Tag Archive for Jim Pocrass

Morning Links: Whittier bike rider dies of heart attack, LACBC hosts cop talk, and Amgen ToC comes back to SoCal

Sometimes the dangers we face don’t come from careless drivers, but from our own bodies.

That was the case last month, when the owner of the Toyota of Whittier dealership died of an apparent heart attack while riding on the Greenway Trail. Curt James was just 53 when he succumbed on October 21st, while riding the bicycle he had purchased in July.

His death serves as a tragic reminder that while bicycling may be good for your health, you should always talk to your doctor before changing your riding habits or beginning any new physical activity.

His death is the 68th bicycling fatality in Southern California this year, and the 28th in Los Angeles County; at least four of those deaths have been due to natural causes.

My deepest sympathy and prayers for Curt James and all his family.

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As we mentioned last week, BikinginLA sponsor Jim Pocrass will be part of a free panel discussion on bicycle laws hosted by the LACBC on November 14th, along with representatives of the LAPD, CHP and LA County Sheriff’s Department.

ask_an_officer_flyer_f

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Next year’s Amgen Tour of California — America’s only men’s WorldTour race — will feature four SoCal stages, with finishes in Santa Clarita, Mount Baldy and Big Bear, along with the final stage in Pasadena. It won’t drop south of Los Angeles this time, although it may come back to San Diego in the future.

Cycling Tips talks with LA pro cyclist Phil Gaimon about retirement and reinvention. Or you can hear Gaimon speak for himself on his weekly podcast.

Petaluma’s Alison Tetrick became a successful pro cyclist after trading one saddle for another.

The German-based Giant-Alpecin cycling team is looking for closure in civil and criminal cases against the 73-year old British driver who crashed head-on into six members of the team on a training ride last year.

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Local

A writer for the Guardian looks at three American cities addicted to cars and their efforts to kick the habit, including our own City of Angels. And goes for an informative ride with Streetsblog’s Joe Linton.

The LACBC offers their endorsements on the local measures on Tuesday’s ballot, along with a questionnaire from county commissioner candidate Janice Hahn. It says something about our local government that Hahn wants to step down from the US Congress to serve on the county board. And I’m not sure that it’s good.

KPCC’s AirTalk program examines five things you should know before voting on Measure M.

A bike rider standing on a Norwalk street corner pulled out a rifle and took several shots at a motorist who slowed down because he thought the man looked suspicious. Evidently, he was right.

 

State

Oceanside hosts a century ride this Saturday with the Bike the Coast/Taste the Coast Ride and Exposition.

San Diego’s eight-term Republican Congressman Darrel Issa campaigns by bicycle as he struggles to retain his seat.

The San Diego Bike Coalition is giving away free bike lights this afternoon in anticipation of the clock change this weekend.

Hesperia authorities are looking for a bike-riding man in a hockey mask who stabbed another man outside a convenience store.

The San Luis Obispo sheriff’s office is looking for unloved bicycles that can be refurbished and given to kids for the holiday’s. Thanks to Megan Lynch for the heads-up.

 

National

Outside Magazine sounds the death knell for the local bike shop, as they face increased competition from direct-to-consumer sales by bike makers. Although online dealers can’t set up your bike for you, and won’t be there for you when you need help down the road.

Evidently, a Portland driver thought repeatedly driving on a suspended license was funny, even after he killed an innocent bike rider.

A Seattle bike writer says plans for a new eight-lane waterfront roadway are too car-centric, despite having pedestrian and bicycle pathways.

A Colorado city is spending $30,000 to rip out bike lanes on one street, after spending $39,000 to paint them. All because confused drivers couldn’t figure out what to make of them.

The Guardian offers a photographic look at Detroit’s custom bicycles. Some of which almost stack up to LA’s own East Side Riders.

Bighearted Connecticut cops buy a 14-year old boy a new bike after his was stolen at gunpoint.

After years of complaints, New York asks bicyclists to report blocked bike lanes. Whether that will have any effect on the NYPD, which is among the city’s worst offenders, remains to be seen.

A road raging New Orleans-area cyclist faces charges for punching a woman in the face after she honked at him for swerving into his traffic lane. No matter what a driver may do, violence is never the answer. Period.

A Florida newspaper gets it, saying the death of a young cyclist should be a wakeup call for a community that too often gets caught up in debates over bike lanes, and misses the point that better-designed roads are safer for everyone. Actually, any traffic death, anywhere, should be a wakeup call, but seldom is.

Apparently, if you want to avoid jail time for a fatal hit-and-run, you just have to be old. An 89-year old Florida man got one year of house arrest for fleeing the scene after killing a man riding a bicycle; on the other hand, he won’t be able to legally drive again until he’s 99.

 

International

A travel website lists the Europe’s five most epic cycling climbs.

If you have wear hi-viz, at least it can look good.

Police in a British city insist they don’t have the manpower to investigate dangerously close passes, but do have the time to stop 450 law abiding bike riders to give them a safety chat.

A New Zealand bike rider gets 20 points against his driver’s license for riding through a stop sign, even though he doesn’t have one.

Life is cheap in Singapore, where a bus driver got a whole 15 days for carelessly killing an elderly bike rider. Meanwhile, a writer says the island city/state must do more to make bicycling a better alternative to driving. Like maybe stopping bus drivers from killing people.

 

Finally…

Stressing over KOMs can be harmful to your relationship. Who needs an engine when your car has pedals?

And yes, you can be a country music star and still wear spandex when you ride your bicycle.

 

Attorney Solves the Great Mystery of the “No Biking In Crosswalk” Signs

Bikes Have Rights™
By James L. Pocrass, Esq.
Pocrass & De Los Reyes LLP

USC Crosswalk Sign

Cyclists biking around the University of Southern California may once again be stopped and cited for riding their bikes in a crosswalk.

The officer stopping them, whether they are from the Los Angeles Police Department or USC security, when asked why they are writing a ticket might reference the sign that reads “Walk Bikes In Crosswalk” as the reason for citing the cyclist. What the officer apparently doesn’t know is that there is no such law, regardless of what the signs says.

At the Los Angeles County Bicycle Coalition Open House a couple of months ago, I met a graduate student who attends USC and who is a cyclist. He told me about this sign at Jefferson and Royal, and a few others like it, near the USC campus. He wanted to know if these signs were accurate and enforceable. A few days later he took and emailed me the accompanying photo.

