Lawyer for Ginny Murray’s Family: Bike Lanes Might Have Made a Difference

virginia-photos 2
Virginia Murray on her recent trip in Europe.

This morning the parents of fallen cyclist Virginia “Ginny” Murray, fatally struck by a flatbed truck driver on July 1, filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the driver and his company, A&B Flooring Supplies. The family’s attorney says safer bike infrastructure could have helped prevent the crash.

Murray, 25, is believed to be the first person to have been fatally struck while using bike-share in the United Stated. At around 9 a.m. she was riding a Divvy bike north on Sacramento Avenue in Avondale when she rode up on the right side of the flatbed truck, which was stopped at a red light at Belmont Avenue, according to police.

After the light changed, the driver, 28-year-old Cosmin Radu, turned east, striking Murray. She was taken to Illinois Masonic Hospital, where she was pronounced dead at 9:58 a.m. Radu was charged with failure to yield to a cyclist in the roadway and not having the proper driver’s license classification to drive the truck.

The lawsuit was filed on behalf of Murray’s parents Jim and Nancy Murray in Cook County Circuit Court by attorney Jeffrey Kroll of the personal injury firm Salvi, Schostock, and Pritchard. The suit argues that Radu failed to keep a proper lookout for cyclists and yield the right of way to a cyclist. Kroll explained that the suit does not yet mention the commercial driver’s license issue because the firm is not yet certain whether the weight of the vehicle at the time of the crash would have required Radu to have a CDL license.

The lawsuit seeks damages in excess of $50,000, the minimum amount needed to get a case into the circuit court’s Law Division. “In Cook County, you cannot ask for a specific dollar amount,” Kroll said.

“Potentially, the driver failed to yield the right of way to Ginny Murray,” Kroll said. “She was clearly visible and she clearly had the right of way. Our position is that he made a right turn without signally when he shouldn’t have and this clearly caused her death.”

Screen Shot 2016-07-08 at 2.59.57 AM
Image from security camera footage showing Murray approaching the truck from the right.

Kroll added that, after reviewing security camera footage from a nearby gas station, experts working for the law firm believe Radu didn’t signal his right turn. Therefore Virginia Murray had no warning that the driver planned to head east on Belmont, rather than north on Sacramento.

“The driver told witnesses he didn’t see Ginny either prior to the crash or at the time of impact,” Kroll said. Of the four witnesses the firm has spoken with, two said Murray seemed to be heading north from the light, while the other two said it appeared she was turning east.

“We know that Ginny was going [from her home in Wicker Park] to a babysitting job,” Kroll said. “Where she was going, she could have either been making a right turn or going straight. Regardless, she had the right of way per the municipal code,” said Kroll.

Section 9-16-020 of the Municipal Code of Chicago states:

When a motor vehicle and a bicycle are traveling in the same direction on any highway, street, or road, the operator of the motor vehicle overtaking such bicycle traveling on the right side of the roadway shall not turn to the right in front of the bicycle at that intersection or at any alley or driveway until such vehicle has overtaken and is safely clear of the bicycle.

Ghost bike vigil for Virginia Murray
“Ghost bike” memorial to Murray at the crash site. Photo: Steven Vance

A report today by the Sun-Times quoted Kroll as saying, “Asking bicyclists and motorists to peacefully coexist is a recipe for disaster. Ginny’s death tragically marks the nation’s first bike-sharing death. But if we cannot find a way to safely accommodate bikes on busy roadways, this will not be the last tragedy of this nature.”

“What I meant is, Divvy and the city of Chicago are encouraging bike use,” Kroll told me. “The number of people biking in Chicago has risen dramatically in recent years. This incident happened in a location where there are no bike lanes. My concern is when you increase bike use without improving bike infrastructure and hope for the best.”

In 2014 Chicago Department of Transportation staff discussed plans for buffered bike lanes on Belmont from Kedzie Avenue to Halsted Street with the 33rd Ward Transportation Advisory Council (Streetsblog Chicago’s Steven Vance is a member of the TAC). However, there has been little movement on the project since then. 33rd Ward alderman Deb Mell recently said she plans to push CDOT to follow through with the plan.

“Bike lanes may have made a difference in Ginny’s case,” Kroll said, adding that the presence of the lanes might have served as a reminder to Radu to watch for cyclists. “I do know a driver not keeping a proper lookout ultimately caused Ginny’s demise, but preventing this kind of tragedy in the future is going to require someone to rectify this situation.”

Kroll said Virgina Murray attended St. Ignatius High School in Chicago, and got a degree in communications at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, receiving the highest GPA in the college of communications. She later took a job in marketing at Blue Cross Blue Shield of Illinois, the Divvy sponsor, where she worked until a few weeks before the crash.

Shortly before the collision, she returned from a trip to Europe and was working as a babysitter. Kroll says Murray planned to pursue her passion for helping others by applying to library science school this fall, with the goal of working at a library in an underserved community. “She was a terrific young woman,” he said.

Updated 8/3/16: The next court date in the case is Thursday, August 4, 10 a.m. at the Daley Center, 50 West Washington, room CL07.

