Client Stories

Not His Fault: Driver Maintains Innocence Despite Citation for Careless Driving

He received a ticket for careless driving but never took responsibility for his actions. He went right into, “it is not my fault mode” and stated that cyclists always bike too fast on the road where the collision happened. That statement is the first thing Erin Entlich remembers hearing from the driver while she was lying in the road. She found his lack of concern for her well-being alarming.

I was not cycling ‘too fast’, and it’s incumbent upon him to be watching for moving vehicles whether that’s a car or a bike or a scooter. His actions could have killed me!
— Erin Entlich

Since the driver lives on 32nd Avenue, Erin feels that he should be acutely aware of how busy of a cycling road it is. “It would not kill him to be patient and wait a few moments until I had passed to turn into his driveway.”

Erin, mom to two children, fitness enthusiast, triathlete, health coach, and yoga teacher, started biking about sixteen years ago. She likes being outside and loves the freedom and sense of fun she gets while biking, as well as the satisfaction of covering distance by virtue of her own leg power! 

On the day of the crash, June 23, 2018, she was riding eastbound in the bike lane on 32nd Avenue near Youngfield Street in Wheat Ridge, CO, around 3:00 pm. Erin was wearing a bike kit and helmet, riding under the posted speed limit, was not wearing headphones, or distracted in any way. 

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She saw that there was a car in the turn lane at the bottom of the hill going westbound. The car appeared to be stopped, and Erin had the right of way, so she continued cycling. All of a sudden, the driver turned left in front of her into a driveway. Unable to stop, Erin hit the front passenger side of the car, rolled over the hood, and then landed on the road on the other side of the car, several feet away. 

A cyclist riding behind her witnessed the crash and called 911. EMTs and police showed up moments later. After assessing her injuries, which were mostly contusions and abrasions as well as a chipped tooth, Erin waived the ambulance ride. 

In hindsight, Erin wishes she had known to go to the hospital even if you do not think it is necessary. “There’s so much adrenaline in the moment, and I wanted so desperately to be okay that in my mind if I didn’t need the ambulance, then it wasn’t that bad of a crash,” she explains. She also wishes she had known not to move after the crash and had known not to feel pressured into giving a statement to the driver’s insurance company right away because you can still be in shock or fuzzy on the details. 

Most states, including Colorado (C.R.S. 13-21-301), have laws forbidding insurance companies from contacting you for at least two weeks post-crash, since you are likely in pain, possibly on pain meds, distracted, overwhelmed, or uncertain about what your injuries even are.  Yet, many of our clients report to us that within days (and sometimes even hours!) of their bike crash, they have been contacted by the insurance company for the at-fault motorist, and they have been pressured into giving a statement which is almost always recorded. 

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Erin ended up going to urgent care first thing the next morning, as she was unable to move her left arm or heavily weight her right foot. She also had severe neck pain and whiplash; she could not lift her head without supporting her neck for a couple of weeks following the crash. Erin ended up having to do several months of vestibular therapy. She also suffered a deep bone bruise to her left shoulder. Many of her symptoms—ocular migraines, persistent headaches, and continued neck pain—did not present until later.

What surprised her most going through this experience is that her own insurance was a nightmare to deal with in terms of getting them to pay out her MedPay claim. “You assume the driver’s insurance will be difficult or provide push-back, but you think your insurance is going to protect you and, to date, they have only paid out about half of my policy amount and continue to deny certain claims,” says Erin. 

Erin knew that if she did not get back on her bike sooner rather than later following the crash, she might never ride again. Three months after the collision, she was back riding again, opting for a bike path instead of the road.

“I was nervous and anxious and hated every minute of it, but it helped me conquer my fears,” she says. She started riding again with some regularity in June 2019, about a year after the crash, and went on to ride the rest of the summer. It took about three months of regular riding for her to stop feeling anxious on the bike, though, especially if she was riding on the road. Cars turning left in front of her were a huge trigger. “I feel good now, relaxed and confident again, but I am most definitely more cautious when I ride, which maybe is a good thing.” 

Erin still finds herself gravitating toward bike paths, especially if she is riding alone. If she is on the road, she now prefers to be with other cyclists. At the time of the collision, she was riding alone. Erin wants other cyclists to know that just because you are riding in a bike lane and obeying the rules of the road, you are not necessarily safe. Drivers are distracted more than ever and not necessarily watching for cyclists.

Three months after the collision, the district attorney in Jefferson County Court dismissed the charge of careless driving and offered the driver a plea deal. He pleaded guilty to a lesser charge—failing to yield the right of way on a left turn—and paid $119.50 in fines and court fees. He got off easy.

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Erin believes that the simplest thing that we can all do is to be good bike ambassadors—obey the rules of the road. “If we want drivers to respect us, we need to bike responsibly, ride single file on roads, not run lights.” She has added more lights to her bike and now wears a super fluorescent bike helmet. Erin feels that harsher penalties for drivers is a good start to make cycling safer as well as education for both cyclists and drivers on how to make the roads safer. Erin has joined our 2020 Bike Ambassador team as one of our team co-captains.

Do you know what to do if you are involved in a crash?  View this Instagram post of ours for a detailed response.  

The Trend in Plea Deals Involving Injured Cyclists: Lesser Charges, Lighter Sentences

This ^^.

This ^^.

If you have been reading our recent client stories, you probably noticed that in many crashes involving bodily injury to a cyclist, the city or district attorney often offers drivers a plea deal. These plea deals, which result in reduced charges and penalties/fines, seem very unjust to the injured cyclists.  

While their injuries may require surgery, physical therapy, time off from work, medical bills, pain, loss of independence, an inability to function daily, stress, and anxiety—just to name a few—the drivers get back to daily life and driving their cars almost immediately. Many will not even have to go to court; they will plead guilty to a lesser charge and pay minimal fines.  