I knew this wasn’t a question of law as bicycles can be ridden – legally – through crosswalks. So where and how and why was this sign on the street?

We contacted Sgt. Flynn of the LAPD, Central Traffic Division, who said, “I do not know of any California Vehicle Code section that states you can’t ride your bike in a crosswalk.  The only section that someone could be cited for, if it is an official sign, would be CVC 21461(a)vc ‘Official Traffic Sign or Signal-failure of Driver to Obey Regulatory Provisions.’”

So where did this sign come from and why is it still there? What we found out after many, many telephone calls and emails, is that the sign is reflective of old laws that empowered officers to cite bicyclists for not walking their bikes in a crosswalk. But that law was taken off the books in 2006.

This is not a new issue, particularly in the USC neighborhood. In September 2009, the Daily Trojan reported that a task force of LAPD officers and USC security was being put together to regulate safety. This would include sting operations set up at intersections to cite cyclists riding their bikes in crosswalks. Citations could cost up to $250.

On Jan. 12, 2010, four months later, Streetsblog wrote a more extensive article on this same topic called “If You Want to Know Bicycle Law, Don’t Ask the California Highway Patrol, Part 2.” Streetsblog reported that, as we know, there was no law that stated that cyclists had to dismount and walk their bikes in crosswalks. Ten years later, since the 2006 change in the law, we’re still discussing these same issues.

Los Angeles Department of Transportation has jurisdiction over most traffic devices – signs and signals – in the City of Los Angeles. DOT employees confirmed that this sign is a DOT sign and it was installed by DOT.

LADOT’s Bicycle Coordinator Michelle Mowrey was one of the people involved in the 2006 modifications of the California Vehicle Code that resulted in the removal of the law that bicycles had to be walked through crosswalks.

When we asked Mowrey about this sign, she told me that whether or not it is reflecting the pre-2006 law, it is a non-standard sign.  Mowrey told us that though the sign doesn’t appear in any Caltrans’ manuals, a black-and-yellow sign, as it is, indicates that it’s a warning sign, not a regulatory sign, which is black-and-white. Citations can be issued only on regulatory black-and-white signs. That’s why speed limit signs are black-and-white and “Share the Road” signs are black-and-yellow.

An LAPD representative said the LAPD was not involved in the signs. We were told their opinion of the sign is that it is a safety recommendation. Our question, then, would be, do LAPD officers know that or are they still ticketing cyclists for disobeying the sign? We don’t have an answer to that question.

We talked to three different people at LADOT about why these signs were up. In essence, they all said that after the law was changed, in 2006, steps were taken to remove signs like these on all city streets. These signs were overlooked, apparently, and it was just an oversight.

Mehrdad Moshskar, LADOT’s central district engineer, was our next stop. We were referred to him to find out how to get the signs removed. Moshskar assured me that all of these signs in that area of town would be removed soon.

People have asked me if I thought the signs originated with USC. I have no idea, and no one knew or was willing to tell me.

The official answer came from Tim Fremaux in the LADOT Bicycle Coordination Department who said, “Anyone can submit any traffic-related request via myladot.lacity.org and it will be reviewed. If DOT approves the request, it will be implemented on our streets.”

There are Traffic Division and Bicycle Liason meetings held on a quarterly basis, which are open to the public. These meetings include representatives from LADOT, USC, the Los Angeles City Attorney’s office and other public groups. For more information about these meetings, contact Lt. Chris Ramirez at 213-486-6000.

Meanwhile, if anybody goes past Jefferson and Royal, would you email me at info@pocrass.com and let me know if the sign is still up?

 

Jim Pocrass, Pocrass & De Los Reyes LLP

Jim Pocrass, Pocrass & De Los Reyes LLP

For more than 25 years, Jim Pocrass has represented people who were seriously injured, or families who lost a loved one in a wrongful death, due to the carelessness or negligence of another. Jim is repeatedly named to Best Lawyers of America and to Southern California Super Lawyers for the outstanding results he consistently achieves for his clients. Having represented hundreds of cyclists during his career, and Jim’s own interest in cycling, have resulted in him becoming a bicycle advocate. He is a board member of the Los Angeles County Bicycle Coalition. For a free, no-obligation consultation, contact Jim Pocrass at 310.550.9050 or at info@pocrass.com.

Low Speed E-Bikes Given Bicycle Privileges

Bikes Have Rights™
By James L. Pocrass, Esq.
Pocrass & De Los Reyes LLP

 

On Oct. 7, 2015, Governor Jerry Brown signed Assembly Bill 1096 that gives two of the three classes of electric bikes the right to access bike paths and bike lanes. This is the first of its kind of legislation in the country, and it is a sign that e-bikes are coming of age.

AB 1096, which goes into effect Jan. 1, 2016, divides electric bikes into three classes:

  • Type 1: Pedal-assisted machines with a maximum assisted speed of 20 mph
  • Type 2: Throttle-assisted machines with a maximum assisted speed of 20 mph;
  • Type 3: Pedal-assisted bikes with a maximum assisted speed of 28 mph.

As of 2017, electric bike manufacturers must label e-bikes as a Type 1, 2, or 3. The infographic below by People for Bikes and the California Bicycle Coalition explains the policy more completely.

e-bike-graphic-trimmed

E-bikes are gaining in popularity, and not just with seniors, people with injuries or disabilities, families, and those who have particularly long or uphill commutes. These bikes are quickly going mainstream because they’re fun to ride and adaptable to various conditions.

Though AB 1096 permits various classes of e-bikes to ride in or on various bike paths and lanes (as indicated on the chart above), be aware of where e-bikes still may not be permitted to ride, unless specifically indicated in these areas:

  • Bike paths and roads that are not under federal or state vehicle codes (an example would be a bike path in a county park).
  • Natural surface paths in parks, like mountain bike trails, and open space areas.

Most importantly, counties, cities and other government entities still have the right to regulate e-bikes, just as they have the right to regulate bicycle usage with their domains.

