A guest blog by Joee Reyes
Handling My Own Claim - Lessons Learned
I thought I was 'doing the right thing' when I attempted to handle an insurance claim on my own after being struck by a car. Call it being socially and ethically responsible. Maybe it was pride. I grew up with the stigma that you only need a lawyer if you go to court and that if something life changing, like a workplace injury, transpired. Truth be told, I should have placed the machismo in the back seat, done the right thing and asked for help.
In the spring of 2016, I was stopped at an intersection, resting on the white painted line. Since drivers tend to miss seeing cyclists, I placed myself in front of the car so the driver would see me. After looking at the driver, I proceeded through the intersection once the light turned green. I was 'greeted' from behind by the same driver with whom I had just made eye contact. The car clipped my rear tire. This caused me to bounce off the right fender and sent me sliding into the curb.
I quickly popped up to get out of the road so I would not get injured any further. Adrenaline works when you need it the most! I walked over to the sidewalk to lie down and figure out what had just happened. The driver of the car that hit me came over to see how I was. He did not seem too concerned about my well being. I asked him to stay while I called police so I could get a report written. That was the extent of my general knowledge about what to do if involved in an accident; call the police and file a report.
After police arrived and EMS conducted a basic physical field assessment, they gave me the go-ahead to go home. Since I was struck two blocks from my apartment, I opted to walk home and drag my broken bike with me. I had gotten it less than a week before the accident.
Thinking that this would be a straightforward claim, since there were no trips to the hospital and I had not been seriously injured, I was hoping for a quick turnaround to this whole ordeal. The faster I could put this behind me, the better. Irony and hindsight are the key takeaways from this whole ordeal. Nothing was quick and the gaps in getting everything resolved were about as painful as being hit.
Here's a 'not so quick' timeline of handling my claim:
April 2016 - Struck by a car:
○ I called the driver's insurance company the same day.
○ Two weeks later the police completed their report citing the driver at fault.
○ Insurance company confirmed receipt of my email regarding the claim on April 25.
May - Some progress on the claim is being made:
o Multiple adjusters working on various parts of the claim. Communication is not ideal.
o Requested to speak to adjuster handling property damage portion of the claim as I felt it was not being handled properly. Submitted documentation in April for damaged property but still had not heard back from adjuster.
o Was advised that the adjuster was actively working on the claim for a resolution.
June – Going on month two now:
o The bike was dropped off at a local shop so the insurance adjuster could make an assessment.
o Sent adjuster a copy of the sales invoice for my bike. Also sent the cost of aftermarket brakes that were purchased and installed. Cost was $99.00 for the parts and $90.00 to install.
o Nothing really out of the norm. All actions seem to be moving at a 'normal' speed.
○ On June 6, I requested to keep the damaged bike or have the ability to buy it back at the totaled cost after the wreck. There were the aftermarket fenders and a handful of parts that were not destroyed, e.g. the seat, that I wanted to keep.
○ The adjuster was not very professional in his response towards me. He informed me that I could not recover the value of the bike and keep it.
○ At this point, I was less than excited about handling my own claim.
○ Still had not heard back from the second adjuster handling the property damage portion of the claim even though I had been assured that it was being worked on. None of my calls were returned.
○ The adjuster changed his mind one day later and offered me the full value of the bike plus I was able to keep it. So all in all, this experience was not the worst, yet.
Mind you this is only month two of the claim. The settlement for the bike went relatively quickly, which was the most expensive part of this accident, but I still needed the issue regarding the damaged personal items to be resolved.
Never give up! That is what I was taught from my parents and from being in the military. Do not be bullied. Ask a lot of questions. But seriously, this is when having a lawyer would have been more ideal.
o On June 13, I sent another follow-up email asking about a settlement.
I would call once a month all summer long and leave a voicemail to the agent handling my claim. I was ignored repeatedly to the point I quit calling. I know, I know. I failed to live up to my own rhetoric about never giving up but screaming into the void was becoming pointless. At this time, I gave myself a break from the constant rejection. I’m human too. This whole insurance act was getting old. The runaround was beyond frustrating to say the least. I sent another email on September 12 with the receipts for the destroyed items as well as my medical bill. I followed up again in December.
Finally, six months later, on December 14, I received an email from the adjuster handling the PD portion and medical bill. Awesome!
○ Resolution………… almost. Finally, the last of my items were getting covered from the event. Taking a step back to analyze this whole scenario. I knew that I undervalued my medical costs but I was quick to settle to try move along the whole process. Sorting through the myriad of time and emotional effort this event took, I should have called a lawyer to handle it.
If you are ever in a similar situation, I highly recommend getting professional legal help. In my case, I met Megan a year later and wish that I had gotten to know her earlier to help me tackle the headaches that come with such a process.
A collaborative blog by: Maureen, with special thanks to Chris, Rebecca, Laura, and Wally.
Sharing a passion for the outdoors and spending time with family and friends on a bike ride was how they had planned their day when the unthinkable happened.
Laura Burress and Rebecca Schmidt were on a 53-mile bike ride in Columbia, KY when they were struck by a motor vehicle. The driver, Ronald Franklin, admitted to the use of illegal narcotics. Both women had to be airlifted by helicopter to the University of Louisville for their injuries. Franklin, who was taking Percocet and using cocaine, was not injured.