  • rohmen

    The comments on Divvy, mixed with adding them to the case as a respondent in discovery, suggests the attorney is leaving the door open to argue Divvy is negligent in either failing to warn of the danger, or allowing people to operate Divvy bikes, on the current-designed City streets.

    I think we all want to see drivers held responsible for negligence, and infrastructure improved to eliminate as much danger as possible, but holding Divvy (or CDOT) responsible here because they actively encourage increased bike use is a scary proposition for bike share (and cycling in general) if that idea germinates. It’ll be interesting to see what develops here as the suit moves forward.

  • johnaustingreenfield

    DNA is reporting the following:

    “The lawsuit names Divvy and the City of Chicago as “correspondents in discovery” — meaning that they’ll be asked to provide evidence for the case — but neither entity is being asked to pay damages.”

  • The picture moments before the collision is horrifying.

  • Carter O’Brien

    The crash is tragic, but to the critics, the family clearly is not looking to win the lottery, they note that they are seeking only the amount required to file the lawsuit.

    However, it would be in everyone’s best interest to stop posting that Municipal Code quote, the passage clearly does not apply, as the truck was not passing the cyclist. Come on, people. This is what makes cyclists look clueless.

    As to this line of reasoning, I think it misses the boat. Of course you can put bicycles on the road, what do you think has been happening since the invention of the bicycle? The “plan” is the State of Illinois’ rules of the road, which at least on paper are actually pretty solid. The more intractable problem is that in Chicago our intersections are inadequate to deal with the user demands we place on them, just from a laws of physics standpoint. Buses are using the right side of a lane and going straight, cars want to use that space to turn and some times to illegally pass other vehicles, none of this bodes well for the cyclist, and let’s be honest about the 3 foot passing rule, drivers are about 99% ignorant of it.

    On the other hand, blind spots are most definitely real. Again, physics. You can check your blind spot and a fraction of a second later have someone enter it while you are then making your turn or lane change. One of the things the state does in addition to pound home that message of constantly checking your blind spot, and looking in your rear view mirror, is check your vision periodically (I have a license that requires a mirror on the passenger side thanks to a near-blind right eye).

    So I hope we get something positive out of this – but this direction seems unproductive. What we need is better education on the state/DMV side, including – hello – actual road tests at least once a decade, and then we need better enforcement of the existing laws. Tons of us grew up riding our bikes on busy streets before bike lanes, much less buffered/protected bike lanes. The challenges today are more IMO due to the constant barrage of distractions drivers are hit with – signage and other superficial street treatments being among them.

    “”One of the things we want to determine from not only the city of Chicago but also from Divvy is what is your plan moving forward so these vehicles and bicyclists can peacefully coexist,” said attorney Jeffrey Kroll, who appeared with Murray’s parents, Jim and Nancy Murray, at a Monday news conference.

    “You can’t just put a number of bicycles on the road and just say, ‘Good luck. Drive safe,'” Kroll said. “There’s got to be some infrastructure in place.”

    There were no bike lanes
    at the Avondale intersection where the crash occurred, although there
    is heavy bike traffic in the area, Kroll said.

  • BlueFairlane

    However, it would be in everyone’s best interest to stop posting that
    Municipal Code quote, the passage clearly does not apply, as the truck
    was not passing the cyclist. Come on, people. This is what makes
    cyclists look clueless.

    I think that point needs to be emphasized. The cyclist was overtaking the truck. And it’s an irrelevant point anyway.

    Also, I think a big issue is what current design wisdom would have a bike lane do at an intersection like this. The engineers have done bicyclists a disservice by keeping the thru-lanes for bikes to the right of the turn lane for cars. It would make much more sense to have the bike lane shift left of a turn lane early enough to minimize the effect of the blind spot.

  • Dennis McClendon

    Your reporting indicates that the cyclist was trying to pass the already-stopped truck on the right, on a roadway without multiple lanes. From the truck driver’s point of view, he’s pulled as far to the right as practicable and stopped, and unbeknownst to him, the cyclist has ridden up and squeezed herself into a really dangerous spot where she cannot observe the truck’s turn signal. That’s not really the overtaking-right-turn situation that 9-16-020 was intended to prevent.

  • rohmen

    I’m not trying to read too much into the action, but you generally label someone as a “respondent in discovery” (I think dnainfo mad a scriveners error) for one of two reasons: (1) the individual/entity has evidence directly bearing on the facts at issue with regards to the other tortfeasors; or (2) you suspect the individual/entity might be liable, but you do not have sufficient facts, so you name them to conduct discovery and convert them into a party down the road. You see this happen all the time with hospitals and other doctors in med. malpractice cases.

    Based on the lawyer’s comments, I’d say it’s a mix of both at this stage, leaning a bit more towards seeing if they can get enough to name Divvy down the road. I can’t imagine that Divvy has much in the way of “evidence” that would bear on what happened here, and IMHO the plaintiff’s attorney is requesting Divvy’s records to get a sense of how often right-hook accidents are happening, and whether enough “notice” to Divvy exists to form a valid failure to warn claim.

