“Your client has a duty to pay attention to where she is going.” That was the response we received from an insurance company after its driver doored a woman whom we represented as she rode her bicycle on a residential road in Chicago last summer. The 39 year old business owner, wife and mom sustained serious injuries, racking up more than $37,000 in medical bills. Upon receiving a dismissive letter from the driver’s insurer, GEICO, we filed a lawsuit. The case recently settled for $75,000.
The case highlights how dangerous it can be when a driver carelessly flings open a door. Our client was an experienced city cyclist. At approximately 2:50 p.m. on August 11, 2014, the driver parked her 2014 BMW along the curb on the east side of 6109 North Wolcott Avenue in Chicago. At the same time, the cyclist was riding her commuter style bicycle northbound on Wolcott. She was wearing a helmet. The weather was clear and dry. As she rode by, the driver attempted to exit her vehicle, opening her driver’s side door into the cyclist. The corner of the door grabbed the strap of her helmet, violently yanking her off her bike.
Illinois is a bicycle friendly state, granting bicyclists full use of our state’s roadways. On the date of the crash there was an Illinois law, 625 ILCS 5/11-1407, which states in relevant part:
No person shall open the door of a vehicle on the side available to moving traffic unless and until it is reasonably safe to do so, and can be done without interfering with the movement of other traffic, nor shall any person leave a door open on the side of a vehicle available to moving traffic for a period of time longer than necessary to load or unload passengers.
By opening her door without looking for bicycle traffic, the driver violated this law and injured our client. When the police arrived at the scene they cited her for violating Section 11-1407. The driver later plead guilty to the charge of unsafely opening her door. Nevertheless, GEICO, took the position that our client was substantially at fault for causing the crash.
The force that abruptly pulled the cyclist off her bicycle resulted in temporary paralysis that lasted for several terrifying minutes. An ambulance rushed her to the nearest hospital. There it was noted that, “Patient’s head was jerked backward and twisted and patient was pulled off of bike and onto the street. When EMS arrived patient was stating that she couldn’t move and was very anxious.” Thankfully, by the time she arrived in the emergency department she was able to move her extremities. However, she was experiencing severe pain to her neck with swelling, as well as pain to her right hand, ankle and knee. A CT scan of her neck revealed that she had a laceration to her right thyroid lobe. Because of the severity of her thyroid injury she was immediately transferred via ambulance to another hospital that would be better able to care for her. There she was admitted overnight for observation before being discharged the following day. After her release from the hospital she experienced continued pain associated with her lacerated thyroid. The pain was exacerbated with eating, drinking and swallowing. She also continued to experience pain in her right hand and right knee. It was nearly two months before her symptoms resolved.
GEICO, despite its assertion that our client was at fault, made an offer of $30,000 before a lawsuit was filed. This was a nonsense offer. Less than even our client’s medical bills, it would not have compensated her for her pain and suffering and the disability she sustained for a period of time. Interestingly, almost as soon as we filed the lawsuit, the attorney hired by GEICO to defend the case asked us to re-engage in settlement discussions. At first we declined. Given the position insurance company had staked out, the sides seemed just too far apart. The defense attorney was persistent and I knew him to be a straight shooter. We agreed to attend mediation, during which a retired judge helped the two sides to reach a fair resolution.
Doorings are by far the most common type of case we see. Sometimes we get calls from cyclists injured in dooring incidents in which they tried on their own to reach a reasonable settlement with a driver’s insurer. Fault on the part of the driver is pretty clear in such cases. As in this case, sometimes the driver even pleads guilty to a traffic citation. Sadly, however, insurance companies figure they can get away cheap, betting that the injured victim, and even the law firm representing her, will not want to undertake the hassle of litigation. It is a mistake to acquiesce to this strategy. In this instance, not only did our client receive a fair settlement, I would bet that the driver in question will be more inclined to look for bicyclists before opening her car door.