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Q&A with New York Personal Injury Attorney Maurice Pianko About Bicycle Wrecks

Maurice Pianko of Pianko Law Sitting at His Desk
Pianko Law Group 
January 28, 2022

This subject is very important to us at the Pianko Law Group, mostly because of our close relationship with professional triathlete Matt Russell. In 2017, during the cycling portion of the Kona Ironman World Championship, a speeding car hit Matt. He went through the car's windshield, suffering massive injuries. But in a great testament to his athletic prowess and inner strength, he placed 6th in that very same competition the next year.

Professional athletes are certainly not the only bicycle accident victims. The overall statistics have been creeping up over the past several years. More people now see cycling as a legitimate alternative to driving in many situations. Most people, including myself, have no desire to ride 112 miles, as Matt does. However, for relatively short trips of a half-mile or so, bicycling is a great alternative.

Bicycling is also dangerous. The average car weighs about 4,000 pounds, while the average bicycle weighs about 20 pounds. So, a collision between these two vehicles usually ends very badly for cyclists.

Do bicycle safety laws keep people safe?

Unfortunately no. Usually, lawmakers base bicycle safety laws on statistics and conventional wisdom. And, as Springfield vigilante leader Homer Simpson once adeptly pointed out, people can use statistics to prove anything. Additionally, conventional wisdom isn't always right. Even though something seems like a good idea, it might not be a good idea.

Concrete pillars which divide vehicle traffic and bicycle traffic lanes are a good example. These obstacles limits driver visibility. And, many drivers do not keep a very sharp eye out for cyclists to begin with.

There is a psychological effect as well, commonly known as bikelash. Some motorists believe these pillars are eyesores. They also do not like the fact that cities usually shrink vehicle traffic lanes to create bicycle lanes. It's a territorial thing. Bikelash affects the way these drivers treat, or rather mistreat, cyclists.

Speaking of psychological effects, there is evidence of a similar relationship between bicycle helmets and bicycle safety. When some motorists see helmeted riders, these drivers take additional risks. They subconsciously assume that since the rider is wearing a helmet, the driver could survive a collision.

What causes bicycle wrecks?

We touched on lack of visibility above. In one form or another, driver inattention causes most bicycle wrecks. The two kinds we see the most are left cross and right hook wrecks.

In a left hook wreck, a tortfeasor (negligent driver) is usually waiting to make an unprotected left turn against traffic. WHen these drivers think they see a break in traffic, they quickly accelerate to shoot through the gap. But since bicycles are so small and slow-moving, these drivers often don't see these riders. So, they pull directly into the oncoming rider's path at almost full speed.

After these accidents, tortfeasors often say something like "You came out of nowhere" or "I never saw you." These people think these statements shift accident blame to the cyclists. But legally, these drivers are admitting they failed to keep a proper lookout.

Right cross wrecks often involve the aforementioned concrete dividers. Usually, when motorists turn right, they only look to the left. As a result, they may not see a cyclist in the adjacent bike lane, mostly because there's probably a concrete pillar between the tortfeasor and victim.

Such lack of visibility certainly does not excuse negligence. "It was dark," "the sun was in my eyes," and similar excuses might make drivers feel better or might explain a football playoff loss. But they never hold up in court.

What injuries do these victims sustain?

Following his 2017 wreck, Matt's injuries included a neck injury and a concussion. Head injuries are among the most common bicycle wreck injuries. Thin bicycle helmets offer some protection in very low-speed wrecks, usually when riders accidentally turn too sharply and fall off their bikes. But in a high-speed collision, a bicycle helmet might as well be a hoodie.

Matt was able to recover sufficiently, both physically and emotionally, to get back in the saddle. But even he would tell you that he still has some head injury symptoms. These wounds are permanent. Once brain cells die, they never regenerate. Matt only spent a few days in the hospital after his accident. But he spent several months in physical therapy. His brain injury therapists had to train uninjured areas of his brain to assume lost functions.

Many of these victims also sustain broken bones. Actually, the force of these collisions is so extreme that these broken bones are more like crushed bones. So, doctors must use extreme interventions, like metal rods and screws, to reconstruct them. As a result, these victims often permanently lose some functionality, like range of motion in a shoulder.

What legal remedies are available?

Basically, negligence is a lack of care. The duty of care requires motorists to obey the rules of the road. That legal responsibility includes maintaining a proper lookout and yielding the right of way.

If a lack of care caused injury, the tortfeasor must pay compensation. This compensation usually includes money for economic losses, like medical bills, and noneconomic losses, like pain and suffering. These damages do not "punish" people for making mistakes. Instead, it's a responsibility thing. If I accidentally wash whites with colors and ruin my wife's blouse, I must buy her a new blouse and probably buy her dinner as well. The same principle applies in vehicle collision matters.

Driver error causes about 90 percent of the vehicle accidents in New York. So, a few are a little more complex, usually because they are related to a defective product. If a tire blow-out, brake failure, or other mechanical mishap caused a crash, the manufacturer is usually responsible for damages.

Why should a victim hire a New York accident lawyer?

I knew you'd get to his question eventually. Technically, victims do not need lawyers in these situations. But  insurance companies almost immediately lawyer up in these situations.

It's not easy for an experienced New York personal injury attorney to take on a gaggle of insurance company lawyers. These lawyers have almost unlimited resources. Insurance companies collect over $1 trillion in premiums every year. Individuals have almost no hope of obtaining fair compensation.

Additionally, when lawyers negotiate with doctors, body shops, and other accident-related providers, these professionals often reduce their bills. So, the victim doesn't just get a larger settlement. Victims with lawyers get to keep more of that settlement money.

If you were hurt in a bicycle or other accident, contact the Pianko Law Group, PLLC for a free consultation. Virtual, home, and hospital visits are available.

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