Lawyer: Cyclist Was Not to Blame for Pedestrian Crash in Dearborn Bike Lanes

Screen Shot 2015-06-12 at 2.39.45 PM
The Dearborn protected bike lanes, near Madison Street. Image: Google Street View

While the headline of a recent Chicago Sun-Times article states that cyclist Matthew Gagui caused a crash that seriously injured a pedestrian in the Dearborn protected bike lanes, his lawyer says that wasn’t the case.

In last week’s piece, “Husband, wife sue ‘reckless’ bicyclist who caused crash,” the Sun-Times reported that Arely Lara and her husband Christopher Craig filed a lawsuit in the Cook County Circuit Court against Gagui on May 28. The suit states that Lara and Craig were walking near the intersection of Dearborn and Madison on Monday, March 30, when the crash occurred. This intersection is close to the restaurant Trattoria No. 1, which has seen conflicts between bicyclists and pedestrians, but a manager told me he did not recall hearing about this collision.

According to the claim, Gagui was bicycling southbound in the Dearborn bike lanes, which allow bi-directional cycling on the otherwise one-way northbound street, when he struck Lara. She suffered injury to her nervous system, as well as disfigurement, the suit states. “She was seriously injured, hospitalized and required surgery,” Lara’s attorney Eric Check told the Sun-Times. “She also spent several weeks in a rehab facility.”

The lawsuit claims that Gagui was riding a bike with no brake, he wasn’t riding in the southbound lane of the PBLs, and he was riding in a “reckless” manner, among other allegations. The suit accuses Gagui of negligence and claims Lara and Craig suffered loss of consortium, i.e. deprivation of the benefits of a family relationship due to injuries. They are seeking over $60,000 in damages, plus legal fees.

Gagui’s attorney Jim Freeman of FK Law (a Streetsblog Sponsor), told me that at least some of those allegations are false. “When all of the facts are heard, it’s going to be clear the pedestrian wasn’t acting in a way that a reasonable pedestrian would act, and that Matthew was doing everything a reasonable cyclist would do to avoid a collision,” he said. “[The crash] really didn’t go down the way the complaint describes it.”

“People who hear about the case may assume the pedestrian was legally crossing the street in the crosswalk with the light and the cyclist blew a red, but that’s not what happened,” Freeman added. “Pedestrians do illegal things, just like all other road users. While we all need to watch out for each other, we also need to take responsibility for our own actions.”

Contrary to the claim, Gagui was riding a bike with a brake, Freeman said. He added that the cyclist’s lane position will be examined during the process of discovery, the exchange of evidence between the two sides.

Freeman declined to provide more details about Gagui’s side of the story. While the cyclist, who does food delivery for Snap Courier, was not working at the time of the crash, he may be covered by a liability insurance policy, in which case the insurance company will probably choose another law firm, Freeman said. “We don’t want to make any statements that may prejudice the trial council in the event that there is insurance coverage,” Freeman said.

It may take a few weeks to determine whether Gagui has coverage. If not, FK Law has agreed to defend him on a pro-bono basis, Freeman said. “We’re excited to do that, because we think this is a defendable case, and our mission is to serve cyclists.”

After leaving several messages earlier this week, I reached Lara’s attorney Eric Check this morning. He declined to discuss the case, pending approval from his client. The crash report was not immediately available from Police News Affairs. I’ll try to provide an update with more details about the collision next week.

  • BlueFairlane

    “Pedestrians do illegal things, just like all other road users. While we
    all need to watch out for each other, we also need to take
    responsibility for our own actions.”

    This is a completely reasonable statement that should be kept in mind by those who don’t know all the facts in a case. I wish Streetsblog would be as likely to remember it when pedestrians are inured in crashes involving cars as it is here.

  • Operating a motor vehicle that can easily kill vulnerable road users should require a great deal of responsibility. That’s why countries with low pedestrian and bike fatality rates, like the Netherlands, have laws that automatically hold the driver responsible in the case of a crash involving a pedestrian or cyclist, unless there is clear evidence that the vulnerable road user was to blame.

    Streetsblog takes a similar point of view. If a pedestrian or cyclist is seriously injured or killed in a collision with a motorist, it’s likely that the driver was not doing everything possible to avoid the crash or minimize the damage by paying attention to the road and maintaining a safe speed.

    Obviously bicycles have far less potential to injure or kill than motor vehicles, but I’m also fine with holding cyclists responsible for crashes involving pedestrians, unless there’s clear evidence that the pedestrian caused the collision. Freeman stated that the evidence will show that Lara caused the crash, and Gagui did everything he could to avoid it. Hopefully, we’ll get more info on Lara’s side of the story from her lawyer next week.

  • rohmen

    With all due respect to Jim, and I mean that seriously in light of his commitment to take on a case pro bono to help support cycling as a cause, he is a trained and experienced advocate who knows how to present his client’s interests in the best light possible. His comment that the cyclist was doing everything reasonable he could (a pure legal determination up to the trier of fact btw) may be true, but it’s also something any competent attorney would say on behalf of their client when a news source gives the attorney a chance to get that message out to the public.