It was April 17, 2016 when Laura, Rebecca and her husband, Chris Schmidt, were riding their bikes on a beautiful spring day. They had stopped several times along the way to have snacks, rest and take in the beauty around them.
The ride was Laura’s longest to date. She bought her first road bike in March 2015 and had been riding just over a year when the accident happened. Rebecca, not new to cycling, started riding road bikes 15 years ago. Both women were wearing helmets, gloves, glasses and had a phone with them.
Laura remembers coming back into Columbia and riding around the square. Her last memory is turning onto Fairground Street and starting up a small hill. Rebecca, who was riding out front, has no memory of what happened before the accident. They were riding on or close to the fog line, which is the white line painted on the right side of the road and had the right of way. It was around 1:30 p.m. when Franklin, traveling at an estimated speed of 45 – 55 MPH slammed into Laura and then Rebecca. The impact sent Laura and Rebecca ‘flying.’ Laura landed 34 ft from where she was hit while Rebecca landed 24 ft away. Laura’s body took the brunt of the hit. Rebecca’s helmet shattered.
At the time of the accident, Chris was up the road about 100 feet waiting for Laura and Rebecca. He did not see the accident happen but he definitely heard it. He knew something was wrong and immediately turned around and headed back. He rode up to Franklin, who he described as slow to react, disoriented and very distant, and knew that he was impaired when he saw his eyes. “He had the look of a person who was under something,” said Chris. “When he looked at me, he didn’t even know what he had done.” Franklin said that he did not see the bicyclists and asked if he had caused the accident. Chris told Franklin to stay there and then asked a football player, who was practicing nearby, not to let Franklin leave. Franklin had gone back to his vehicle and was attempting to change his front right tire, which had been punctured by one of the bicycles. Chris suspects that Franklin was trying to leave the scene. According to the accident report, Franklin claimed that the bikes swerved out in front of him. This was disputed by witnesses.
Franklin, who has prior convictions, was arrested, charged with the following and tested for drugs:
- Operating a motor vehicle under the influence
- Two counts of assault in the 1st degree
- Disregard/failure to yield right of way to a pedestrian or cyclist.
He was booked into the Adair County Regional Jail.
Adair County EMS treated Laura and Rebecca and then transported them by ambulance to the local hospital, T.J. Health Columbia.
Laura’s husband, Wally, was at home at the time of the accident. He had just met Laura, Rebecca and Chris about an hour before to give them some fresh water. After the accident, Chris called Wally and Laura’s neighbor - a colleague of his from work - and asked him to let Wally know about the accident. Wally left for the hospital. He could hear her screaming when he arrived.
Around 4:30 that afternoon, Laura and Rebecca were airlifted to University of Louisville Hospital, a level 1 trauma center, due to the serious nature of their injuries.
To this day, Laura and Rebecca have no memory of the accident itself. Laura remembers waking up to severe and unbearable back pain. She was screaming as she was being moved from one stretcher or bed to another to get scans. The medical providers in Louisville told her that nothing was wrong with her back but the pain was horrible. “I remember it being so bad I just wanted to go back to sleep so I wouldn’t have to feel it,” said Laura. She feels that the University of Louisville did not listen to her and get to the root of her back complaints initially. “They sent me home with a spinal cord injury and fractures. I see pictures of how much road rash, cuts and bruises I had and think that had to have hurt. But I don’t remember the pain from that. I just remember my severe back pain.”
When Rebecca woke up, she had a neck brace on and was disoriented. She wanted to know where Laura was and thought that she had missed her son’s birthday, which they had celebrated three days earlier on April 14th. Rebecca sustained injuries to her head and was diagnosed with a concussion.
Both women were badly bruised, sore and swollen. They were treated for skin cuts and abrasions and were in extreme pain.
Somewhere between midnight and 1:00 a.m. Monday morning, they were released on pain medication from the hospital in Louisville. Rebecca was told to follow up with her local doctor if her symptoms worsened.
Wally, Chris and Rebecca’s son, Cole, had come up from Columbia and were there to drive them home. It was about a 1 3/4 hour ride home. Laura has no memory of leaving the hospital, the ride, arriving at home or the next few days. People came and went. What Laura remembers more than anything is the pain. It took two people to help her get up and go to the bathroom. She needed help to shower and to change clothes. Her back still hurt so badly and she was miserable.
The next days were filled with doctors’ appointments for Laura. She saw an orthopedic doctor for her back, an eye doctor due to blurry vision and a neurologist. She had to go to the hospital for additional x-rays because she was so bloated and was not able to have a bowel movement. A trip to the ER was necessary after developing a severe headache and feeling sick after drinking Magnesium-Citrate to help with bowel issues. A CT of her head and abdomen were done and she was discharged with an order for Golytely, which is used to clean out the intestines. Laura’s nurse friends came over on the weekend to help her. They tried everything including home remedies and had her walk around until she could not go anymore because of the pain. Needless to say, she was miserable the entire weekend. On Monday, Laura went to the ER in Bowling Green where more scans were done and Laura was given more medication. She was discharged and thought, “I will go home and die and I did not care anymore. My stomach felt like there was so much pressure inside that something could burst anytime.” The combination of pain and medications started taking a toll on her. By this time, she began thinking that maybe she was crazy and it was all in her head.
