Friday, April 27, 2012

Making a Claim for Damage to Your Bicycle.

If your bicycle is damaged by a negligent driver you’ll probably want to make a claim against the driver or her insurance company for the cost of repairs or replacement. First and foremost, if you are injured it is a good idea to speak to an attorney before contacting the insurance company. On the other hand, if you are sure you are not injured, it is probably fine to handle your claim for property damage yourself.

If the bicycle can be repaired for less than its market value, whatever you pay for repairs is your claim for property damage. Some insurance companies have expedited claims processes, but those are in the minority, so you generally should not depend on getting paid quickly from the insurance company.

Things get a little more difficult when the bicycle is totaled. In such an instance you are not generally entitled to recover the full amount of the cost of a brand new bicycle. Illinois law allows a person to recover the cost to repair the property or the property’s reasonable market value at the time it was damaged, whichever is less. Insurance companies will generally take the value of your bicycle purchased new and depreciate it based on its age and use history to determine what amount they will pay voluntarily. The reasonable market value of a bicycle can be established through testimony of an experienced bicycle salesman/mechanic who has knowledge of local market prices for comparable bicycles.

Take pictures of the bicycle. I generally think it’s a good idea to take pictures that show the whole bicycle from the drivetrain side. You’ll want to take close-up pictures of any specific areas that are damaged.

You should have one or more damage estimates performed at bike shops. Bike shops do this type of thing in the regular course of their business, and there is often no charge. Sometimes the shop will point out damage that you didn't notice initially. Take more photos if you need to better document additional damage.

The insurance company will typically ask for the original purchase receipt, so dig it up if you still have it. Insurance companies use the purchase receipt as a place from which to start depreciation calculations to estimate current market value of the bicycle. Sometimes it makes it harder for them to haggle over the bicycle’s value, especially if you paid full price for the bicycle.

You’ll need to call the insurance company and open a claim. Find out to whom you should send the materials relevant to your property damage claim. Keep the claim number handy. You should reference that claim number every time you call the insurance company. Before you have any repairs performed you may want to offer to make the bicycle available for the insurance company to inspect.

Once you have all the relevant documents collected you should send them to the insurance adjuster. It is reasonable to expect a response within 60 days to let you know whether or not they will pay your claim, or if they need further information. If not, it may be necessary to follow up with them yourself. If they flat refuse to give you an answer you may contact your state department of insurance to determine if there are grounds to file a complaint for vexatious refusal to acknowledge your claim.

If the insurance company ignores you, tries to low-ball you, denies your claim, or if the driver is uninsured and refuses to pay out-of-pocket, you can file a lawsuit. This is your final trump card. Every citizen has a right to have their grievance heard in court. In Illinois there are special “small claims” courts meant for people with cases that might not warrant hiring a lawyer. Small claims courts are generally more informal and often have relaxed rules of evidence to make it easier for people to seek legal relief without the need to be represented by an attorney. In Chicago you can file your small claim on the 6th floor of the Daley Center.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Leading Pedestrian Intervals

Most bicycle and pedestrian accidents are intersection related. Of those intersections controlled by a traffic light, most accidents occur within a few seconds of a change of lights. Those few seconds are a dangerous time for cyclists and pedestrians.

The City of Chicago has started making some changes to the timing of lights intended to address the dangers of changing lights. If you've been through the Loop lately you might have noticed that the timing of traffic lights has changed slightly. It used to be that when a light for any given direction turned red, other traffic got a green simultaneously. Now, many Loop lights have been altered so that when the light changes to red, there is a short time of two or three seconds in which all directions have a red. This is intended to allow a little extra time for the intersection to clear, and thereby reduce accidents.

The pedestrian signal does not coincide with the "all directions red." Instead, pedestrians get a head start on automotive traffic with an early walk signal, called a leading pedestrian interval. Personally, I like this. It discourages drivers from making turning movements in front of pedestrians. I also like that it shows preferential consideration for pedestrian traffic. If we really want to have complete streets we need to start protecting the most vulnerable users, and the leading pedestrian interval considers to do just that.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Collisions: A Primer

Bicycling is a safe and civilized form of transportation. When I first started working for cyclists years ago I was initially surprised not only that bicycle/automobile collisions are relatively rare, but that even when bicyclists are hit by cars, most of the time the injuries are minor. Having said that, accidents happen, and road rage can be a problem, so recognizing common hazards can go a long way toward preventing collisions.

In my experience representing bicyclists it is clear that a majority of accidents in urban areas are intersection related. The most common collisions are the left cross and the right hook. The left cross occurs when a bicyclist and automobile approach from opposite directions and the driver makes a left turn into or in front of the cyclist. About one third of my clients at any given time are victims of a left cross. The somewhat less common, “right hook,” happens when a car and cyclist are traveling in the same direction. The car overtakes the cyclist and makes a right turn causing the cyclist to crash.

In intersections controlled by traffic lights, most collisions occur within a few seconds of the change of lights. About 30% of bicycle crashes in dense urban areas are caused by “doorings,” where someone opens the door of a car into a bicyclist.

In the unlikely event you are involved in a collision with an automobile try to remain calm. Don’t lose your temper or do anything rash. Uncivilized behavior after the fact can turn public opinion against you. Try to treat the experience as an unanticipated business transaction. The last thing you want is for witnesses or police to focus on your bad behavior following the accident.

Always call the police. Illinois requires police to take a report on an accident involving an injury. There are also requirements that drivers involved in a collision produce certain information such as insurance and contact information.

Seek medical attention. Collisions and accidents are unplanned and inconvenient, and it is often difficult to immediately know if you are injured. Often times it takes a little while for the adrenaline to wear off and inflammation to set in. If injuries show up later the driver may point to your refusal of medical treatment at the scene of the accident and suggest that your injuries must have been caused somewhere else.

Get witness and driver information. Do not depend on the police to get witness information for you. In almost every case that comes to me the client will say, "There were lots of witnesses, but I didn't get any information from them. It should be on the police report." In many such instances I get the police report and there are no witnesses listed. In a case where the question of fault depends on your word against the driver’s, an independent witness makes all the difference, so be sure to get any witness' phone numbers and addresses.

Preserve evidence. Your visible injuries, bicycle, clothing, helmet and anything else damaged in the crash is evidence, and as such, should be preserved and documented. Take pictures of any visible injuries, the scene, and any damage to your bicycle or other vehicles involved.