Yet, the cyclist will not be able to get back on the bike right away. Some will never get back on because they are afraid of another collision or death.  Injured cyclists continue to deal with the physical and mental toll the crashes take on their daily lives and the possible lifelong impacts.

This is the case of our client, Ken Andrews, who was t-boned while riding in the bike lane on his way to his job in downtown Denver in June 2017.  The driver, initially ticketed for taking the right of way on a left turn (a three-point violation), was offered (and she accepted) a plea deal for operating a vehicle with defective headlight equipment (a one-point violation).  She paid $135 in traffic violation and court fees.  

Ken, on the other hand, was diagnosed with:

  • A grade 1 acromioclavicular (AC) shoulder separation on his left side.

  • A fractured scapula on his left side.

  • A sprained wrist to his left hand.

  • A small, painful “bony” lump, or ganglion cyst, at the base of his right thumb.

  • Severe muscular, tendon, ligament joint bruising in his right shoulder and a partial labral tear.

  • Road abrasions along the underside of his right elbow and around his right knee cap.

  • Overall bruising along left and right side of his body.

  • Continued pain and decreasing functionality in his right arm and right elbow.

Following the crash, Ken’s overall quality of life diminished, as he could not function independently to complete regular daily activities like bathing, dressing himself, and preparing food. He was not able to care for his four-year-old daughter. Ken could not hold his daughter and provide her the physical attention to which she was accustomed.  He was also very concerned about making a full recovery and the possible long-term problems. 

Not only did he have to deal with the physical impacts of the crash, it also took a mental toll on him. It was six months before Ken was ready to get back on his bike and back riding on the streets. He was nervous the first several months, and it was very hard to trust traffic. Ken, who has been riding bikes since he was eight years old, commutes both in Denver and Boulder as much as he can. He is an avid mountain bike rider and races both mountain bike and cyclocross. He is riding again, but it does not take much for him to get nervous on the road. Ken rides much more defensively now and tries to ride on bike paths exclusively, if possible, whereas he used to have no qualms about riding in traffic around the city.

Ken feels that Denver law enforcement did not charge the driver appropriately. Instead of issuing her a ticket for careless driving, the ticket was for taking the right of way when turning left. If, in principle, law enforcement ticketed drivers for careless driving when cyclists are involved, and city and district attorneys did not offer plea deals, drivers might actually be more cautious around cyclists knowing they could lose their license or even serve jail time. If you are convicted of a careless driving charge, your insurance rates might increase, your insurance company could drop you, and your permanent driving record will be reflected. Ken’s case never got that chance here.

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What does Ken want drivers to know about keeping cyclists safe? Pay attention, put the phone down, and respect that there are bike lanes in Denver. Drivers are responsible to monitor them for traffic just like other cars. Be aware that when making turns, especially in the city, there are lots of cyclists and pedestrians. He believes that it is crucial to enforce the laws that exist and that law enforcement should apply them correctly. “Then city and district attorneys must stand behind them!” he says.  Ken also emphasizes that the number one thing cyclists need to do is obey traffic laws and remove the stigma of cyclists. “We need to be seen as complete equals to the auto user.” 

Ken wishes more cyclists knew how bad the imbalance is between auto users and cyclists in the eyes of the legal system:

While the laws in effect do protect the more vulnerable, enforcing them seems to be non-existent in many ways. I think if more cyclists were truly aware of how poorly they will be treated by the justice system and the insurance companies, they would be more active/involved in protest and demanding better bike infrastructure and enforcement habits. It seems most don’t recognize how bad it is until they have the unfortunate experience of going through a collision and the legal process.
— Ken Andrews

He also wants cyclists to know that insurance companies will do everything to pin blame on the most vulnerable party (pedestrians/cyclists) in the case, and how they use smaller cases to test the system, ie, being difficult to resolve on principle even if fault is extremely clear.  Through his experience, he learned “how completely irritating the insurance adjuster system is, and the extents that the insurance company goes to make the cyclist at fault when the defendant is clearly at fault.” Ken was surprised how little pain and suffering is valued and how hard it is to prove.

In order to have an impact to make cycling safer, Ken is involved with several bike advocacy groups. He has always been a member of PeopleForBikes and was involved with Bicycle Colorado and their work to get the recent vulnerable road user law (SB19-175) passed that increased penalties for careless driving causing serious bodily injury to a vulnerable road user (VRU). In the effort to pass this law, he testified before the State Senate while the bill was moving through committees. 

Hottman Law Office has spent years educating law enforcement on cycling laws here in Colorado. Our bike advocates and elected officials gave us the VRU law as of May 29, 2019, which will dock the driver twelve points, effectively taking their license for a year. The DA need only prove careless driving (same as they would normally do for a four-point careless charge) plus serious bodily injury (doctor signs a form saying injuries were serious as defined by statute) plus VRU (cyclists are defined as VRUs). Yet, we are seeing serious resistance from DAs here in the front range area. 

Drivers are not being adequately punished. They hit and injure cyclists. There is now a law to punish drivers—12 points assessed to their license. This needs to be the norm in these cases across the board. You can have the police do everything right, and you can have a great law on your side, but until it gets used, nothing changes.

It’s time to step up and take licenses and driving privileges away from drivers who hurt cyclists. Period!

Click HERE to read more about Beth McCann, Denver’s DA.

Denver District Attorney’s Office

Address:
201 W. Colfax Avenue
8th Floor
Denver, CO 80202
Email Address: info@denverda.org
Fax Number: 720-913-9035

When is Enough, Enough?

Driving is a Privilege, Not a Right!

Eighteen driving convictions from 1991 to 2016 including speeding, careless driving, following too closely, driving too fast for conditions, failing to yield right-of-way, driving vehicle while ability impaired by alcohol/drugs, operating an uninsured motor vehicle on a public roadway as well as numerous convictions for driving an unsafe/defective vehicle or operating a vehicle with defective/missing headlamps (probably cited for a more serious violation and then a plea deal was reached).