There were more doctors’ appointments that week. Laura saw a gastroenterologist and followed up with the neurologist on Thursday. She had not eaten anything since Sunday. The neurologist took one look at her and called an ambulance to her office. Laura went back to the University of Louisville ER. It was about a two-hour ride. “It was a bad ride. My back hurt so bad and my stomach had pressure. I was strapped to the board and could not move. I prayed to just make it through the next ten minutes. Then the next ten minutes,” said Laura.
It had been 11 days since the accident. That night, Laura had an MRI and neurosurgery was consulted. A neurosurgery resident told her that the MRI was abnormal. He would review the results the next morning with the attending physician. On Friday morning, the neurosurgery team came in and told Laura that surgery on her back was necessary in the next 2-3 days. She had an unstable fracture at L1-L2 with torn ligaments and the disc was protruding into her spinal cord. Laura did not want to have surgery and asked about her options. The attending physician responded, “Your back is not stable. We can put you in a brace but you will be paralyzed in less than three months.” Laura requested a second opinion by a neurosurgeon. He agreed that there was no other option but surgery.
The following Monday, Laura underwent a 6-hour back surgery in which two rods and seven screws were placed. She was in severe pain after surgery and although on IV pain medication, it was difficult to keep it controlled. On Tuesday, therapists helped her get out of bed. Moving was painful. She would get light headed and dizzy every time she got out of bed. The pain was always worse at night. “I would cry and cry in pain every night. I hated nighttime,” said Laura. It seemed like the pain was getting worse after surgery. The pain, dizziness and bowel problems continued. The pain medication caused Laura to hallucinate.
After two weeks at U of L, Laura was moved to Frazier Rehab. Here she began to get a sense of independence back. She learned how to get out of bed by herself, how to put on socks and shoes and a bowel program was started. It was determined at Frazier that Laura had suffered a mild traumatic brain injury. She had daily cognitive therapy along with physical and occupational therapy. The therapy made her so tired that she would sleep after every session. Laura was sensitive to noise and movement. The first time her therapist took her outside, she wanted to scream. She covered her face and then her ears with her hands. It was too much stimulation. After two weeks at Frazier, Laura went home.
Wally was able to get time off from work and stay with Laura from the moment she was readmitted to U of L until she was released from Frazier. “My employer let me take off work as much as I needed,” said Wally. “I often felt helpless, but I stayed as much as I could.” Each room at Frazier had an extra bed for a family member. Wally, a friend or family member stayed with her. She was alone only one night during the entire time. Once Laura came home, Wally did the laundry for months because the washer and dryer were in the basement and he helped out with housework more than usually.
Although Rebecca’s injuries did not require surgery, her recovery at home following the accident was difficult and painful. She had bruising up and down her leg and swelling of her arm. The cog from her bicycle left a bruise on her backside. Chris remembers that she did not move very much. She would lie on the couch and sleep a lot. There was not a lot of light in the room and no noise. The TV was never on. Rebecca was very sore and stiff. After about a month, she started therapy. She went through cognitive rehab therapy, physical therapy, saw a neurologist and went to a chiropractor and mental health counselor. She describes herself as tough country girl and a ‘badass’ who has always been able to cope and handle situations on her own, so it is hard turning to others for help.
The accident has been life-changing for Laura, Rebecca and their families. By now, the visible injuries have healed. It is the emotional and physical pain, which no one can see, that they struggle with every day. Rebecca lives with the frustration of others not understanding what she is going through because she looks ok. “People expect I should be normal again but I am not.”
- Rebecca receives 20-30 Botox shots in her head, neck and shoulders every three months. Some headaches are so severe that she has to sit or lie down in a dark, quiet room just to get her “head to calm down.”
- As a result of the brain trauma, she takes daily naps to function, suffers from fatigue, confusion, memory and concentration problems.
- She is irritable, anxious and sensitive to noise and light.
- She has been diagnosed with PTSD.
- She gets angry and frustrated. “The simplest things I used to enjoy from life are now points of deep frustration and pain.”
- She has gained weight, suffers from depression and has noticed changes in her personality.
- She does not have the energy for activities that used to make her happy.
- Being involved in her family’s life is important but she can still only spend a limited amount of time with her niece and nephews.
- Before the accident, Rebecca describes herself as happy, outgoing and fun to be around. She enjoyed socializing. Now, she does not want to be around anyone and is struggling to try to find happy things in life. “She is still not the same. She’s been in a dark place. She’s very reclusive. This accident has taken away her will,” said Chris when asked about how Rebecca had changed since the accident.
- She used to exercise and enjoyed flipping houses.
- Rebecca has tried riding a bike again but is fearful. Chris, who is supportive of Rebecca getting back on a bike, took her and Laura to a parking lot to get them riding again. Rebecca explained that within minutes of getting on a bike, she started vomiting and broke down crying. “No medicine fixes that,” she said.
- Rebecca’s short term memory is severely challenged. She has to write everything down and set reminders on her phone. The cognitive behavior therapist has been helping her to retrain her brain and teach her techniques to cope.