Since we’re discussing e-bikes’ rights and responsibilities under the law, let’s go a little further. In 2001, the United States Congress passed Public Law 107-319. It stated that electric bicycles and tricycles that meet the definition of low-speed electric bicycles are regulated by the federal Consumer Product Safety Act versus mopeds and motorcycles that have the ability to exceed the speed of an electric bicycle. The latter are regulated by the Department of Transportation and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

States then passed their own laws regulating e-bikes. In California, low-speed (up to 20 mph) e-bikes have all the rights and responsibilities of a motor vehicle, just as a bicycle does. E-bike riders do not need a driver’s license, license plate or insurance. You must be at least 16 years old to ride an e-bike, and if you are age 17 or younger, you must wear a bicycle helmet.

Now with AB 1096, you can ride an e-bike almost anywhere you can ride a bicycle. But remember, all the traffic laws – from stop signs to traffic signals and to phone and text use and from riding with traffic and having working brakes, handlebars, and lights on your bike – all apply to you on your e-bike.

There are a couple of potential legal issues that I see facing e-bike riders. The most important one in my mind is the issue of insurance. As I said, no insurance is required for an e-bike in California.

I have read online that dealers believe that if your e-bike is stolen, it is likely that your homeowner’s or rental insurance policy would cover the theft. They do suggest that you contact your insurance agent to confirm that.

My apprehension is whether your uninsured motorist insurance would cover you if you are in a collision and the driver of the motor vehicle is either uninsured or doesn’t have enough insurance to cover you if the collision results in serious injuries or a wrongful death. A cyclist riding a bicycle who has a collision is covered by his/her uninsured motorist insurance. Is a cyclist on an e-bike similarly covered?

This is a very important point, and it’s why we always recommend that a cyclist increase his/her uninsured motorist insurance as high as their insurance company will permit. It’s pennies on the dollar and if you’re in a collision, it could mean that you have a much easier time of restarting your life.

Your uninsured motorist insurance kicks in if the driver does not have insurance, if the driver does not have enough insurance to cover the damage he/she caused, or in the event of a hit and run when the driver is not found.

Does your uninsured motorist insurance cover you on an e-bike? I urge you to contact your insurance agency and ask. If they say “yes,” get it in writing!

It is also worth noting that regardless of what type of bike you are riding, it is illegal to ride under the influence of drugs and/or alcohol. Besides the obvious, I see a potential legal issue here also.

In 1985, California passed Vehicle Code 21200.5, which made cycling (or bicycling) under the influence a CUI rather than a DUI. A CUI is a misdemeanor and it will show up on your record as a conviction. It also carries a $250 fine but no jail time. If the individual is under 21, a CUI conviction can result in the suspension of the person’s driver’s license.

In my mind it is unclear whether riding a Type 1 or a Type 2 e-bike under the influence of drugs and/or alcohol would be categorized as a CUI or a DUI if you were stopped by law enforcement.

Cal. Veh. Code § 231, specifically defines a bicycle as a device upon which any person may ride, propelled exclusively by human power through a belt, chain, or gears, and having one of more wheels. It says that persons riding bicycles are subject to the provisions of this code (CUI) specified in Sections 21200 and 21200.5.

A moped rider who is under the influence is subject to the drunk driving laws (DUIs). This was decided in 1977 by the California Court of Appeal in People v. Jordan, 75 Cal. App.3d Supp.1. The court specifically stated that because it had a motor it did not fall under the CUI law.

There doesn’t seem to be any law on the books at this time that would remove Type 1 or Type 2 e-bikes from DUI law. My best advice would be to not test the law and to not ride under the influence of alcohol and/or drugs (illegal OR prescription drugs).

So the next time you see an e-bike in a bike lane, remember, it, too, has the right to be there.

 

Jim Pocrass, Pocrass & De Los Reyes LLP

Jim Pocrass, Pocrass & De Los Reyes LLP

For more than 25 years, Jim Pocrass has represented people who were seriously injured, or families who lost a loved one in a wrongful death, due to the carelessness or negligence of another. Jim is repeatedly named to Best Lawyers of America and to Southern California Super Lawyers for the outstanding results he consistently achieves for his clients. Having represented hundreds of cyclists during his career, and Jim’s own interest in cycling, have resulted in him becoming a bicycle advocate. He is a board member of the Los Angeles County Bicycle Coalition. For a free, no-obligation consultation, contact Jim Pocrass at 310.550.9050 or at info@pocrass.com.

 

 

Juries, Judges and Your Bike Crash

Bikes Have Rights™
By James L. Pocrass, Esq.
Pocrass & De Los Reyes LLP 

Jury box

This may well be the most controversial blog post I’ll ever write. It’s likely that many of you are going to hate reading this. Some of you will tell me that what I say here isn’t fair and that I’m blaming the victim.

Be assured, I’ve represented many bicycle riders in bike crashes and I know as well or better than anyone how the system is stacked against them. As to fairness, well, it isn’t fair that I don’t have the same head of hair that I had as a younger man either, but that’s the way it is.

What I’m going to tell you is the hard truth. It’s not fair, but it IS an undeniable, regrettable fact: many people have strong, negative feelings about cyclists. If you are in a bike crash and it goes to trial, the judge and/or jurors will probably not be cyclists.

Though the people on your jury and the judge presiding over your trial have probably encountered hundreds – if not thousands – of law-abiding bicyclists, those aren’t who they remember. They remember the helmetless cyclist who cut them off or rode through a red light and saluted them with a middle finger as they blew by. It’s always that “one” ne’er-do-well who people remember.

The U.S. Bicycling Participation Benchmark Report, commissioned by People for Bikes, reported that though the number of Americans ages 3+ who rode a bicycle last year is larger than had been previously thought, 30% of these cyclists rode 5 days or fewer in 2014.

The chance of getting a cyclist on your jury or a judge is probably even worse when you add the number of seniors who willingly sit on juries. (Think of that the next time you attempt to get out of jury duty or complain about being called for jury duty.)

The result is that the judge and jurors, more than likely, are going to be people who are biased against cyclists. When I am questioning potential jurors in a bicycle case, some of the most common comments I get from people are:

  • Bike riders ride recklessly, not stopping at red lights or stop signs.
  • Bike riders should ride on the sidewalk and stay out of traffic.
  • Bike riders ride too fast on the sidewalk.
  • Bike riders ride in car lanes, sometimes side-by-side or as a group, which interferes with traffic.
  • Roads are for cars, not bikes.