Yet, this driver was still behind the wheel of a vehicle when he crashed into our client Drew Chambers on October 3, 2017. The officer issued him a citation for careless driving resulting in injury to which he pleaded guilty on January 30, 2018. 

It was early afternoon when Drew was returning home from a ride. He was riding eastbound in the bike lane at 26th Avenue in Lakewood, CO, when the driver of a Subaru Outback heading westbound collided with Drew while turning left. 

The front of the Subaru hit the rear wheel of Drew’s bike causing him to be thrown 10-15 feet into the street and bike lane. His head hit the pavement first. Drew rolled onto his back and remained stationary, as he was worried about a neck or back injury.

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The driver claimed that he did not see any oncoming traffic, but Drew was clearly visible as he was wearing a bright blue kit with green trim. He had the right of way and was not speeding. As Drew was approaching the driver head on, he could see the driver clearly not looking at him when he decided to turn.  Drew yelled, swerved, and tried to slow down but knew a crash was going to happen, and he was terrified. The entire collision was caught on a dashboard camera by a car that was stopped on Teller Street.

Drew had a number of cuts on his face and legs as well as a sore wrist. Following the crash, his wife drove him to the ER where doctors treated his cuts and took x-rays of his left hand.  The following week, Drew saw a specialist, and it was determined that there was a shattered bone in his hand which required a cast. Drew also had to have x-rays of his neck, shoulder, and spine done as well as an MRI of his left shoulder and spine following the ER visit. His neck had a compressed vertebrae, and he also had a partially torn quad as a result of the crash. 

Drew missed work due to medical appointments and a lot of physical therapy. Following the crash, he was not able to ride his bike, which he usually did at least five times a week, and he missed out on leading rides as an ambassador for a local cycling clothing and accessories company. Getting back on the bike was a mental challenge for Drew. He got back on a trainer quickly to prevent his quad injury from resulting in a loss of motion, but the first ride outside roughly five months later was a scary experience.

He wants people to remember that driving is a privilege, not a right. “Waiting an additional minute to pass a rider or make a turn will not end your life, be more respectful. No meeting or event is worth taking the risk of killing someone.” He encourages people to try to put themselves in the cyclist’s shoes, and if you have never cycled on the road, maybe give it a try to understand what it feels like to have cars brushing by and jumping turns. “If we try to understand each other a little better and what it feels like, there could be better respect on the road,” he says.

It does not matter if you are doing everything right, you can still get hit. Drew recommends always wearing a helmet and taking notes if something does happen to you, so you don’t miss anything. Finally, he firmly believes that it is very important to lean on your support network.

One thing that Drew wishes he had known before this happened is to carry more coverage for under and uninsured motorists. He learned that bike vs. vehicle collisions happen more often than you would expect and insurance companies will do everything that they possibly can to not pay out a claim.

What is Drew doing since the collision to make cycling safer for himself and other cyclists?  He works with a cycling group to bring more people into the sport and tries to share his experiences there and discuss best practices with riders.  He has a bell and lights on all his bikes (including his super-light climbing bikes) and talks to people about wearing helmets at all times. “Riding with a camera is a great opportunity, or just lights and bells. I also recommend that they not try to be as far to the right as possible but rather as visible as possible,” he says.

Drew also believes that stiffer punishments including loss of license for drivers that have infractions as well as a no tolerance repeat offender policy could help. 

In Colorado, the number of point accumulations according to the Department of Motor Vehicles Handbook for suspension for an adult are:

  • 12 points in any 12 consecutive months

  • 18 points in any 24 consecutive months

Some of the reasons your driving privilege may be suspended, revoked, or cancelled include: 

  • Meeting or exceeding the minimum point accumulation for suspension.

  • Being convicted of driving while under the influence of alcohol or drugs.

  • Being convicted of failing to report a crash or leaving the scene without stopping, exchanging information, and rendering aid.

  • Failing to pay a traffic fine from Colorado or any other state.

  • Failing to provide valid evidence of insurance when requested by a law enforcement officer.

  • Being convicted of manslaughter as a result of a motor vehicle crash.

A new Colorado law (SB19-175 - Serious Bodily Injury (SBI) Vulnerable Road User Penalties) passed on May 29, 2019, allows the court to require a convicted driver:

  • To attend a driver improvement course.

  • To perform useful public service.

  • To pay restitution.


The law also empowers judges to assess the driver 12 points which will cause them to lose their license with the DMV. In order for this law to now protect cyclists and hold motorists accountable, we need more DAs and city attorneys to hold fast to the original charges and to stop negotiating careless driving causing SBI cases down to meaningless “defective headlamp” guilty pleas.  We are also asking law enforcement officers to cite careless driving causing SBI.

In the case of this driver, Jefferson County Judge Mark Randall sentenced him to 40 hours of community service, assessed four points to his license, and ordered him to pay a $100 traffic fine. Costs and fines totalled $315.00. Judge Randall suspended a 365-day jail sentence on the condition that the driver complete his community service within 180 days and not be cited for a charge of careless driving or above for one year.

Drew feels that the sentence was fair since the driver did not intend to hit him, and Drew believes he was truly sorry. That said, Drew says it was sad to hear how often incidents like this happen and he is surprised by the lasting impacts of the event.  For example, he will almost never ride past the street where the collision happened. He watches the film of the collision and thinks about it often when he needs to remember how fragile things can be. He still has neck issues every now and then. “It’s amazing to me how little drivers seem to take all of this into account when out on the road. The number of close calls that happen to riders like myself, who cycle daily and are putting in a lot of mileage, are almost daily. We need to cultivate a culture of better respect for riders here,” says Drew.

We come back to our original question. When is enough, enough? How many driving convictions is too many? Eighteen, now 19, including this latest case, driving convictions for this driver. Perhaps, the courts should take this into consideration the next time he is convicted?