- Rebecca has missed important family events such as her son’s first college visitation and Chris’ Ironman races. She plans events around taking her medicine so that she can function in a reasonable manner.
- There are financial concerns that cause her stress. For eight months, they depended solely on Chris’ income. They have a son in college and debts.
- She has not been able to work a full day since the accident and wonders if she ever will. Rebecca is the Coordinator of Technical Support Services at Lindsey Wilson College. She works Mondays and Tuesdays until 2 or 3 in the afternoon and takes Wednesdays off to recover. She goes back to work Thursdays and Fridays. Chris explained that repetitive tasks naturally come back to her. However, projects out of the norm cause her brain to fatigue. “When she is rested, she is sharp,” said Chris. She keeps the books on their rental properties, communicates with the renters and does taxes. Rebecca worries that her employer is going to fire her for not being able to complete all of her job responsibilities and requirements. Rebecca has not received a full paycheck since the accident because she is unable to work 40 hours a week.
Laura, an RN, went back to work six months after the accident. She returned with limited hours and worked her way back to 40 hours per week in one month. In December 2016, the hardware in her back was removed and she was in the hospital for three days. She returned to work two weeks later and took a different position with her company where she could work from home ninety percent of the time. Laura has a standing desk for work and spends much of the day standing. Previously, she had traveled an average of 800 miles a week as a case manager covering Kentucky and Tennessee. She knew it would be difficult as a result of the accident to return to this position. Her employment opportunities in comparison to what they were before the accident are limited. She would have difficulty working as a nurse in many healthcare settings, especially ones that would require lifting and moving patients.
Her back hurts every single day and she believes that she will continue to deal with it the rest of her life. She is down from seven medications to two now for nerve pain and anxiety. Prior to the accident, she was not on any medication. Due to the side effects of opioid use, she has refused to take any such pain medications. Laura worried that she would get dependent. She manages her pain by stretching, exercising, ice, anti-inflammatories and a TENS unit. TENS is an acronym for transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation, which is a therapy that uses low-voltage electrical current for pain relief.
Like Rebecca, she struggles with riding a bike again and is anxious the entire time. She really wants to get back to riding because she thoroughly enjoyed it. Wally worries about Laura’s safety. He is scared the same thing will happen again and would like her to ride on trails or places where there are no cars. The accident has put fear in her unlike any experience before and has become a big part of her life. She had several experiences in the hospital from this injury that were unpleasant and potentially could have been life changing. She made her family promise not to leave her alone and to stay with her while she slept. When leaving Frazier, the nurse advised her to wear a large shirt over her back brace so as not to advertise that she was injured. This could potentially lead people to believe that she was on opioid medication, which could result in someone following her home or breaking into her house. This only added to her overwhelming fear.
In addition, Laura and Wally have dealt with the following:
- They have not been to the movies because Laura does not feel that she could comfortably sit through a movie.
- She and Wally missed their annual vacation last year because she had used all her PTO time for her injuries.
- Wally missed over a month of work between the hospital and medical appointments.
- She has missed two funerals and her nephew’s wedding due to travel distance. When she travels now, even relatively short distances, she has to stop frequently to give her back a break.
- Wally has not ridden his motorcycle as much since Laura got hurt.
- Memory loss and trouble focusing as a result of her traumatic brain injury.
On top of all of the medical issues, the Burress and Schmidt families had to deal with legal issues. Chris reached out to our firm just days after the accident. Megan represented Laura and Rebecca in the civil case and she was able to obtain full limits from all applicable insurance policies. While the civil case resolved quite quickly, the criminal case dragged on until September 12, 2017 when Franklin was finally sentenced.
There was lots of frustration for the families during the criminal case. The Commonwealth’s Attorney, Gail Williams, who was prosecuting the case, did not communicate important information and dates to the families. They were not given adequate time to plan for traveling or time off from work.
The Kentucky Crime Victim Bill of Rights Handbook states that victims shall receive prompt notification, if possible, of judicial proceedings relating to their case. It goes on to say that attorneys for the Commonwealth shall make a reasonable effort to insure that victims and witnesses are notified promptly of any scheduled changes that affect their appearances.
Chris said it was embarrassing and frustrating how the case was being handled. Instead of waiting to hear from William’s office, Chris started calling to get updates and information. “It was always like we were in trouble for asking questions,” said Chris. He ended up filing a complaint against Williams. Wally felt like Williams showed no interest in helping the families and was lazy. Megan stepped in and attempted to act as a liaison between the families and William’s office, and as a guide through the criminal matter. When Megan called Williams to obtain information on their behalf and per their request, he hung up on her. Following this phone call, Williams sent Megan a letter stating that he was refusing to discuss the case any further and would not engage in any further conversations with her. While he claims he was "more than happy to discuss the case with the victims," in truth, the victims were given the same treatment- radio silence, condescending tones, and last minute demands that they appear in court with no advance preparation or discussion.
