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Bias against cyclists is rampant and unfair

April 5, 2013 by Steven M. Gursten

I recently came across this article in the Boston Globe all about bias against cyclists.

The Boston Globe article started by questioning whether a grand jury recently failed to serve an indictment against a driver suspected of vehicular homicide in the death of 41-year-old rider Alexander Motsenigos last summer.

According to the article:

“Many accidents involving bicycles and motor vehicles can be traced to road design, inclement weather, or attention lapse. But law enforcement traced Motsenigos’s death to truck driver Dana McCoomb, a man with an extensive history of driving infractions who fled the scene after striking the Wellesley cyclist from the side. Witness statements, video footage, and subsequent police analysis of the scene suggested that the deadly collision was more than an unavoidable accident.”

This article reminded me a lot of my trial last December involving a bicyclist who was killed by a truck driver. In the focus groups, we became aware of the very unfortunate way that many people perceive people who ride bikes.

This wasn’t my first focus group involving bicycle-motor vehicle accidents, and it wasn’t my first encounter with the real bias and prejudice that many people have against bicyclists. Last year, my trial involved the wrongful death of an 83-year-old man in Macomb County. He  was run over by a commercial truck and killed as he was attempting to legally cross the road on his bicycle.

There were many people who were quite willing to assign blame against him for just riding a bicycle. And there are many people willing to forgive clear negligence if the victim is on a bicycle.

As a lawyer, the only thing you can do is try to identify these people in voir dire, and try to focus the jury on the choices that the defendant makes that would threaten anyone who was there at that time – whether they be on a bicycle, in a car, or walking the street as a pedestrian.

The lawyers defending the trucking company refused to accept any responsibility for his death. They said he caused his own death, and then they said it didn’t really matter because an 83-year-old man isn’t worth very much money. The defense lawyers offered $250,000 before trial and $500,000 when the jury was deliberating.

The jury awarded a $2.55 million verdict to the estate (He is survived by his 10 children, 38 grandchildren and 18 great-grandchildren). Yet the jury still found fault on behalf of my client for the way he was riding his bike, even though he was crossing legally and was hit and killed.

It’s a lesson for all personal injury lawyers that these issues have to be confronted early, head-on, and also by motions in limine before trial to pre-empt improper defense arguments that are meant to create bias against a bicycle rider who bears no legal fault and was not responsible in any way for his own injuries or death.

In the Boston Globe article, the story goes on to say that “disregard for the safety of cyclists has reached pathological levels among some drivers,” and that this contempt may have played a role in the case of Mr. Motsenigos:

” There are widespread misconceptions that cyclists should ride on sidewalks — which is dangerous for pedestrians — or that it’s up to cyclists to stay out of motor vehicles’ way. No matter one’s opinion of cyclists or their riding habits, they are practically defenseless against the smallest sedan, never mind an SUV or a truck. Drivers simply have to take the high road — not only around cyclists who abide by the rules of the road, but even around selfish cyclists who don’t.”

Please, try and be patient with cyclists as they are riding. Cutting a moment or two from your car ride isn’t worth injuring or killing somebody.

Related information:

Top 3 most common defenses in bicycle accident and injury cases

Who pays for bicycle damage caused by a Michigan auto accident?

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