Nebraska Needs Stiffer Penalties for Drivers Who Injure Cyclists

$100 Fine for Careless Driving Lets Drivers Off Easy 

A driver’s poor decisions and careless driving could have cost Gary Little his life. It could have left a wife without her husband and children without their father. Gary came within inches of dying because a 17-year old driver “decided to get high and drive a 4,000-pound instrument of death,” he says.

It was the night of August 18, 2018, in Lincoln, Nebraska, when the driver of an SUV crashed into him. He was riding south on a bike path around 10:00 pm when the driver going northbound turned into him as he was crossing the intersection. Gary was wearing a helmet and using properly working lights. It was dark, but street lights lit up the area. 

A witness, who was also driving north, stated that the driver of the SUV pulled out in front of her from a parking lot with no turn signals and was inches away from hitting the witness’ car. The driver sped out of the parking lot and turned right onto the next road at about 40 mph with no turn signals. The witness also explained that the SUV traveled so fast that it drifted around the corner. 

Gary was not able to stop quickly enough. He was thrown to the side of the road and landed in the grass after colliding with the SUV. He was unconscious and not moving.

According to the witness, the SUV stopped, and the driver got out and started screaming. She then got back into her car and tried to leave. By this time, the witness and others, who had gathered at the scene, stood in front of the SUV to block the driver from taking off. 

The driver called someone, and another female arrived a few minutes later. She started going through the SUV and grabbing things. She then attempted to run away from the scene. By this time, the police had arrived. The witness yelled at police officers to chase the other female down. When police caught up to her, they found marijuana in her possession.  The witness stated that the SUV driver moved very slowly, appeared intoxicated, and seemed not to know what was going on. 

The witness checked Gary’s pulse. He woke up about four minutes later and was not aware of what had happened. He was taken to the hospital by ambulance.

Gary’s injuries required surgery for a torn rotator cuff in his right shoulder.  Both knees had deep bruising, and he had abrasions to his forehead. 

He went through three months of physical therapy and could not ride his bike for six months.  Now for someone who has been riding bikes for over 45 years, commutes by bike every day, and is a competitive gravel racer, not being able to ride his bike was tough for Gary. His recovery is ongoing, but he says it feels great to be back on his bike!

Citation: Negligent Driving, amended to Careless Driving and Possession of Drug Paraphernalia and Marijuana.

Fines/Penalties:  Total - $149.00. $100 fine plus $49 in court costs for the traffic violation. The driver was assessed four points against her license. 

We reached out to a local DA in Nebraska to help us understand why the driver was not punished more severely. 

First, Nebraska currently does not have any vulnerable road user (VRU) laws on the books.

Second, in this case, the police officer cited the driver for negligent driving. “If a ticket is issued, the cop decides what offense they believe has been committed.  Whatever they put on a ticket is just a recommendation to us. We might disagree and not charge anything, we might add charges, we might charge a less serious offense, or we might charge a more serious offense,” explains the local DA.  

 Rather than going to the City Attorney’s Office, the ticket went to the County Attorney’s Office.  According to the DA, there is no negligent driving charge under state laws. Instead, there is a careless driving charge (Nebraska Revised Statute 60-6, 212), which is the exact same thing except that a careless driving offense adds four points to the driver’s record compared to three points for negligent driving. This is the reason the ticket was amended from negligent driving to careless driving.

 Careless driving under Nebraska law is a traffic infraction rather than a misdemeanor. The maximum fine for a first offense is $100. A second offense within a year can cost up to $200, while a third offense would be $300. The Nebraska Supreme Court has set the waiver fine schedule for any fines that are not set by statute. 

 The DA explained that after the charging decision is made, it gets filed with the court.  He goes on to say that not everyone who gets a ticket must go to court. Most low-level traffic offenses, such as speeding, failure to yield, and expired registration, are given the option of paying by waiver and skipping court. A defendant can still have a trial by telling the clerk that they wish to have their case set for trial.

 However, most people who get a traffic ticket never appear in court.  Once the ticket is signed, no one in the County Attorney’s Office will look at it again unless it is being contested.  

 “In this case, careless driving is a waiver eligible offense.  The fine was preset at $100, and the defendant opted to pay the fine rather than have a trial,” says the DA. The driver was assessed four points against her license. The points are all set out by a schedule in the statutes, so neither the judge nor the prosecutor really have any control over how many points a person gets on their license. The judge can’t revoke a license for a careless driving charge, and the maximum penalty is already being imposed.

 The next step up from careless driving would be reckless driving which requires an element of intent behind operating a vehicle poorly.  “In this case, there was no intentional bad driving, she should have seen Gary but just didn’t,” says the DA. For reckless driving, you usually are looking for speed, location (highway v. residential), weaving, unsafe passing, violating traffic control devices, etc.  Failing to see someone would not rise to the level of reckless driving.

 “The example I often give is if you have someone cleaning a loaded gun and it goes off and hits someone, that would be negligent.  Yes, they shouldn’t have been cleaning a loaded gun, but there was never any intention of putting someone at risk. Compared to a situation where someone is trying to scare a group of people and intends to fire a shot over their heads but accidentally hits someone instead.  There they had the intent to discharge the gun, might not have intended the result, but intended the action. That would be reckless,” says the DA.  

 People often want to draw a distinction between someone who fails to yield and causes serious bodily injury, and a crash that involves property damage.  “As the law sits now, there are no distinctions in the law, all cases where someone fails to yield are treated the same regardless of the outcome (excluding death),” he says.

 This begs the question if the law should treat the situations as different?  Do you punish someone more severely for negligent driving if someone is hurt? Are they any more negligent than someone who wrecks a car? Gary would most likely argue for more severe punishment after what he has been through!

 If you are a VRU in Nebraska, whether a cyclist, pedestrian, scooter rider, road construction worker, etc. and would like to see drivers face harsher penalties for negligent or careless driving, consider one of the following: 

A Battle Every Step of the Way

Ben Boncella has been a State Farm customer for years. When he was hit by a driver whose insurance company was also State Farm, he thought the insurance company would be more willing to “take care of their own.” He realized how off-base his thinking was a week or two into the process of trying to handle his own claim.