Megan continued to remain closely involved with both families until the conclusion of the case. She had no ulterior motive other than to see that the system properly prosecuted Franklin and held him accountable. The victims wanted to ensure justice against the driver who had caused so much harm and needed someone to represent them. Megan reflects, "It was pure teamwork, and while hard and exhausting at times, we all stayed the course until the end. We just kept pushing until we got information and answers. How awful to have these victims treated like this by the appointed official elected to represent them." “Mr. Williams was not serving us. He was serving himself. Megan became our best friend. She’s part of our family. She cared about us as individuals. She made us feel like a family member working on a case for a loved one,” said Chris.
Thankfully, Williams retired from his position during the criminal case. Brian Wright, a new, more determined and involved district attorney stepped in and handled the case until resolution. Chris describes him as more thoughtful, attentive to detail and an excellent communicator ... a polar opposite of Williams.
Since Franklin pleaded guilty to two counts of assault in the second degree (a felon), failure to yield right of way and driving under the influence (both misdemeanors), there was no jury trial. As part of the plea agreement, Franklin had to agree to have his identity used in a bicycle safety awareness video. The video would also include his statement at final sentencing. Mr. Wright recommended a nine-year prison sentence.
At the sentencing, Franklin gave his statement in which he apologized to the victims and asked for forgiveness. What he did not do, was take responsibility for driving under the influence that day. Instead, Franklin stated, “Anybody, anybody that rides bicycles and stuff, I mean people needs to be really careful of them ‘cause they are easy to miss.” Following Franklin’s statement, Mr. Wright faulted Franklin for misconstruing the cause of the accident and emphasized that it is not that bicyclists are hard to see on the roadway; it’s that people should not be driving after using cocaine and taking Percocet because it puts everyone in danger. Chris did not feel like it was a heartfelt, sincere apology. Franklin’s words were empty.
Laura and Rebecca were able to address the court during the sentencing hearing. Laura spoke first and read her victim impact statement. “Before the accident, I was active, independent and confident. I ran, swam, biked and worked out at least five days a week. My activity level has changed dramatically because I currently am unable to do the things I once did.” She went on to say, “I have had to learn how to ask for help and accept assistance with things I used to do on my own.” She asked the judge to consider the pain and suffering that she had been through and to remember that the pain was not over.
Chris read his wife’s statement. Rebecca was not able to tell her side of the story herself in court that day because the stress, anxiety and emotions connected with the accident would have gotten her too upset to speak. In her statement, she expressed that her life would never be the same because of Franklin but that she was learning ways to adjust. “It’s sad. I have to adjust my life because of you, because you have problems with drinking, drugs and other things. If you don’t think you have a problem, please look at your list of convictions.” She hopes that Franklin never gets to drive again because his recklessness almost took away two lives. In her final question to Franklin, she asked whether he planned on being part of the solution or whether he would continue being part of the problem.
The court followed the recommendation of the Commonwealth and sentenced Franklin to nine years. Due to the seriousness of the event, probation was denied. Franklin received credit on his sentence since he had already served one year in jail. He is eligible for parole in February 2018.
As the families try to move forward, Chris encourages Rebecca to remain positive. He leaves her thoughtful notes and flowers and even set up a bike on a trainer in the house for her. He reminds her how fortunate they are and kisses and hugs her every day.
Laura and Rebecca do talk about the accident. Sometimes they laugh, sometimes they cry. Rebecca bounces questions off of Laura since she is a nurse. Rebecca says they are both pretty positive and glad they made it out alive.
Did Franklin receive his just sentence?
Rebecca has mixed emotions. “I am a badass but tender hearted too.” He had so many prior convictions that he should not have been on the road. As for Chris, he is pleased that the judge chose the maximum sentence. He also believes in grace in the world and said that if our system says that this is the penalty, then grace should be allowed. He hopes that Franklin changes for the best.
What advice do they have for motorists and bicyclists?
- Motorists need to slow down and share the road.
- Don’t drive distracted. Pay attention while driving.
- Bicyclists should do what they can to be safe and follow road rules.
- Life is too short. There is no reason for motorists and cyclists to hate each other. We can share the road.
- Act friendly and thoughtful.
- Choose roads that are less traveled.
Laura has a final piece of advice; if it’s something you enjoy, don’t give it up. Don’t let fear keep you from riding, myself included. I want to enjoy riding again!
On July 20, 2016, at around 6:00 am, Jeff was riding his bike on Highway 30 near Sidney, Nebraska. An avid cyclist and racer, Jeff was familiar with this highway, and he rode it regularly. He had a red, rear-facing blinky light on his bike. Jeff is 49, married, and has two sons in their early 20s. Jeff has been mountain biking since 1988, road cycling since 1999, and began road racing in 2002. He grew up racing motocross and riding freestyle BMX. Needless to say, Jeff can handle his bike, and he’s a savvy rider.
Unbeknownst to Jeff, a semitrailer was approaching him from behind. Although Nebraska has a 3-foot law, the driver did not move over 3 feet, and instead, struck Jeff from behind.
Local news covered the story (click HERE). Note the use of the word "accident" and "clipped." This type of reporting is the kind that minimizes these collisions (which are avoidable) and the injuries sustained. In a crit you "clip" a pedal. But a semi-truck hitting a cyclist? That's a crash...But, I digress.
