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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.

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