You know all this. If these things have never been said to your face, you’ve read them in comments on articles and posts on social media.

These are the people who are going to decide your legal case. Their inclination is going to be to blame YOU – the cyclist – for your own “accident.” Furthermore, insurance adjustors and defense attorneys know this, and they are going to cater to this bias.

It would be nice if more people understood the rules of the road. “Fair” doesn’t enter into the equation. In a trial, we have to deal with the hand we’ve been dealt, and in most bike crash trials, it’s contending with the prejudice against our cyclist client.

To be successful in trial it is critical for your trial lawyer to understand how people perceive you. As a trial lawyer, I have numerous strategies I utilize to attempt either to overcome this bias or to focus the jurors on the person the cyclist is, not his/her activity. I want the juror to see the cyclist as a person who has more in common with the jurors than s/he has different. An experienced trial lawyer utilizes specific strategies in every part of the trial, from jury selection at the beginning of the trial to how jury instructions are crafted near the end of the trial, and everything in-between.

I believe we can change these preconceptions, but it isn’t easy, and it isn’t going to happen tomorrow, next month, or even next year.

As a cyclist – whether you ride for recreation or as a commuter – you can be part of the solution. Here are some suggestions:

  1. Join the Los Angeles County Bicycle Coalition and your local bicycle advocacy organization. Even better, get involved. These people are on the frontline of change. At the very least, sign up for the LACBC’s e-newsletter (no membership required) and join these advocacy organizations’ Facebook pages. (And in a shameful plug, “friend” the FB Pocrass & De Los Reyes Bicycle Law page, too.)
  1. I suggested above that you join your local advocacy organization. Many of these are chapters of LACBC, all of them work together. Almost all cities have such organizations, including Claremont, Pomona, the Eastside, Santa Monica, Beverly Hills, Santa Clarita, and many more.
  1. Join the California Bicycle Coalition, our state-wide organization that is instrumental in lobbying for biking conditions and laws for California cyclists.
  1. Get involved with SAFE (Streets are for Everyone). The nonprofit advocates for changes in the law to make streets safe for bicyclists, motorcyclists, pedestrians, skateboarders, and everyone else.
  1. Know and follow the Rules of the Road. The LACBC has a wonderful wallet-sized brochure that explains what these are. They are available at every event attended by the LACBC. The organization also is offering FREE bicycle safety classes through the end of September throughout the Southland. Don’t be that one cyclist who will be burned into the brain of those who come in contact with him/her for his/her bad behavior.
  1. Cyclists over the age of 18 are not required by law to wear a helmet when they ride. We strongly urge you to wear one, regardless of your age. The obvious reason for wearing a helmet is that it very likely increases your chances of surviving or limiting brain injury should you crash. A less obvious reason is that not wearing one adds to the jurors’ and judge’s biases that you SHOULD HAVE BEEN wearing a helmet and if you had been wearing one, it would have protected you so your injuries “are your own fault.” (Don’t kill the messenger, please. I said I was going to talk reality here.)
  1. Think before you post on social media. Specifically, insurance companies and defense attorneys troll your social media accounts to see what can be used against you. What you write on social media will come back if you’re ever a plaintiff in a jury trial. Generally, furious posts filled with expletives (I understand the urge, believe me), reinforce non-cyclists’ attitudes about the “arrogance” of cyclists.
  1. Educate the non-cyclists you know. Back up your arguments with facts and statistics. Try to be calm and rational in the discussion, but the one-on-one discussions are the best way to change perceptions. Remember, no one goes out to kill someone with their car (okay, almost no one), but most drivers are angry because they’re scared. No one taught them how to share the road. No one taught them how to drive sharing the road with a cyclist. You can say that’s not your problem, but the truth is, it’s everybody’s problem.

Often when I read bikinginla.com and see the slap on the wrist so many drivers get for hitting cyclists, I am frustrated by the slowness of the process to eliminate cyclist bias. But it’s coming, and by working together, I believe we can make it happen.


 

Jim Pocrass Trimmed

Jim Pocrass, Pocrass & De Los Reyes LLP

For more than 30 years, Jim Pocrass has represented people who were seriously injured, or families who lost a loved one in a wrongful death, due to the carelessness or negligence of another. Jim is repeatedly named to Best Lawyers of America and to Southern California Super Lawyers for the outstanding results he consistently achieves for his clients. Having represented hundreds of cyclists during his career, and Jim’s own interest in cycling, have resulted in him becoming a bicycle advocate. He is a board member of the Los Angeles County Bicycle Coalition. For a free, no-obligation consultation, contact Jim Pocrass at 310.550.9050 or at info@pocrass.com or visit www.pocrass.com.

 

 

Why Attorneys Tell You To Never Admit Guilt

Bikes Have Rights™
By James L. Pocrass, Esq.
Pocrass & De Los Reyes LLP 

Pocrass Photo 6-15

Immediately after any type of motor vehicle “accident” (bicycle, pedestrian, motorcycle, car), most people have two reactions: 1.) to blame the other person or 2.) to say “I’m sorry; it was my fault.” As a personal injury lawyer, I counsel people to NEVER admit guilt after a crash of any type. Whether you are or are not liable, I guarantee such a statement will come back to bite you in ways you never expected.

The most important reason for not admitting guilt, which is, in legal terms, admitting liability, is because you probably don’t really know the cause of the collision.

Example: We recently had a client who was in a Santa Monica bicycle collision. He came up to a four-way stop and rolled slowly through it, getting halfway through intersection. Meanwhile, an 80-something-year-old woman drove up to the intersection, stopped, and went, hitting our client in the intersection.

During the deposition, the woman insisted that she never saw anyone or anything in the intersection. (I admit, I laughed inside at the insurance company lawyer’s expression.) The insurance company settled for a five-figure settlement.

This was an unusual situation, but the point is, you really don’t know exactly what the complete cause of your bike collision is, and, therefore, who is liable. Yes, you might be partially liable if you do not follow the rules of the road, but there may be extenuating circumstances that contributed to the collision. These could be:

  • Road Design: the road or signage was not designed well, maintained, in disrepair, or missing.
  • Product Liability: your bike or the other vehicle could have defective parts or been repaired, maintained, or manufactured incorrectly.
  • Other Driver: also might not be following the rules of the road.