Jeff recalls that moment: “… I was exploded off of my bike and went rolling through the ditch - I remained conscious through the entire accident. As soon as I was hit, I knew I'd been hit by a vehicle but I did not know what type of vehicle had hit me. I vaguely remember a vehicle coming up behind me; however, I do know that I was riding very close to the white line when I was hit.”
Jeff knew immediately his left arm was broken. A witness stopped and assisted Jeff; the witness happened to be an EMT from Denver and was able to stabilize Jeff’s arm. EMS arrived, as did the local sheriff’s office.
The semi-driver, David McKnight, eventually walked over to Jeff. Jeff recalls, “I remember him saying, "All I did was look down for a second. I'm so sorry."” At the time, Jeff’s left cycling shoe was nowhere near him, nor was his bike. (His Strava data showed the bike was moved several feet in the ditch post-collision, which was odd).
Jeff was transported by ambulance to the ER in Sidney, and then transferred to the ER in Scottsbluff, NE. His injuries included:
• Mid-shaft fracture of left humerus (upper arm)
• Muscle atrophy of left long-head bicep
• S.L.A.P. tear of labrum in left shoulder
• Deep laceration above left elbow
• Hairline fracture and sprained right ankle
• Severe bruising of left hip/leg
• Deeply bruised left calf/DVT (blood clot)
• Abrasions on lower back
• Cuts on head
Mr. McKnight, the semi-driver, works as a commercial driver. At the time, he was driving for Cash Wa Distributing. As part of our research and investigation in every case, we pull the at-fault driver’s DMV record. Imagine our surprise to find this commercial driver, employed to DRIVE LARGE VEHICLES ON PUBLIC ROADWAYS, had an extensive driving violation history. These infractions include: Improper Passing, Driving on Curb/Sidewalk/Shoulder, Driving during revocation, refusing alcohol test, driving under influence (1st), and driving during suspension (x2) between 1996 and 2016.
In his traffic/criminal case, Mr. McKnight had to decide whether to plead guilty or not-guilty to the charges filed against him for hitting Jeff. Mr. McKnight indicated that while he wanted to accept responsibility for his actions, he could not plead guilty because it might impact his employment as a commercial driver (!!). He was permitted to enter a plea of no contest - in which he accepted the sentence but did not have to say “guilty” on the record.
As you can see from Jeff’s statement at the hearing, this collision impacted his life and his body tremendously. Although McKnight seemed remorseful, his actions did not align with his words. He was charged with driving on shoulder and failure to give a cyclist 3-feet(and fined $25 for each of those charges-which his employer paid). He also received probation for 12 months to pay restitution, and to take an attitudinal awareness driving course. It would seem he got off with a slight slap on the wrist. His restitution remained unpaid until his company’s commercial insurer ultimately paid it. His company also paid his costs and fines associated with the traffic case.
Cash Wa Distributing’s insurer, Cincinnati Insurance, the company with whom we reached a settlement on Jeff's behalf, attempted to insert a confidentiality clause in the release that Jeff signed as a condition of the settlement agreement we reached with them. We refused- because we wanted to let the public know that Cash Wa keeps drivers like McKnight on their books, pays their traffic fines, costs, and their civil case settlements, and despite having extensive driving histories -- continues to employ drivers who hit cyclists on the roadways.
Enough of that...let’s talk about Jeff. Jeff invested his time and energy in showing up to every hearing in this case. He worked SO hard in PT and rehab to get back to being fit and race-ready. Jeff preached positivity, gratitude and optimism the entire time, start to finish. He consistently demonstrated grit and resolve. And let me tell you now, just how proud I am of Jeff and his involvement in the traffic case. When he could easily have blown it off and not gotten involved, he stayed involved and remained involved until the case was fully finished. I hope you are as inspired by his actions as I am. I hope if you ever have occasion to show up in a situation, that you do-- because it matters.
I asked Jeff, now that he can speak publicly about this ordeal, what he would share with other cyclists – what advice would he give, what words of wisdom would he share?
“My advice to other cyclists is, don’t read my story and quit doing something you are passionate about. I could not wait to get back on my bicycle. It took countless hours of physical therapy, and I now cherish every moment I can be out on the road. Always think: safety first. See and be seen! I now ride with a rear facing red light that has a built in camera that records all of my rides. I wish I had the camera the morning I was hit as the footage would have provided evidence that could have sped up the criminal part of this case. If you are ever involved in a motor vehicle/bicycle crash, DO NOT talk to the driver’s insurance company if they call you. I was contacted two days after my crash while I was on major pain meds. The adjuster was kind and assured me that once I completed treatment, they would reimburse me for all my expenses. Months later, the adjuster twisted words that I had said and tried using them against me in settling property damages. They record those calls, and they are not on your side. You are not required to give them a statement. Do not try to navigate the insurance waters on your own as they are a turbulent nightmare. Hire an attorney like Megan Hottman who specializes in cycling-related cases and can take on that burden for you. That morning in July could have turned out worse...I could have been killed! But God was looking out for me, and He still has me here for a purpose, and I am so thankful for that.”
A note of thanks to Cheyenne County District Attorney, Jonathon Stellar, who kept us involved and informed as the entire criminal case unfolded. We greatly appreciate District Attorneys and City Attorneys who let us have meaningful roles in those cases and who give our clients a chance to speak their minds in Court at sentencing hearings. It really, really matters.
