Is it time for a cyclists’ legal defense fund?

A few months back, someone contacted me looking for a lawyer to represent a cyclist who’d been injured in yet another of the city’s steady stream of hit-and-runs.

I wrote back asking for a little more information before I reached out to my contacts; meanwhile, they found someone to take the case. But it started me thinking that L.A. should have a referral service for cyclists who need legal assistance.

In fact, one of the ideas I intend to address with the LACBC is the possibility of creating just such a service, where cyclists could find a lawyer knowledgeable about cycling issues and with experience in bicycle law. And who would agree to accept an occasional pro bono case or offer legal advice now and then in exchange for referrals on potentially more lucrative cases.

Take my own case when I was a victim of a road rage assault.

I spent a couple of days calling one attorney after another looking for help, only to be repeatedly turned down because a) I’d given the driver the finger before she hit me, and b) my case simply wasn’t worth enough to compensate a lawyer for the time he or she would have to put in.

Although how any word or gesture justifies an assault with a deadly weapon is beyond me.

That last part I understood, though, as frustrating as it was; lawyers need to make a living like anyone else. I finally got help through one of my in-laws; but if he had charged a normal rate for the legal services he provided, I would have owed him far more than the meager amount the insurance company finally settled for.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m very grateful for the help I received, and appreciate that my attorney’s fee barely covered his expenses.

But a referral service could have put me in touch with someone who specialized in bike cases, and had a better understanding of how bikes work and how the rights we’re supposed to enjoy on the road are frequently infringed by dangerous and uncaring drivers.

Then there are cases where legal rights, rather than a monetary award, are the issue. And where a lawyer’s assistance is every bit as necessary.

Like defending cyclists ticketed for imagined violations that aren’t actually against the law.

Or take the recent case in Flagstaff AZ, where a rider was brushed by a city bus. Yet amazingly, the local authorities concluded the driver didn’t violate that state’s three-foot law because he was in a bike lane — even though the right side of that lane was blocked by snow, forcing him to ride near the traffic lane on the left.

Then there’s the case of a Massachusetts LAB-certified cycling instructor stopped repeatedly and arrested for the crime of riding in the roadway on a state highway, rather than on the shoulder. Or the Texas rider who has been cited, arrested and convicted for impeding traffic even though drivers could easily pass using the other lane, and now faces trial in another jurisdiction for the crime of riding on the roadway.

A New Mexico writer makes an intriguing suggestion that could offer a solution for cases like this.

His idea is for a legal defense fund that would be operated by the League of American Bicyclists, supported by the deep pockets of the bike industry.

As he envisions it, this would operate as sort of a legal strike force, evaluating cases for merit and importance, and providing assistance where warranted anywhere in the U.S.

The benefit for cyclists should be obvious.

As is the benefit to the bicycle industry, which would profit from the expansion in ridership that would undoubtedly follow the expansion and protection of riders’ rights.

It’s certainly worth considering.

Because our right to the road is only as good as the willingness of the police and courts to enforce it.

………

Drivers often say bikes should be registered to pay for their place on the road; places that do it say it just doesn’t pay.

………

More on last weekend’s StreetSummit.

Damien covers the plenary speakers (if, like me, you had no idea what plenary means, click here), and covers the Bike Plan workshop, including BAC Chair Glenn Bailey’s comments that the revised plan looks better, but still needs work.  And Gary says the time is now, let’s kick some ass.

………

Metro’s Orange Line bike study kicks off this week; there’s still time to volunteer. Danceralamode says ladies, learn to fix your own bike like she now does. Congratulations to Ted’s Manhattan Cycles in Manhattan Beach, celebrating its 50th Anniversary. A British perspective on the South Bay — aka Marvin Braude — bike path. Santa Barbara curb extensions are credited with making a key street safer for cyclists and pedestrians. A DC councilman says we’re being too easy on drivers who kill. A rider on motorized bike is hit by a car, then run over and killed by an SUV as people tried to help. U of Maryland cyclists are allowed full use of the lane, and encouraged to stay off the sidewalk. As the Witch on a Bicycle astutely points out, how can a group of cyclists impede traffic when they are traffic? It’s time to stop peddling road rage over the airwaves; maybe it’s time to ban the term avid cyclist, too. And come to think of it, bikes aren’t alternative transportation, either. Yellowstone’s snowmobile season is over, so it’s time to break out the bikes and bear spray; just don’t ride into Canada loaded for bear. You don’t have to stink after riding your bike to work. It’s time to pull on your woolies and ride. Despite the rash of cycling deaths, London’s new 20 mph speed zones are saving lives. A London cyclist is charged with involuntary manslaughter after a fatal collision with a pedestrian at a busy intersection. Brits question why bike cops need 10 hours of training before they hit the streets. Two Kiwi cyclists credit their helmets with saving their lives over the weekend. Is a person on a bike worth less than one in a car? French President Sarkozy doesn’t have to ride those darn French bikes anymore. Now that’s what I call bike parking.

Finally, Albuquerque unveils a new bike safety campaign with the theme Easy to Miss, because we are with just a little effort; an L.A. version of their 10 Things Drivers Should Know should be mandatory reading for local drivers.

7 comments

  1. Digital Dame says:

    Doesn’t the League of American Bicyclists already have a network of lawyers listed?

    I found this on their page:

    “Network of lawyers and expert witnesses
    Our network of lawyers and expert witnesses are passionate cyclists, well versed in the legal issues we face and guided by our Legal Committee.”

    It’s close to the bottom.

    • bikinginla says:

      They do.

      However, what we need in L.A. isn’t the League’s list, but a local list of velo lawyers and litigators (how’s that for alliteration?)

      And what the League needs is a phalanx of attorneys at their beck and call, ready to fly off at a moment’s notice to right the wrongs that afflict our kind anywhere in the country, sort of like a cycling ACLU.

      As Warren Zevon said, send lawyers, guns and money

  2. Digital Dame says:

    Or even right the wrongs ;) :::ducking before I get clocked:::

    At the risk of being branded a Pessimist (in addition to current monikers of Paranoid Cynic), good luck with that. As your earlier experience has shown, there just isn’t enough money or glory in it to attract that many lawyers. Not that I wouldn’t love to see it happen, mind you.

    • bikinginla says:

      No, I meant they should just write them down, not actually do anything about it.

      Seriously though, thanks for the correction; don’t know how I made a mistake like that.

      But I would never, ever clock a woman. Anytime I want to punish a woman, I just marry ‘em.

  3. Digital Dame says:

    Hehe. Well, you know me. I think it’s a form of Tourette’s where I correct things even when people don’t want me to.

    Poor Mrs. Bike. If I was in LA I’d invite her along for the next girls’ night out ;)

  4. Sam says:

    I’ve been wanting this for San Diego as well. Dunno how to go about getting it. We have some attorneys here, but I am trying to create a database of various attorneys who wold represent cyclists under various conditions (free, pro bono, fee, etc). At the very least, I’d like for an insurance policy that has a high cap to cover legal costs.

  5. Eli Damon says:

    Charges Dismissed. See more information, including links to the videos, at http://cycles.eli-damon.info/2010/10/05/charges-dismissed.aspx .

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