Additionally, Ben feels that the insurance company/claims adjuster will give you zero respect if you are trying to resolve a claim on your own. “Although they try to come across as being nice and friendly, they are trying to take advantage of you by getting you to admit fault or partial responsibility for the crash.”  

Ben thought his case was clear cut, and that he would be successful in handling the claim himself; a police officer had witnessed the crash and the driver, who admitted that she was in the wrong, was cited at the scene. Yet State Farm denied responsibility to pay out his claim for bike repairs, property damage, and medical bills. “I was extremely surprised by how unwilling the insurance company was to pay my claim. I thought it would be very straightforward – they would pay for the damage to my bike and kit and cover the medical expenses I incurred as a result of the collision,” he says. “I wish I would’ve known how much of a pain the entire process of battling the driver’s auto insurance was going to be.”

When State Farm outright denied liability after months of working at it himself, Ben decided to contact and hire our firm. “As soon as Megan got involved, their tone changed immediately, they became more responsive, more cooperative, and the process of getting this resolved was expedited,” he says. 

The big takeaway from the whole process for Ben? It doesn’t matter how obvious the case/incident, the cyclist will always have to fight every step of the way. He was in a bike lane, riding below the posted speed limit, wearing brightly colored clothing, at a safe time of day, traveling on a route commonly used by local cyclists, had lights on his bike, a police officer witnessed the crash, the driver was cited on the scene, etc. “It doesn’t matter that you do everything right, and it’s extremely obvious. Insurance companies are out to make money, so they make you fight for everything. Do not give up!”

It was the morning of June 8, 2018, around 6:30 am when Ben was riding his bike to work heading north in the bike lane on Garrison Street in Lakewood, CO, and was coming up along vehicles that were stopped at a red light. Ben was wearing a cycling kit, a helmet, and sunglasses along with a backpack full of work clothes.

As he was riding through the intersection at Garrison and West 1st Avenue, the driver of a Ford Ranger pick-up truck failed to yield to Ben while making a right-hand turn, causing a front to side collision. Officer Arellano, who witnessed the crash, stated that Ben was not speeding and was riding properly in the bike lane with safety attire/equipment. Ben was not able to stop quickly enough to avoid the collision since the vehicle turned right in front of him.  He crashed into the front right side of the vehicle. 

The driver stopped immediately after hitting Ben and told the officer that she saw Ben but did not think he would be at the point of the turn. Officer Arellano stated that the driver was clearly at fault and that she needed to be better aware of the road and her surroundings to include checking the bike lane before turning. There were no obstructions, weather, or road conditions that would have affected her view of Ben or her ability to wait for him before turning according to Officer Arellano.

Ben was treated at the West Metro Fire Station, which is located directly across the street, where his injuries were cleaned up and bandaged. Ben finished his ride into work, but he went to St. Anthony's Hospital to get treated when his symptoms worsened after a few hours.  He had road rash on the left side of his body and had a CT of his head and spine done as well as x-rays of his chest and wrist.


Citation:  Careless driving, pleaded down to an unsafe vehicle charge.

Fines/Penalties: Two points assessed to the driver’s license and $134 in fines.The driver has two past convictions in 2004 in Lakewood and Denver, where she was also charged for driving an unsafe or defective vehicle.

Ben feels like it is way too easy for drivers to get charges reduced.

She should have pleaded guilty to the charge the police officer cited her with because that’s what actually happened. If we keep letting people off easy, they’re never going to get any better and cyclists aren’t going to be any safer.
— Ben Boncella

Eventually, Ben was back on his bike, but it was painful and he obviously wasn’t 100% healed physically. It took awhile before the swelling, bruising, road rash, and soreness went away, but he was eventually back to his normal riding and workouts. 

He was nervous to get back on the roads after the crash and rode a lot more bike paths afterwards.  Gradually, Ben transitioned back to more and more road riding, but even to this day (a year and a half later), he is still nervous riding through intersections. “Drivers don’t use their turn signals enough or check their passenger side mirrors before making right hand turns,” he says. 

If he could wave a magic wand, Ben would make the punishment for drivers who hit cyclists much more severe.  “All it takes is a quick Google search and you can read hundreds of stories and articles about drivers hitting and killing cyclists yet only having to pay a small fine or do some community service. It’s sad to see how little the life of a cyclist is valued in these situations.”

Ben recommends that every cyclist get educated about local cycling laws/regulations and follow them when riding. Ride defensively when you need to, but also be courteous and respectful to drivers as much as possible.

Although Ben initially tried to deal with State Farm on his own, he was glad that he handed over the case to our team. “When I spoke with Megan about having her take over my case, she was extremely up front and honest about what would be involved, the timeline, the outcome, the financial side of things, etc. In the end, things worked out almost exactly as she had initially described them to me. The whole team was incredibly well organized and thorough. I’m not happy to have gone through this, but I’m glad that I had such a great team of people on my side fighting for me.”

Arizona Legal System Failing Injured Cyclists

No consequences = No Changes.

With its natural landscapes, bike infrastructure, and perfect weather for year-round cycling, Arizona is considered by many as a cycling paradise. Every year, cyclists head to Arizona to cities such as Scottsdale, Phoenix, or Tucson to enjoy miles of cycling routes and open roads. It is also home to many professional cyclists, endurance athletes, and bike commuters. The conditions are honestly, ideal.

Yet, law enforcement and city attorneys are dropping the ball when it comes to protecting cyclists and holding motorists who injure them accountable. Several of our Arizona-based clients saw the at-fault drivers minimally charged and even more minimally punished with paltry five-hour classes. Some even got the charges against them dismissed!  Drivers are simply not punished severely enough for causing injury to cyclists. 