Jeff is now working with Nebraska law makers to assist them in spreading the message about why their 3-foot law matters, and needs more enforcement. The law became effective in 2012. See Nebraska Revised Statute 60-6,133.
Jeff mentions a rear-facing camera with red light in his comments above- I use the same, it's a Cycliq, and it recently captured footage just like this. I recommend cyclists use them whenever possible:
"Typically it's the drivers who hit a cyclist from behind that try to get away from the scene because the cyclist is often not in a position to ID the fleeing driver,” Hottman continues. “Also cars that hit cyclists from behind tend to be traveling at a faster speed, hence the increased need to capture backward-looking footage. Forward footage is good, too, but most cyclists don't have the cash or desire to run two cameras on every ride.”
Check out today's Bicycling Magazine article on this topic!
The truth is, being harassed, buzzed (passed so closely from behind, that the hair stands up on your arm and neck), yelled at, incessantly honked at, had objects thrown at you (beer bottles and fireworks among the most common), or any other variety of these types of behaviors, is REALLY, REALLY SCARY to a cyclist out riding their bike. Some days it feels like motorists see a cyclist as the "dog they want to kick" after a bad day - when they take out their life's frustrations and anger and unhappiness on us - as we sit there next to them in the bike lane, or to the right side of their car on the roadway, just trying to get to or from our home or office, just minding our own business ...we are vulnerable and often unaware until the venom is directed our way. And man, is it unsettling.
Does this outweigh our true love and enjoyment of cycling? HELL NO! But do we need to discuss this? Yep!
At least weekly, I receive a text, email or message, such as the 3 texts below, received from friends within the past few weeks:
So - what can you do? Many folks choose to vent their experiences on social media, and while it feels really good to get the support of your community in response, the reality is that these posts don't do anything to solve the actual problem. Instead, here are my suggestions for actual conduct - actual response - actual behavior - which we hope can begin to curb these behaviors. At the very least, they serve the purpose of tracking these motorists and notifying authorities, in the event this person ends up threatening or hitting or killing a cyclist in the future.
Does it take time and effort to report these motorists? Yes. Is it time well spent if you felt threatened? Yes. Authorities cannot take action with social media posts/vents (and they won't). Save the information below in your phone for future use:
1) Call Colorado State Patrol Aggressive Driver hotline (or your state's equivalent). Here, it's *277 (*CSP) on your phone. The hotline has been approved for use by motorists to report drunk or erratic drivers, AND it's been approved for use by cyclists to report motorist aggression. They will want license plate numbers, vehicle description, driver description - as much info as you can provide (video or cell phone photos are a bonus!).
CSP claims that it collects this information and once a driver has been reported 3 times, will visit the driver AND issue a citation where appropriate. This is something well worth your time.
2) Call your local law enforcement authority (especially if this happens within a City). You can simply call 911 if you don't know it, and ask the dispatch to connect you to the local jurisdiction NON-emergent line. Take the time to give them your statement, all of the information you collected, and they may even ask you to remain on scene so they can come and take your statement in person. I've seen some local authorities then contact the motorist, if still in the area, or attempt to locate them to have a discussion and/or issue a warning or ticket if they feel it is warranted.
3) When you get home, visit the Close Call Database, and enter all information in that you can. This is not a law enforcement website - it is privately run by a cool guy named Ernest, who is doing his best to collect this information, and if you sign up for it (free) via strava, you'll also get notifications when other riders update the database concerning incidents in your area. The mission is also to gather information about repeat offenders in the hopes that information can then be provided in comprehensive form to law enforcement.
4) If you do believe that sharing the photos of the vehicle/driver/license plates will serve your social media circles, feel free to post them as a general "heads up" to your friends. I have seen these posts come full circle, where someone else knew the person in the photos and sometimes those ties result in good outcomes. (For example the driver is mortified to learn that their boss' best friend saw a post about them harassing a cyclist on FB).
Finally - you've heard me preach this before, but camera footage makes documenting these incidents even easier, and makes law enforcement's job easier as well, if the video clearly shows the license plates, vehicle, and driver... identification becomes less of an issue and videos don't lie. Be Proactive. Don't just vent online. Make the calls above. It matters!
BLOG ADDITION (8/7/17): I sought some input from one of my most trusted law enforcement resources and he's given me permission to share his email here:
We first met Cheryl in 2012. She was hit by a car while riding her bike, and she hired our firm to represent her. Following the close of her case, she joined our cycling team, and began racing road races and criteriums. Unfortunately, she suffered a bad crash last season during a race, and her injuries prompted surgery and a lengthy recovery.
Cheryl is the consummate ambassador, teammate, friend, and source of inspiration. She reminds us that we can let setbacks keep us down, or we can fight back and turn them into sources of motivation and fuel for our fire- in whatever endeavor we pursue. Please - enjoy her story!
*With huge thanks to Cheryl, Justin Balog, and the Dirty Kanza! (Click on the image below to enjoy the video!).
10 Things I Wish I Knew When I Started Cycling
Guest Blog by Tim McAndrew
1. A good bike fit is worth every penny. Having the wrong set up, even if it’s only off by a few millimeters, can make riding a misery, particularly on longer rides, and can lead to chronic injury and pain. So do yourself a favor: spend the $150-200 to get a proper bike fitting from a reputable bike shop -- your body will thank you later.