If any of these conditions exist, your case — even if you are partially liable for the collision — could allow me as your bike lawyer to argue for comparative liability.

California recognizes comparative liability, which states that each party might hold some responsibility for the collision. If your case were to go to trial, the judge or jury decides IF each party is liable for the collision and, if so, what percentage of liability each party is responsible for.

Consider this hypothetical situation: You are riding your bike at night. You have no lights on your bike. As you ride past a parked car, the driver opens his door and you are “doored.” You suffer serious personal injuries and your bike is trashed. The case goes to a jury trial.

The jury decides that because you were riding at night without lights — clearly against the law — you are partially liable for the collision. They may determine that you are 10% responsible and the driver is 90% liable. In that situation, if they awarded you a $100,000 verdict, you would receive $90,000 from the driver’s insurance company rather than the full $100,000.

Once you have admitted guilt at the scene (or in follow up conversations with the other driver’s insurance company), it becomes more difficult for your attorney to argue comparative negligence. It also means that it is more likely that the insurance company will either refuse to settle or low-ball its offer.

Trials are always more expensive in cost and in time than settlements, so if a fair settlement is possible, that is the more desirable route. (Of course you wouldn’t say THAT to an insurance company either because if it thinks you’re not prepared to go to trial you’re back to them either refusing to settle or low-balling their offer. It’s all a chess game with serious consequences for you.)

I have a friend who is a criminal attorney. He once told me the most difficult part of his job is trying to undo what his clients have told the police. As a civil attorney, I understand. It is very difficult to “unring a bell.” So, please, don’t admit liability or guilt. Let us sort that out later.

 

Jim Pocrass TrimmedFor more than 30 years, Jim Pocrass has represented people who were seriously injured, or families who lost a loved one in a wrongful death, due to the carelessness or negligence of another. Jim is repeatedly named to Best Lawyers of America and to Southern California Super Lawyers for the outstanding results he consistently achieves for his clients. Having represented hundreds of cyclists during his career, and Jim’s own interest in cycling, have resulted in him becoming a bicycle advocate. He is a board member of the Los Angeles County Bicycle Coalition. For a free, no-obligation consultation, contact Jim Pocrass at 310.550.9050 or at info@pocrass.com, or visit www.pocrass.com.

 

 

How Did the Chicken Cross the Road?

Jim Pocrass, Pocrass & De Los Reyes LLP

Jim Pocrass, Pocrass & De Los Reyes LLP

Bikes Have Rights™
By James L. Pocrass, Esq.
Pocrass & De Los Reyes LLP 
 
Have you ever been asked a question in which the answer seems so obvious that it seems like a trick question? This happened to me recently. A reporter asked me if it were true that, as he was told by a police officer, that you could be ticketed for riding your bike the wrong way in a crosswalk.

The question flabbergasted me. Since when are crosswalks one-directional? Pedestrians walk in crosswalks in both directions. That’s why there are buttons and/or signals on both sides of the street.

Requiring cyclists to only travel with the flow of traffic would lead to absurd results. You would have to cross two streets to go across the street.

The legislature passed Vehicle Code 21650: A bicycle operated on a roadway or a shoulder of a highway, shall be operated in the same direction as vehicles are required to be driven upon the roadway.

Subsection(g) states: This section does not prohibit the operation of bicycles on any shoulder of a highway, on any sidewalk, on any bicycle path within a highway, or along any crosswalk or bicycle path crossing, where the operation is not otherwise prohibited by this code or local ordinance.

The legislative comments to VC 21650.1 say: That had the Legislature wished to include the term “sidewalk” or “crosswalk” it would have done so.

All of this naturally leads me to opine that for the bicyclist to be in violation of VC 21650.1 (riding the wrong way in traffic), the cyclist would have to be riding in the opposite direction of traffic AND be either a.) on the shoulder of a highway or b.) on a roadway. (Again, assuming there is no local ordinance against riding in a crosswalk.)

Shortly thereafter, I received an email from a woman asking for my help. She was hit by a car while riding her bike across the street in a marked crosswalk. The police claimed the accident was her fault.

The law says it is legal for you to go from the sidewalk – against traffic – and ride into the crosswalk to the other sidewalk.

However, if there is a local ordinance that prohibits riding on the sidewalk, which many cities do, especially in commercial areas, AND the local ordinance specifically states that you may not ride through a crosswalk, then riding in the crosswalk and/or the sidewalk would be illegal. If the local ordinance does not state that you cannot ride on the sidewalk or in the crosswalk, then it is legal.

Vehicle Code 275 defines a crosswalk and does not limit it to pedestrians. Subsection(b) expands crosswalks to include: Any portion of a roadway distinctly indicated for pedestrians crossing by lines or other markings on the surface.

Legally riding on the sidewalk – slowly – and looking before entering a crosswalk for other vehicles, especially those making a right or left turn, and looking for pedestrians, should be legal (again, assuming there is no local ordinance restricting you from riding through a crosswalk).

There is even case law that specifically addresses the issue of riding a bicycle on a sidewalk against traffic. In Spriesterbach v. Holland (Case B-240348) the Court of Appeal, Second Appellate District, Division Four, ruled on April 9, 2013 that: . . .because VC 21650.1 requires a bicycle to travel in the same direction as vehicular traffic only when ridden on “a roadway” or the “shoulder of a highway,” it does not by its plain language require bicycles to travel with the flow of traffic when ridden on the sidewalk.

The court continued: Pursuant to Section 21200, (a) persons riding a bicycle. . .upon a highway has all the rights and is subject to all the provisions applicable to the driver of a vehicle by this division. . .except those provisions which by their very nature can have no application. . .because 21650.1 governs the direction bicycle travel on a roadway or shoulder. . .it does not by its plain language require bicycles to travel with the flow of traffic when ridden on a “Sidewalk.”

Riding fast through a crosswalk and not stopping to look is very dangerous. A cyclist that rides into a crosswalk at 10+ mph does not give the driver of a vehicle that is turning left or right time to see the cyclist.

I suspect that is why the City of Los Angeles passed L.A. Muni Code 56.15(1): No person shall ride, operate or use a bicycle . . .on a sidewalk, bikeway or boardwalk in a willful or wanton disregard for the safety of persons or property. This ordinance gives the police a lot of leeway to determine what is “willful or wanton disregard for the safety of persons or property.”