In 2017, 32 bicyclist fatalities were reported in Arizona with 1,371 cyclists injured. That made Arizona the 5th most dangerous state for cyclists. According to the People Powered Movement, Tucson ranked second and Phoenix fourth as the most dangerous cities nationwide for cyclists in 2015. People For Bikes gives Scottsdale a low score of 1.7, and gives Phoenix a score of 1.5.

Based on our recent experiences, it seems that traffic violations involving cyclists in Phoenix and Scottsdale rarely make it to court, and the fines/penalties are minimal. Drivers may end up getting off with a $250 fine and no jail time. If a motorist seriously injures or kills a cyclist when violating Arizona's 3-foot passing rule (§28-735), the financial penalty would increase to $500 and $1,000 respectively. 

There is no specific statute in Arizona that addresses vehicular manslaughter, and only certain traffic violations may lead to a manslaughter charge if they involve the death of a person while driving. These include driving under the influence, excessive speed, aggressive driving, and racing. (See Arizona Revised Statute (A.R.S.) §13-1103).

Currently, Arizona does not have any laws to protect vulnerable road users (VRU), which in addition to cyclists also include pedestrians, motorcyclists, children, elderly and disabled people.  VRU applies to those groups most at risk in traffic. Additionally, “Arizona is still one of two states that has failed, yet to adopt any prohibition on texting while driving,” according to Arizona-Look Save a Life.

Arizona as a touted cycling mecca, needs to do a LOT more to protect its resident cyclists and the hundreds of cyclists who flock there in the winter for warm riding. Cycling is a profitable subset of tourism for this state, and while bike lanes are very common and prevalent (which is a good start), the state needs stronger, harsher laws and intentional enforcement. It is time for law enforcement, city/district attorneys, and lawmakers to cite drivers properly, enforce harsher penalties, and enact legislation to make cycling safer and protect all VRUs.

Despite serious bodily injuries to our clients, two of the drivers were allowed to take a five-hour defensive driving class, had their tickets dismissed, and received no points or fines. In one case, the driver's ticket was dismissed even before the class was required. None of these drivers even had to appear in court! 

Scottsdale - Our client Ryan Hardy (above) was riding in a marked bike lane around 7:30 pm on February 26, 2019 when he was right-hooked at a T intersection where he had the right of way. He was riding with a bright front light and a flashing rear light and was wearing a helmet and a kit with reflective bands. The driver told police that he “didn’t see the man on the bike” when he turned.

Instead of waiting behind Ryan to safely make it across the intersection, the driver accelerated, passed Ryan, and then made a right-hand turn directly in front of him. The impact of the collision threw Ryan in front of the car into the intersection. He was transported to the hospital for his injuries.

Citation: 

Violation of 28-754 - Unsafe Turning Movement to the Right 

Fines/Penalties:  

A minor traffic violation in which the driver took online traffic school ($200), and all charges were dropped. 

How does Ryan feel about the outcome? In no way, shape, or form does he feel that the outcome was just or fair. “It’s pathetic and insulting because about six months later, I still have several problems on a daily basis and still cannot work out in almost any capacity. I still have to see physical therapists, concussion specialists, neurologists, a therapist, and have never taken so many prescription drugs to control problems in my entire life,” he says.

Ryan believes that a law similar to the strictest DUI laws in the country, applied to making any and all contact with a person/cyclist while driving, could change a lot. Like those extreme DUI laws, major monetary consequences, a very high level of culpability, and, maybe most importantly, the highest/strictest level of enforcement of this law and its consequences would help to bring about change.

If he had the chance to talk to the driver about cyclists and safety, Ryan would point out that the majority of outcomes when hitting a person/cyclist with a car is that a human being is killed. He believes that most collisions with cyclists could be avoided by simply slowing down and or waiting a mere 1-30 seconds. “I ask people who think those few seconds are so important, ‘Are you willing to knowingly kill somebody to save that time or just drive faster?’”

Scottsdale again - Our client Eric Marcotte (above) was knocked unconscious on November 20, 2018, when a driver failed to yield the right of way at an intersection and drove straight into him. He was thrown from his bike and landed on the roadway. Eric was also riding in the bike lane and had the right of way. 

Eric is a professional cyclist who rides between 350-500 miles per week. He knows this stretch of road and area very well, having ridden it thousands of times over the last decade of living in Arizona. At the time of the collision, he was wearing his team sponsor’s kit, which is a blue and white combination, and was riding with blinking lights. The driver claimed that Eric “just came out of nowhere.”  Eric maintains that the driver had a visible line of sight looking south well over a mile with the road being straight.

Citation: 

Violation of 28-773, Failure to Yield Right of Way

Fines/Penalties:  

$250 fine and defensive driving class for the driver, which he and his lawyer argued against for months before accepting.

Eric wants motorists to understand how important it is to be aware and attentive while taking the responsibility of driving a vehicle and believes that the system enables motorists to be negligent. “Drivers will have someone fighting for them to not be responsible. So that enables poor drivers and doesn’t help change actions,” says Eric. 

He wishes he knew how important it is that police officers and district attorneys do their job as well. He says they need to step up and set a precedent by setting the consequences for negligent/inattentive/distracted drivers in a way that has consequences great enough to change actions. Suspending licenses, implementing substantial fines, as well as raising insurance rates will make motorists more aware—a $250 fine will not.

Eric recommends riding with a camera because it can keep everyone accountable. “Then you will see how drivers treat cyclists—you can keep compiling those clips and send/share to law enforcement to show them what’s happening—and will also show you, as a cyclist, are following the law.”  


Phoenix - Our client Melissa Lemke, was out for a ride on her bike on March 10, 2019, around 11:30 am when she was struck by a driver who failed to yield to her at a four-way stop. She was wearing a white helmet and her cycling kit which was green, white, and black. It had high-visibility striping on the legs and high-vis patches on the front and back of her jersey. 