2. Unclip early. Until you master unclipping from your pedals thoughtlessly, a tip that will serve you well is to unclip a foot before you even apply the brakes. This simple exercise will train your brain appropriately and will hopefully keep you from falling straight over at a crowded intersection (and bruising both your body and your dignity).
3. Bonking sucks. If you’re heading out for a 1-2 hour ride, typically you won’t need to bring any food -- a 16-20oz bottle of water will do you right. However, go out for any longer and you’re going to need to bring along some fuel. This is a lesson you don’t want to learn the hard way because bonking sucks! A good rule for new riders is 100 calories for each 20 mins on the bike. And get into the habit of always bringing a little more than you think you’ll need -- sometimes your body just demands a little more fuel than normal. Worst case is you’ll be the Eagle Scout of your group ride and be able to feed the one dude who forgot to pack enough fuel that day.
4. Speaking of Eagle Scouts. Unless you live in a climate where any type/amount of rain will bring utter joy and relief, pack yourself a rain jacket or vest. This is especially true if you’re riding in the mountains or in a damp environment like the UK or the Northwest US. Being able to cover your chest when the rain/temperature falls will protect you from losing critically valuable heat and energy. It will also make the ride significantly less stressful and more enjoyable.
5. Spend $40 on a chain every 1500 miles. The last thing you want to hear your local wrench say is: “dude, you're gonna need a new chain ring and cassette.” Typically this happens because you’ve ridden with the same chain for so long that it’s stretched and carved shark teeth into those components. By swapping out your chain every 1500 miles or so, you’ll extend the life of your drivetrain by years, save yourself a lot of money, and save a lot of unnecessary time your bike needs to spend in the shop.
6. Rinse. Lube. Repeat. Like looking after your drivetrain, get in the habit of always wiping down your bike, and especially your chain, after a ride -- it will extend the life of your bike and its parts. For your chain, wipe it down with a lint-free cloth, apply fresh lube, and then wipe off the excess. This will keep your chain shifting smoothly and keep you from being the annoying squeaky wheel on your next group ride.
7. Group ride etiquette part I: Steady as she goes. When you’re out for a ride with more than yourself, there are some generally accepted group riding rules to follow. The first of these (you can read more here) is that everyone is expected to take a turn at the front, even if it's for a short "pull." When it is your turn, fight back the urge to show everyone how strong you are. Instead, do your best to ride at the same tempo / speed you were riding when you were in the pack. This is especially true if your turn at the front starts at the base of a climb – dropping your friends like this will put you in the doghouse. So, pay attention to your speedometer while you're in the pack and then try to hold that speed steady when it's your turn at the front. Master this skill and you’ll be looked at as a seasoned rider and avoid the bitter scorn and curses of your riding buddies.
8. Group ride etiquette part II: Point out the shit. Another responsibility when you’re on the front is to point out the hazards in the road to those behind you. This includes rocks, potholes, sticks, debris, gravel, etc. The way to be a pro at this is by concentrating on what’s ahead of you so you see it early, can gracefully maneuver your bike away from it, and simultaneously use the hand that’s closest to the obstacle to point it out. If you ride alone a lot and only do group rides occasionally you’re going to have to concentrate to remember your role here. And remember, if someone ahead points something out, you too should repeat the gesture so those behind you can avoid the obstacle.
9. Know Thine Categories. Even if you don't race, understanding the very basics of racing categories helps understanding when others are talking about racing. Someone who races Men's Cat5 or Women's Cat4 is a beginner. This is where ALL racers start. Typically you cannot race at any higher category, regardless of how talented or gifted you are as a racer, without having earned your stripes in the beginner's ranks. Here’s where you learn how to ride in very close proximity to others, get a feel for how a group ebbs and flows, learn the importance of holding a line, and hopefully how to avoid the inevitable crashes that occur. Once you’ve done your time and/or start crushing the field, you’ll be upgrade to Cat4 (Cat3 for women). And from there you begin the march up the ranks until you reach your maximum potential. Who knows, maybe you’re a Cat1 Pro and you don't even know it.
10. Turn off the Computer. Bike computers are great. They're very useful tools for gauging speed, distance, output, etc. But it's easy to get sucked into becoming a slave to the output from your bike computer, especially with apps like Strava and Training Peaks egging you on. Do yourself a favor, and occasionally turn off the computer and just get on your bike and go for a ride. This can be harder than it sounds when you’ve become a “slave to the device” but when you make the effort to do it, you’ll be rewarded with the joys of why you probably started riding a bike in the first place. So soak it up. Enjoy the scenery. Stop and take a picture. Do whatever it is that makes you one with the bike and revel in it!
... Speaking of pictures, here are some shots of our Century + Triple Bypass (replacement) Ride last Saturday - seriously, you CANNOT argue with the scenery, fun, friendship and memories that long rides with friends provide! (Photo Credit: Megan Hottman, Austin Sholly, Tim McAndrew).
Huge thanks to our station co-sponsors, Feedback Sports and Suga me Sweet, and to all the riders who stopped by our station - You all made it our best year yet!