When a bike is traveling in a bike lane on the right hand side of the street gets passed by a car which then turns right in front of the cyclist, creating a collision, whose fault is it? The driver of the car or the cyclist?
When stated so simply the answer seems so simple: the driver of the car violated the cyclist's right-of-way. And it really is that simple...until law enforcement's bias against cyclists gets in the way.
This type of accident, where a cyclist gets "right-turned," is very common. Unfortunately, it is also very common for the police to blame the cyclist by claiming that it is our obligation to yield to the car. As ludicrous as that sounds, I actually bought into that argument -- the one espoused by Officer Friendly of the Castle Rock Police Department in our conversation the week after my accident -- until a faithful DDublog reader (thanks, Terrance!) passed along a link to a column in VeloNews called "Legally Speaking with Bob Mionske: A Fatal Bias?" It is a must read for every cyclist who shares the road with our four-wheeled friends.
Bob Mionske is a former Olympic cyclist (1988 and 1992) and winner of the 1990 national championship race who became a lawyer after retiring from racing in 1993. Bob is also the author of "Bicycling and the Law: Your Rights as a Cyclist." Anyway, after reading Bob's column, especially the story of Siobhan Doyle, a 31-year-old Portland, Oregon, cyclist who got "right-turned" in an accident eerily similar to mine, I began to question Officer Friendly's interpretation of the law.
In the Siobhan Doyle incident, the Portland police also failed to issue a citation to the driver. When asked why, the Police Bureau spokesman said, "Determining fault at a collision is a function of an investigation. The Police Bureau will respond to any collision but unless there are trauma injuries our only role is to help with traffic control, confirm that there is not a crime involved in the collision (Reckless Driving, DUII, etc.) and confirm that all motorists have a valid drivers license and insurance. We will also help those involved fill out an exchange form so they can resolve their differences through their insurance companies."
Ah. Insurance companies. Those unbiased purveyors of justice. Guess what the insurance company representing the driver of the car that turned in front of me "resolved" on my behalf? Allied Insurance a Nationwide® company On Your Side® actually had the nerve to claim that I was the "majority involved" party. In other words, I was more than 51 percent at fault when their insured made a right turn across the bike path I was traveling in, violating my right-of-way. In Colorado that means they pay nothing. Whose side are they on? The driver's, obviously.
So I guess my insurance company will pay my medical bills, buy me a new bike and...wait a minute! First of all, I wasn't driving a car, so which insurance company covers my expenses? Auto? Life? Homeowners? Believe it or not, my auto insurance will cover medical bills up to $5,000 under my "Med Pay" coverage. But when it comes to the damage to my bike, I'm up the proverbial creek. Besides, I AM NOT AT FAULT!
So how did Allied decide I was the "majority involved?" Well, they called Officer Friendly of the Castle Rock Police Department and he shared the same misinformed opinions with them that he shared with me...and even came up with a few new ones!
Remember when Officer Friendly told me that the bike lane I was traveling in ended at the intersection and began again on the other side? [At left: the intersection where the crash occured showing the bike lane in question]. Well, according to Jennifer Seldom* at Allied, he is now saying that the bike lane isn't a bike lane at all, even though it is clearly marked as a bike lane on the police report he himself filed! Apparently Officer Friendly told Jennifer that the five-foot wide "bicycle lane" shown on his report is actually just an "extension of the road."
*name changed to protect me from lawsuits
NOT TRUE, says my lawyer. That's right, I have a lawyer. After reading "Fatal Bias" I e-mailed Bob Mionski and he got right back to me and suggested that I consult with someone who actually knows the LAW regarding cars and bike "interaction" in Colorado and he referred me to Brad Tucker, a cat. 3 road racer and pro attorney in Colorado. Brad is the founder of ColoBikeLaw.com, a site dedicated to informing and advancing the rights of all cyclists, especially in Colorado.
Like a good neighbor, Brad Tucker is truly on my side. Finally, I think I'm in good hands!
Stay tuned for updates as the case unfolds. In the meantime, please remember to Share the Road!