Melissa had stopped at the intersection, yielded to the driver on her right and then proceeded into the intersection once that car had passed through. This is when she was struck by a second vehicle also coming from the right who failed to yield. Melissa’s injuries included a broken elbow and a broken left wrist that required surgery. A large plate was put in her left wrist, and she had to wear a splint for her broken elbow. At first,  Melissa was dependent on her husband for almost everything: getting dressed, bathing, personal hygiene, preparing food, etc. Even now, nearly six months later, her left wrist often aches and many actions of daily living incite burning and pain in her right wrist. Melissa ordered a new bicycle but had thoughts about returning it and not riding again.

Citation: 

Violation of 28-773, Failure to Yield Right of Way

Fines/Penalties:  

Driver's ticket was dismissed by going to traffic school.

That’s right! The ticket was dismissed because of the type of ticket he was given: Failure to Yield Right of Way.  The driver now has a clean driving record while Melissa continues to deal with the physical impact of the crash. Even though the police officer came to the hospital and eventually learned that Melissa needed surgery, the driver was given a ticket that could be dismissed by attending traffic school, not a ticket that indicated he had caused serious bodily injury to Melissa from which she has not yet completely recovered.  

When she first learned of the ticket dismissal, about a month after the crash, Melissa was truly devastated.  Up to that point, she had taken a small comfort in knowing that the driver incurred a serious consequence for his actions. Finding out that the driver was able to wipe his driving record clean, while she was still seeing a surgeon and a physical therapist for her injuries, was shocking. 

“This dismissal speaks to the lack of protection we cyclists have on the road. If drivers are not penalized in a meaningful way for running down a cyclist, we are simply moving targets out there. I really don’t know when or if I will fully recover, and the driver does not even have a black mark against his driving record,” says Melissa.

She wishes cyclists knew how they may have to start fighting for their rights at the scene of the crash and that they need to know the laws so they can ask the right questions. She also wishes that she had been able to take photos and had thought to record the driver saying over and over that he did not see her. “I wish I would have questioned the officer about the type of ticket, but I did not know he had choices to make.  I thought he was at the hospital verifying my injuries so he would have evidence to support a serious charge against the driver,” says Melissa.

She thought she could depend on the police. Although she was conscious after her crash, many cyclists are not or are so injured that they cannot not possibly stand up for themselves at the scene.  “We should be able to depend on law enforcement to protect both drivers and cyclists,” she says. 

So, what can you do to bring about change? Here are some suggestions:

  • Get involved with a bicycle advocacy group (PeopleForBikes, either at the national, state, or local level).

  • Contact your local state legislator to advocate for laws to make cycling safer.

  • Know the laws in your state, especially those pertaining to Vulnerable Road Users.

  • Support cyclists who have been injured by showing up at the driver’s sentencing hearing.

  • Talk to your friends, family, and cyclists about your experiences or close encounters with motorists. Spread the word about how to make cycling safer.

For more information about cycling laws in Arizona and municipal codes for Phoenix, Scottsdale, and Tucson, visit our website. Would you like to get involved in Arizona bike advocacy, specifically? Then please consider joining local groups working hard to make positive changes, like the Rob Dollar Foundation, and Look Save a Life Arizona.

Jefferson County Taking A Tough Stand Against Drivers Who Injure Cyclists

A collaborative blog by Hottman Law Office, Steven Lykens and the Jefferson County DA’s office

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Steven Lykens—husband, engineer, competitive cyclist—made a point of attending and speaking at the sentencing hearing of a driver who caused him serious bodily injury.  He wanted to emphasize to the court, the district attorney’s office, and to the driver that the outcome of the case mattered to him and to the cycling community as a whole. 

On May 16, 2019, Steven addressed Jefferson County Court Judge Mark Randall and asked him to order 200 hours of community service as part of the driver’s sentencing. Considering the time that he spent in the hospital, at appointments with doctors, as well as time spent working to heal his injuries, Steven felt 200 hours was fair.

The driver, Miranda Lewin, was sentenced to 120 hours of community service to be completed in 120 days on the charge of careless driving. Her public defender argued for fewer hours, but Judge Randall did not back down. In fact, he told Lewin she is a terrible driver based on her previous (and subsequent) traffic convictions and warned her that she would be back in court if she did not serve her community service. Judge Randall reminded Lewin that drivers have a responsibility to their community, including cyclists. 

Lewin, who was 20 years old at the time of the collision with Steven, was previously convicted of driving a vehicle while impaired by alcohol/drugs in 2016, careless driving, and operating a motor vehicle as a minor driver with an unauthorized passenger in 2014. Her driver's license was revoked in 2016 due to the alcohol offense, but it had been reinstated prior to this collision.

On the morning of September 2, 2018, Steven was riding in a bike lane in Lakewood when Lewin turned right, directly in front of him, into a 7-11 parking lot. Steven collided with Lewin’s vehicle and was thrown from his bicycle, landing in the 7-11 parking lot. He was unable to move and yelled for someone to call 911. Lewin remained at the scene and was later cited by Lakewood Police for careless driving causing bodily injury. Steven considers himself “lucky” that he went over the hood of the vehicle instead of under it or into oncoming traffic.

He was transported by ambulance to St. Anthony’s Hospital with lacerations to his right ankle and right elbow, road rash, and an abrasion to his right cheek. Officer Barefoot of the Lakewood Police Department, who responded to the scene, was advised by the emergency room doctor that Steven had sustained a lumbar spine fracture.

As a result, Steven was in a back brace for eight weeks. He now suffers from permanent scoliosis from two fractured vertebrae and is one inch shorter than before the crash. His life and physical body are forever altered, and he is in constant pain. The collision has altered his mental state as well. Driving and cycling are still difficult for him, and he is worried it could happen again. 

During the sentencing hearing, Steven also thanked the Lakewood Police Department, the Jefferson County DA, and the court for holding drivers accountable when cyclists are injured. Often cases involving bodily injury are pled down to minor infractions, leaving victims to feel doubly wronged. 