I believe that these topics are good areas for discussion, but legally, I would (and will) argue that, if no local ordinance disallows it, then it is legal to ride in a crosswalk in either direction if it is done safely.

By the way, the answer to the question in the title of this post is that the chicken crossed the road on a bicycle in a crosswalk after stopping and ascertaining that it was safe to ride slowly across the road. But you knew that.

For more than 25 years, Jim Pocrass has represented people who were seriously injured, or families who lost a loved one in a wrongful death, due to the carelessness or negligence of another. Jim is repeatedly named to Best Lawyers of America and to Southern California Super Lawyers for the outstanding results he consistently achieves for his clients. Having represented hundreds of cyclists during his career, and Jim’s own interest in cycling, have resulted in him becoming a bicycle advocate. He is a board member of the Los Angeles County Bicycle Coalition. For a free, no-obligation consultation, contact Jim Pocrass at 310.550.9050 or at info@pocrass.com.

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The Danger in Dog Day Afternoons

Jim Pocrass, Pocrass & De Los Reyes LLP

Jim Pocrass, Pocrass & De Los Reyes LLP

Bikes Have Rights™
By James L. Pocrass, Esq.
Pocrass & De Los Reyes LLP 
 

Recently, at the Los Angeles County Bicycle Coalition Open House, JJ Hoffman was telling me a story about her daily encounter with dog a couple of years ago. JJ said every day when she was riding to work she’d meet up with this same woman who was walking her dog unleashed.

Every day the dog took after JJ, which set the woman off who would run yelling behind her dog. It got so bad that JJ had the pepper spray out before she got to the street where she’d meet up with the dog. All that dog wanted, JJ said, was a taste of her calf.

JJ really didn’t want to spray the dog, though spraying the owner was tempting, and, luckily for everybody, JJ never actually had to take action.

Like JJ, I really like dogs. The dogs are doing what their instincts tell them to do: to chase prey. Irresponsible dog owners are another matter. They put the cyclist, the dog, and especially themselves in danger.

Bitten by a Dog

In California, if you are bitten by a dog, the owner is at fault. It doesn’t matter if the dog is leashed or not. It doesn’t matter if the owner knew or didn’t know that the dog had a “vicious nature.” California holds owners to “strict liability.” If you are bitten, the owner is liable for your injuries. There is no “free bite” in California.

Collision with or because of a Dog

When a dog begins chasing a cyclist, most cyclists tend to try to outrun the dog. When that happens, the dog’s brain goes into get-the-fleeing-prey mode, and the race is on.

Whether or not you can really outrun the dog, the real danger is in possibly colliding with the dog or colliding with something else because you lose control of the bike or you hit a pot hole or even getting hit by a motor vehicle when swerving or not being able to stop at a light or an intersection.

If you suffer serious personal injuries or your bike is damaged, again, the dog owner can be held liable. Your bicycle accident attorney should be able to obtain compensation for your injuries.

Compensation for Dog-related Collisions or Bites

The dog owner may be held negligent for:

  • Ineffective control of the dog.
  • Violation of the leash law and other Animal Control Ordinances.
  • Inadequate supervision or management of the dog.
  • Putting the dog in a condition in which the owner could have seen that the dog could cause injury to somebody.

Individual cities also may have their own animal control ordinances. For instance, one city limits the number of dogs that can be walked by one person at a time and a number of cities consider it a misdemeanor if a dog is tied to a parking meter, sign or bus bench without food or water nearby.

Some cities have ordinances specific to a breed. In Santa Monica a pit bull on public property must be muzzled.

The dog owner may be held responsible for compensating you for:

  • Medical bills from doctors, emergency rooms, hospitals, therapists, plastic surgeons, and for prescriptions.
  • Future medical bills to remove scars or to repair disfigurements. If the money for medical care is not recovered at this time, your health insurance might not cover any future medical procedures you need later, calling them “cosmetic.”
  • Time you had to take off from work resulting in lost income.
  • Lost future earnings because of disfigurement or disabilities.
  • Emotional counseling.
  • Pain and suffering.

Of course you can only recover compensation for injuries you suffer and care you actually need.

Hesitations to Holding an Owner Liable

One of the major hesitations a cyclist who is bitten by a dog often has in reporting a dog bite is the fear that the dog will be destroyed. A dog that has no history of biting is rarely “put down.”

The court takes into account the severity of the bite and the number of times it has bitten. It may rule that a dog must be muzzled in public or restrained in a particular way, such as kept behind a certain type of fence of a certain height.

Self-Defense

We all have heard that we have the right to defend ourselves against an attack from another person. What few people realize is that the law says you can defend yourself as much as is necessary to foil the attack. Your defense must be proportionate to the attack, and when the danger is past, so is your right to defend yourself.

This is a common law concept, and there is no explicit statement in common law that this also applies in a dog attack. More and more dog owners are counter-suing for compensation when their dog has been injured either intentionally or through someone else’s negligence.

So if you are going to use self defense, be sure that it is proportionate to the attack and that once the attack is over you stop, similar to how you would defend yourself with a human. That is a legally defensible act, though you could still find yourself in a lawsuit with the dog owner.

Personally, I subscribe to the belief that it’s rare to find a bad dog, but bad owners are much too plentiful.

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Insurance Companies Are Not Your Friend

 

Jim Pocrass, Pocrass & De Los Reyes LLP

Jim Pocrass, Pocrass & De Los Reyes LLP

Bikes Have Rights™
By James L. Pocrass, Esq.
Pocrass & De Los Reyes LLP 
 

Behind the warm and fuzzy jingles, the precocious animal mascots, and the deep-voiced spokespersons, insurance companies are faceless, heartless corporations whose one purpose is to increase premiums and to decrease payouts in order to make the biggest profits possible.

Simply put, THAT is why you need your own lawyer if you have a bike accident.

If insurance companies were “fair,” I’d be out of a job. I am pretty confident that unemployment due to insurance companies deciding to do the “right thing” is not something I have to worry about in my lifetime.