    Again, not to speculate too much, but the lawyer’s comments and adding Divvy as a formal respondent in discovery is enough of a flag to watch how this develops.

  • Carter O’Brien

    This is a much bigger can of worms for CDOT than they’d likely care to admit. For all practical purposes, when there are no parking signs at the end of a block near an intersection (call it the length of a bus stop just for argument’s sake) drivers treat – and the City by it’s lax enforcement and mixed messaging condones – using that as a separate lane.

    Regarding the turn signal, drivers are required to activate turn signals well in advance of an intersection, it’s either 100 or 250 ft I want to say. So if the truck did not have that turn signal on before it got to the intersection, it was not making a legal turn.

  • rohmen

    To be fair, all of this is conjecture right now. For instance, did the truck pass the cyclist before stopping at the light? How long was the truck stopped before the turn was made? All of that could bear on what happened here.

    Speaking for myself, I’ve had cars pass me, and then turn unexepctedly without signalling when a light turns greens as I’m approaching. On a two-lane road without a designated turn lane, it’s not fair to suggest the type of move the cyclist appears to have made here was dangerous, especially if it’s true that the truck hadn’t signaled a turn. We just don’t know enough based on the video portions released to make a good call here.

  • what_eva

    Where do you get that the truck driver was “as far to the right as practicable” or that she “squeeze herself”?

    The intersection is very typical Chicago, there is a length of no parking going back from the intersection, but it gets marked as a very wide lane, not a right turn lane.

    From the video it’s clear that the driver did *not* pull to the right in the lane, he stayed to the left. You can see the line from the left turn lane next to his left front tire. He left an entire parking lane’s width that the cyclist used. She did *not* squeeze herself between the truck at the curb. The driver was stopped at the light when she approached without his signal on, leaving plenty of room for her to pull alongside the truck.

  • johnaustingreenfield

    The right-hook issue is discussed in detail in a post on Keating Law’s bike blog (they’re a Streetsblog sponsor):

  • Carter O’Brien

    I did read the blog, but I think the fact that the truck was turning from a standstill and did not in fact overtake the cyclist makes the analysis and application of that ordinance unpersuasive, specific to this case.

    I don’t know anyone who would describe what happened as a classic right hook, IMO this basically boils down to whether or not the truck had a turn signal on or not. Barring evidence/testimony on the turn signal, the lack of a commercial truck license strikes me as the best indicator that the driver was essentially recklessly driving. I’d make the driver answer that question using a lie detector if that was an option.

  • It’s 100 feet in residential/business districts, 200 elsewhere. (I’m taking my driver’s written test soon so I’ve been studying :) )

  • Carter O’Brien

    Wow. That is indeed one colossal zone of nope. Thanks for sharing.

  • barbs

    She may have had room to pull alongside the truck, but was she visible to the driver?

  • what_eva

    Probably wasn’t because the driver, who wasn’t licensed to drive a commercial vehicle, didn’t look. *Could* she have been visible if he looked? Yes.

  • what_eva

    Two things with that diagram:

    1. it’s a semi with trailer, the truck here was a lumber truck that was much smaller and also not as tall.

    2. That’s while moving, telling you not to sit in those blind spots if you’re driving with a truck. A stopped driver can minimize the side zones (3 and 4 in the diagram) by moving their head/body to see a larger area. A trained trucker would have checked those spots before making a wide right turn.

  • barbs

    We don’t know that she “could” have been visible, if she was in a blindspot, whether he looked or not.

  • what_eva

    It doesn’t matter if she’s in a blind spot, the driver should not have turned like he did, he should have pulled more to the right and had his signal on, period.

  • barbs

    If he had to make a wide turn due to the size of his truck, he’d actually pull left, to make the turn. Both of them made grave mistakes.

  • what_eva

    WHAT WAS HER MISTAKE?!?!? A truck is sitting there with no blinker on, so she pulls up alongside it. What on earth do you possibly think she did wrong? She had *no* indication the truck was going to turn, so there was no reason for her to worry that she might have been in a blind spot.

    The truck is *not* that big. The only reason he’s turning that wide is because he has no idea how to drive a truck of that size because HE’S NOT LICENSED FOR IT.

  • barbs

    Were you an eyewitness to this tragic accident, @what_eva?
    It is naive to say that “there was no reason for her to worry that she might have been in a blind spot.” Pulling up to the right of ANY vehicle larger than a car (bus, truck, van, e.g.) carries enormous risks, if the cyclist cannot see the driver. Do we know she saw the driver, anymore than we know the driver saw her, FOR A FACT? Did you see what @melissa posted, above?
    Neither of us can say, without a doubt, that one or the other was completely at fault while the other was completely blameless. I’ve read discussions of this lawsuit, and the accident itself on other sites, and very few commenters find this a clear-cut case of it being totally and completely the truck-drivers fault, or of the cyclist.
    (see dnainfo’s feed for Avondale, for other perspectives on this.)

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