NYInjuryLawBlog.com and
            NYBikeAccidentBlog.com