The reality is, after you have had a bike accident and the friendly insurance adjuster calls you, his (or her), goal is to come up with a reason not to pay you. If he can’t outright deny you compensation for your damages, he wants to diminish your case so the company has to pay you as little as possible.

Rest assured, everything you say to that nice insurance adjustor can and will be used against you in a court of law. That is why I – and every other personal injury lawyer – will tell you to refuse to speak to an insurance adjuster or insurance representative. Give the adjustor your lawyer’s name and phone number and hang up.

If you cooperate with the insurance adjuster and you are offered a settlement, it is likely that you are getting 10 cents on the dollar of the value of your case. I was once told by an adjuster that he received a bonus if he could settle a case within 48-hours.

Let me tell you about a case I handled. A client who had a Los Angeles bike accident injured his shoulder. He talked with the kindly insurance adjuster who sympathized and sent him to a doctor (an insurance company sending you to a doctor is a rare occurrence).

SURPRISE! The doctor recommended by the insurance company said my client’s shoulder was fine. The company offered my client $5,000 to settle his case.

My client’s shoulder really hurt. He finally engaged a lawyer (me), and I sent him to a doctor. The doctor I sent him to diagnosed a torn rotator cuff. He underwent surgery. We settled the case for $150,000.

Never forget that insurance companies have more knowledge than you do. They also employ an army of lawyers. They can throw more resources at your case than you even know exist. They have all the power, all the money, and the wherewithal to fight you when you are fighting alone.

You need an experienced personal injury lawyer to level the playing field. I have written here before about how to choose a lawyer, but it bears repeating to say you should look at how or where you got the referral, the lawyer’s experience in your type of case, and the results the lawyer has achieved.

Now go increase your uninsured motorist insurance to the maximum the insurance company will permit, and the next time you see an insurance company commercial, remember, they are not your friend.

*California Vehicle Code 21200: A person riding a bicycle or operating a pedicab upon a highway has all the rights and is subject to all the provisions applicable to the driver of a vehicle. . .

For more than 25 years, Jim Pocrass has represented people who were seriously injured, or families who lost a loved one in a wrongful death, due to the carelessness or negligence of another. Jim is repeatedly named to Best Lawyers of America and to Southern California Super Lawyers for the outstanding results he consistently achieves for his clients. Having represented hundreds of cyclists during his career, and Jim’s own interest in cycling, have resulted in him becoming a bicycle advocate. He is a board member of the Los Angeles County Bicycle Coalition. For a free, no-obligation consultation, contact Jim Pocrass at 310.550.9050 or at info@pocrass.com.

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Civil vs. Criminal Bike Lawsuits: How They Differ

Jim Pocrass, Pocrass & De Los Reyes LLP

Jim Pocrass, Pocrass & De Los Reyes LLP

 

Bikes Have Rights™
By James L. Pocrass, Esq.
Pocrass & De Los Reyes LLP 

 

Streetsblog LA reported recently on the 3-year and 8-months plea deal that was struck by Wendy Villegas, the drunk driver who struck three bicyclists, resulting in the death of one of them, Andy Garcia, on the bridge on Cesar Chavez Boulevard last Sept. 14. Villegas never even stopped. It is only because a witness followed Villegas and was able to get her license plate number that she was apprehended. When the police booked her at 7:15 a.m., it is reported that she was still intoxicated.

The post talks about the effect of the plea deal on Garcia’s family and friends. How they weren’t consulted about the deal and that their only permitted involvement was that they were allowed to read statements at the sentencing hearing about how Villegas’ actions affected their lives.

I bring this up because it is important for you to understand the differences between a criminal case and a civil case. There is a growing outcry that drivers who commit hit-and-runs should get stiffer penalties. Personally, I agree. However, when you are calling for stiffer penalties, do you mean stiffer criminal or stiffer civil penalties?

A criminal lawsuit is filed by the government (district attorney), not by the person or persons who have suffered at the hands of the accused. The district attorney is acting for the state (read as “society”) and ensuring the stability of society by punishing wrongdoers and deterring them and others from offending.

The hard truth is that you, as the victim or wronged party, are witnesses, at best, in the trial. The criminal case is about the wrongdoer being accused by the state of a criminal offense against society. Punishment for crimes against the state can be incarceration, fines, community service, or, in extreme cases, the death penalty.

In a civil suit, the lawsuit is brought by the wronged party (or parties). They are appealing to the court for relief. They are telling the court, “We have been injured because of the negligence or carelessness of the accused.”

The civil court’s response is to give the victim (the plaintiff), the chance to show how the accused (the defendant), harmed them. If the victim can prove they were harmed, then the court’s duty is “to make them whole.” This is usually accomplished by awarding the victim compensation for their injuries.

Before I discuss the issue of compensation making anyone “whole,” I want to talk about one more significant difference between criminal and civil lawsuits.

Everyone is familiar with the “O.J. trial.” O.J. Simpson was found not guilty by a jury for the murder of his wife Nicole Simpson and her friend Ron Goldman in a criminal trial. Yet in the civil jury trial, O.J. was found guilty and was ordered to pay the Brown and Goldman families approximately $40 million.

How did that happen? There are probably numerous reasons, but the prominent reason I want you to know is the differences in “standard of proof” in criminal versus civil trials.

In a criminal trial the “standard of proof” is that the district attorney must convince the judge or every member of the jury that the accused is guilty “beyond a reasonable doubt.”

In a civil trial, the “standard of proof” is that the victim must demonstrate that there is a “preponderance of evidence” that the accused is guilty. It only takes a judge or a majority of jurors to find the accused liable in a civil trial.

In the O.J. example, it is obvious that the jurors in the criminal trial had doubts of O.J.’s guilt, where in the civil trial, the lawyer’s for the families of the victims had to convince the jury that the evidence of guilt was “beyond the balance of probabilities.”

Returning to the issue of compensation of the law making anyone “whole,” everyone knows that money cannot bring back a loved one or heal the catastrophic injuries the victim and their family suffered, or give anyone back the time they have lost due to the wrongdoer’s actions.

Every client I have ever had for whom I obtained a multi-million verdict or settlement has told me that they would give back every penny to have their loved one back or the injury they suffered to never have happened.

In legal terms, “made whole” means through compensation (which is the only currency that is available to the court), to bring the injured party to the place they would have been if they had not been injured by the wrongdoer.  What “making whole” means in a legal sense varies by state laws.