  • what_eva

    I’ve seen both cyclists and peds do the wrong things around those lanes. Cyclists “stretching” a light or outright running it. Peds treating the bike lanes and the buffer in front of the parked cars as an extension of the sidewalk and wandering out against a light.

    There may well be video on this one given that it’s in the loop.

  • complimentary hot taeks

    If he did everything he could he would’ve started by having brakes on his bike

  • As the article states, Freeman says Gagui had a brake.

  • trufe

    i get you guys are an advocacy blog, and i think you do a great job, but:

    “…I’m also fine with holding cyclists responsible for crashes involving pedestrians, unless there’s clear evidence that the pedestrian caused the collision.”

    are you “fine” with it, or do you actually intend to do so? because you are not doing that in this article.

    i am not even saying I think you should, but if not, I do think you should at least acknowledge that it is being reported differently.

  • Obviously he thinks Jim Freeman’s comments provide clear evidence.

    To me, the fact that she LIED about the bike not having a brake casts a pretty damning amount of doubt on the rest of her claims, but I’m just armchairing here, of course.

  • Thanks for the kind words about the blog.

    The way Streetsblog Chicago covers bike/pedestrian crashes is not going to exactly parallel the way we write about car/bike or car/pedestrian crashes, for the reasons mentioned above. However, I would be fine with laws that dictate that cyclists are liable in bike/ped crashes, unless it can be proven that the pedestrian caused the crash.

    I’m not assuming that the pedestrian caused the crash in this case. However, the Sun-Times article originally set off a red flag because it stated that the bicyclist caused the crash, although the lawsuit doesn’t claim the cyclist blew a red. I’ve experienced plenty of issues with pedestrians standing and walking in the Dearborn PBLs, so that made me suspect there might be a lot more to the story than what the lawsuit revealed.

    Freeman told me he thinks it can be proven that the pedestrian caused this crash. I’ll have a better picture of what happened here after I get a copy of the crash report and if Lara’s lawyer is willing to do an interview.

  • complimentary hot taeks

    So you take the word of one lawyer as fact verse the plaintiff? I understand the bias, but I’m impressed you went straight to playing favorites.

  • No, I am not taking Freeman’s word as fact. In the article, I mentioned Lara’s claim, via the lawsuit, that the bike didn’t have brakes and I also mentioned Gagui’s claim, via Freeman, that it did have a brake.

    Along with reiterating the accusations in Lara’s suit, I made multiple attempts to interview her lawyer and get more details about Lara’s side of the story. Hopefully we’ll will provide an interview this week.

  • Are there bikes without brakes?

  • rohmen

    I’d be interested to hear more on the brake issue. What constitutes a legal “brake” for fixed gear bikes in cities which require one has led to arguments regrading whether the rider qualifies as a brake.

    I assume this isn’t a situation where Jim is saying the bike had a “brake” because it was fixed gear and the rider’s resistance could qualify as such, and he means the guy did actually have a hand-operated brake, but it’s a little less than clear based on the article alone.

  • trufe

    oh, ok – i did not get that you meant “fine with” the legal treatment, i thought you were talking about reporting. anyway, thanks for clarifying

  • trufe

    well, generally i do not think it is a good idea to accept one party’s attorney’s statements as clear evidence of anything (and definitely not that the other party lied).

    i also strongly doubt that John accepted it as such, as he attempted to get comments from the other party. but in any case, i am satisfied with his clarification of my intitial misunderstanding

  • SP Williams

    So, if a pedestrian — acting illegally — is run down by a car, the driver is STILL responsible. No? Why is the bicyclist not responsible for not yielding the right of way not matter WHAT the pedestrian is doing? As in a pedestrian/vehicle accident.

  • We don’t know all the facts yet but, again, this is what the cyclist’s lawyer said:

    “When all of the facts are heard, it’s going to be clear the pedestrian wasn’t acting in a way that a reasonable pedestrian would act, and that Matthew was doing everything a reasonable cyclist would do to avoid a collision,” he said.

    If the lawyer’s statement is true, and this case involved a driver hitting a cyclist instead of a cyclist hitting a pedestrian, the driver would not be held responsible. That would be the case even in countries like the Netherlands, which have laws that say car/bike crashes are always the driver’s responsibility — unless it can be proven that the crash was the cyclist’s fault. Some discussion of this issue: https://bicycledutch.wordpress.com/2013/02/21/strict-liability-in-the-netherlands/

ALSO ON STREETSBLOG

Take a Virtual Ride on the New Randolph Protected Bike Lane

|
An important new downtown bikeway recently became rideable. The Randolph protected bike lane runs from Michigan to Clinton, making an already-popular westbound route out of the Loop safer. The project involved a road diet. One one the three travel lanes on Randolph was converted to make room for the bike lane and its striped buffer. […]

How Can Chicago Fix the “Weak Links” That Mar Bike Access Downtown?

|
Biking downtown has improved substantially with the addition of protected bike lanes on Kinzie Street and Dearborn Street, but much work remains to be done to create a safe, cohesive bike network linking people to Chicago’s biggest employment center. At last week’s meeting of the Mayor’s Bicycle Advisory Council, Michelle Stenzel, a community representative for the […]