Massachusetts Bicycle Accident with Severe Orthopedic Injuries
Total Settlement and Award: $250,000
Case Handled by David W. White
It was a beautiful summer day in July 2008. Our client was riding his bicycle from his home to work, a route of approximately 19 miles. He rode this route to and from work for several reasons: He liked the exercise, he liked saving the environment and the gas, and, most important of all, he was training for the Pan Mass Challenge which he had ridden for several years.
The time was approximately seven in the morning, the sun was just peeking through the trees, the roads were dry and there was very little traffic. Our client was an experienced cyclist, and he obeyed all of the rules of the road. In addition, he was wearing brightly colored clothing and, of course, his helmet.
As he traveled through Framingham, he entered a three-way intersection (he was going straight, traffic was coming from his right), a motorist gunned his way into the intersection, striking our client and throwing him the road. Liability was very clear: the motorist not only had a stop sign, he had a duty to yield to on-coming traffic in the three-way intersection even without the stop sign. The only excuse the motorist could offer was that the sun was in his eyes. This was an incredible excuse, considering the sun was still rising directly behind him, and was probably not even over the trees yet.
Our client suffered a fracture in his low back and a serious shoulder injury. The low back injury required the wearing of a body brace for a few months, and the shoulder injury required surgical repair. Our client was out of work for six weeks, then slowly returned to his job over the next six weeks after that.
Claims were made with two insurance companies—the liability carrier for the negligent motorist, and the underinsured motorist for the cyclist. There was also the claim for Personal Injury Protection (PIP) benefits against the responsible vehicle.
The bodily injury carrier (the first insurance company) initially resisted the claim, contending that the client was on the wrong side of the road, and contending the sun was in the insured driver’s eyes. Our investigation included gathering a statement from an independent witness who confirmed that our client was definitely riding on the right side of the road, and that the motorist accelerated straight into him even though the motorist had a stop sign. Investigation also included gathering basic astronomical data which showed the angle of the sun (technically the altitude and the azimuth). Simply put, unless the laws of physics were somehow suspended just before the accident, the sun was not in the driver’s eyes. The company paid its policy limits of $100,000.
The underinsured carrier would not agree to pay its policy limits, so arbitration was required. Liability was not contested at the arbitration, but damages were. The insurance company’s arguments were rejected by the arbitrator, who awarded the full $150,000 in benefits.
Our client was doing everything properly at the time of the bike accident. He was dressed for safety and visibility, and he was observing all of the rules of the road. Unfortunately, it appears the driver simply failed to look for on-coming traffic, which was the sole cause of this serious accident.
The good news: Our client is back on his bike, and has resumed riding the Pan Mass Challenge.
IMPORTANT LESSON FOR ALL CYCLISTS: You may not be able to prevent an accident, but you can make sure that you have adequate insurance. The most important insurance you can buy is uninsured and underinsured motorist coverage. The insurance is very inexpensive for the benefits provided. For more information, see our page What Every Massachusetts Bicyclist Needs to Know About Car Insurance.