In the Streetsblog post referred to earlier, the families are quoted as saying they are not interested in bringing a civil case. They have no interest in money. I understand, and they should do what is best for them. But never think that the compensation obtained for clients doesn’t matter to them. This isn’t “jackpot justice” as the public relations machines of Big Business and Big Insurance would like you to think.

The compensation allows people who have been injured at no fault of their own – or families who have lost a loved one due to the negligence or carelessness of another – to rebuild their lives. In some cases it has meant being able to adapt a home and car for a wheelchair or for retraining for another career or for paying for quality childcare. It invariably means being able to pay the hundreds of thousands of dollars for current and future medical care. In some cases the compensation is put in trust for a child’s future use, for college or other advanced education.

Just as importantly, when the wrongdoer is a government entity or a corporation, it sends the only punishment either of those understands: a hit to their bottom line.

There is no doubt in my mind that we need stronger criminal penalties against hit-and-run drivers. I also believe that we need to bring these people to justice in a civil court. It is only when their insurance companies start seeing what these people cost THEM (yes, I know that’s horrible, but that’s how companies work), will the insurance companies start applying their own form of punishments.

I know, after 30 years of representing some of the most wonderful people who never deserved the injuries and losses they suffered, that the compensation mattered to the victim and it punished the wrongdoer. That’s really all the courts can offer us.

*California Vehicle Code 21200: A person riding a bicycle or operating a pedicab upon a highway has all the rights and is subject to all the provisions applicable to the driver of a vehicle. . .

For more than 25 years, Jim Pocrass has represented people who were seriously injured, or families who lost a loved one in a wrongful death, due to the carelessness or negligence of another. Jim is repeatedly named to Best Lawyers of America and to Southern California Super Lawyers for the outstanding results he consistently achieves for his clients. Having represented hundreds of cyclists during his career, and Jim’s own interest in cycling, have resulted in him becoming a bicycle advocate. He is a board member of the Los Angeles County Bicycle Coalition.  For a free, no-obligation consultation, contact Jim Pocrass at 310.550.9050 or at info@pocrass.com.*

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Make Sure You’re Protected Before You Need To Be

Jim Pocrass, Pocrass & De Los Reyes LLP

Jim Pocrass, Pocrass & De Los Reyes LLP

Bikes Have Rights™
By James L. Pocrass, Esq.
Pocrass & De Los Reyes LLP 

 

I recently represented a cyclist who was the victim of a hit and run accident that broke almost every bone in his body and caused traumatic brain injuries. The driver of the car turned out to be a 19-year-old woman who was driving drunk. She claimed not to have known that she hit my client, in spite of his leaving nine teeth in her SUV’s back seat.

My client’s medical bills were astronomical and because of the brain injuries, his life would never be same. The compensation my client received from this case would be his primary source of income for the rest of his life. The woman’s insurance company wanted to settle the claim for “policy limits,” which is the maximum amount they are required to compensate a victim of serious personal injuries or even a wrongful death.

Policy limits is how much insurance you bought in a specific category. In California, you are required to carry car insurance of $15,000 per person for bodily injury liability; $30,000 per accident, which covers all persons hurt in one accident; and $5,000 for property damage liability for one accident. It is likely that your insurance policy includes a minimal amount of uninsured and under-insured auto insurance, but rarely is it a significant amount.

If you suffer catastrophic personal injuries or a family member is lost in a wrongful death due to a motor vehicle accident (car, bicycle, motorcycle, truck, bus, boat), your damages (medical and economic) could cost hundreds of thousands – or even millions – of dollars.

The person who was negligent is responsible for your damages. (In some cases, negligence may include one or more companies or a public entity like the state or a county, but for the purposes of this article we are focusing on individual drivers.) Their insurance company will cover those damages only to the limits of the individual’s insurance policy.

If the person who caused your accident owns a house or other property, you may be able to recover some monies from them after a long and expensive court process. You might even be able to garnish any money they earn or receive in the future.

But many drivers own nothing – or not enough – to ever come close to compensating you for your injuries or for your lost loved one.  You will be on your own to pay your medical and therapy bills, to subsidize your living expenses either for the short or long-term, to pay childcare expenses, and to replace your destroyed property.

The best way to protect yourself from this disaster is to carry as much uninsured and under-insured auto insurance as your insurance company will permit you to buy. The cost is pennies on the dollar.  The more you have to lose (meaning the more you own or could own in the future), the more uninsured and under-insured auto insurance you should have.

Uninsured and under-insured auto insurance protects you when you are hit by a driver who has no insurance (and a Los Angeles County sheriff told me recently that in approximately 50 percent of all motor vehicle accidents he sees the driver is uninsured). It also kicks in when you reach the maximum the OTHER driver’s insurance will pay. It compensates you for the difference between what the other driver’s policy limit is and the actual compensation you need to recoup from the damages caused by the accident.

Uninsured and under-insured auto insurance also protects you if you suffer serious personal injuries (or worse) in a hit-and-run accident. With the frightening rise in hit-and-runs, it is critical that you protect yourself.

In my client’s case, I was able to negotiate additional monies from the woman’s family. Though I was able to recover a multi-million dollar settlement for this client, it is still nowhere near what he should have received considering the damages she inflicted on him and for which he will have to live with for the rest of his life.

My hope for you is that you never need to use your uninsured and under-insured auto insurance, but I urge you strongly to get as much uninsured and under-insurance auto coverage that your insurance company will allow you to purchase, before you need it.

*California Vehicle Code 21200: A person riding a bicycle or operating a pedicab upon a highway has all the rights and is subject to all the provisions applicable to the driver of a vehicle. . .

For more than 25 years, Jim Pocrass has represented people who were seriously injured, or families who lost a loved one in a wrongful death, due to the carelessness or negligence of another. Jim is repeatedly named to Best Lawyers of America and to Southern California Super Lawyers for the outstanding results he consistently achieves for his clients. Having represented hundreds of cyclists during his career, and Jim’s own interest in cycling, have resulted in him becoming a bicycle advocate. He is a board member of the Los Angeles County Bicycle Coalition.  For a free, no-obligation consultation, contact Jim Pocrass at 310.550.9050 or at info@pocrass.com.*

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