The Jefferson County DA’s office did a fantastic job handling this case. Jefferson County DA Pete Weir wants the driving public to recognize their obligation to share the road with cyclists.

We take these cases of careless driving with injury involving cyclists very seriously and treat the victims with the same respect and dignity we treat victims who are covered under Colorado’s Victims’ Rights Amendment (VRA) which protects the rights of victims in violent crimes. Often these injuries are life-changing for victims and their families, and we do everything we can to help them through the criminal justice process.
— - Pete Weir, Jefferson County DA

In Jefferson County, careless driving/cycling cases causing serious bodily injury are generally treated as VRA cases by the DA’s office, thereby involving the victims throughout the process. Deputy DA Kate Rhodes, who handled this case, believes that the appropriate outcome was reached, and justice was served. 

Steven shown with Deputy DA Kate Rhodes (L), Megan Hottman, and Tracy Drake (R)

Steven shown with Deputy DA Kate Rhodes (L), Megan Hottman, and Tracy Drake (R)

My goal for this case was to get the defendant to realize the impact she has had on Mr. Lykens’ life and the gravity of his injuries. Mr. Lykens showed incredible patience and professionalism throughout the process.
— Deputy DA Kate Rhodes

A newly passed law, sponsored by Senator Mike Foote of Boulder and Representative Dylan Roberts of Eagle and Routt Counties, is aimed at making Colorado’s roadways safer for vulnerable road users (VRU), including cyclists, pedestrians, construction workers, scooter riders, and peace officers. Governor Jared Polis signed SB 19-175 into law on May 29, 2019. 

Careless driving that leads to seriously injuring a VRU is now a class 1 traffic misdemeanor. Convicted drivers could face restitution and a one-year suspension of their license. Courts could require drivers to attend a driver improvement course and perform community service.

Many of Steven’s friends have been injured while riding their bikes due to the neglect of a driver of a motor vehicle. He hopes that someday cyclists can ride safely on public roads without having to worry about being injured by a driver. 

Given the nature and extent of our clients’ injuries, I have always advocated to District Attorneys and City Attorneys that the FULL “careless driving causing SBI” charge needs to stick. NO plea deals, not when the injuries are so serious. Careless causing SBI is only a 4-point violation, with minimal fines. We need the FULL Charge in order to ask the Judge for serious community service hours, restitution, (and now with SB 19-175, for the driver’s license, as well). My request to all DAs and CAs we encounter: Be like Jeffco and Boulder DAs. Treat these cases as VRA cases and please, stop offering plea bargains.
— Megan Hottman, The Cyclist Lawyer

Please remember to be cautious around cyclists, or any vulnerable road user, and look for cyclists before turning—whether they are riding in a bike lane or not! 

To read more about the Jeffco DA’s office, click here.

To read more about Judge Randall, click here.

Justice for Cyclists: Boulder County DAs Push for Results in Cycling Cases

By Maureen & Megan

Vehicular assault - Leaving the scene of a crash involving serious bodily injury - Failure to notify police of a crash. These are some of the initial charges brought against two drivers in collisions with cyclists in Boulder County. In both cases, the cyclists were seriously injured and required surgery.

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Boulder cyclist Travis Lechner was on a group training ride in Longmont, CO in December 2017 when he was struck by a pick-up truck going at least 45 mph. Travis was making a left-hand turn when the driver attempted to pass him on the left, crossing a double yellow line.

A witness told police that Travis had signaled before turning left.

The collision sent Travis flipping up over the truck, landing in a ditch approximately 50 feet down the road. He was transported by ambulance with multiple injuries including a broken clavicle and wrist, a concussion, fractured ribs and multiple abrasions.

His left shoulder was completely shattered.

Travis shown with DA Adrian VanNice, fellow cyclist (L), and Megan (R)

Travis shown with DA Adrian VanNice, fellow cyclist (L), and Megan (R)

An off-duty police officer riding in the group of cyclists canvassed the area following the crash. He happened to find the truck that met a witness’ description and called police. The driver, who was drunk at 10 am, neither had a valid driver’s license nor insurance. He was arrested and taken to jail. This was his second DUI.

Travis’ injuries required surgery to his wrist and shoulder. Unable to care for himself following surgery, he stayed at his coach’s house for over a month. His wrist was in a cast and he had to wear a sling, which completely immobilized him. The first night following surgery to his shoulder, Travis woke up in the middle of the night in the worst pain he had ever experienced. “It hurt about 10,000 times worse than getting hit by a car. I have never been in so much pain my whole life.”

He missed almost two months of work due to his injuries and suffered financial damages. He was not able to drive, lost fitness and training time on his bike, and could not sleep most nights due to the sling he had to wear as well as sleeping upright at a 45-degree angle. He needed help doing everyday tasks such as showering, getting dressed and cooking.

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Like Travis, 17 year-old Riley Sheehan was also struck by a driver in Boulder County who then fled the scene. It was March 7, 2018. Riley, an elite junior cyclist who rides for LUX Cycling Team and USA Cycling, was training in preparation for three international races in Europe at the end of March.

He was riding on the far right of the shoulder on U.S. 36 when he heard the sound of an engine. It was a truck going 45-50 mph. The driver tried to get around two lanes of traffic by passing on the right using the shoulder. That’s when he crashed into Riley, launching him into the air.

The driver then ran over the bike and left the scene of the crash.

Riley hit the ground so hard that his clavicle broke, causing a section of the bone to penetrate into his chest muscle. His helmet broke in five different places when his head slammed into the ground. He suffered a concussion, enduring a headache and nausea and had scrapes and bruises all over his body. “I felt so angry that someone would hit me and then leave me by the roadside.”

Witnesses reported that a red truck had been driving aggressively prior to the crash. One witness followed the driver and attempted to get him to return to the scene. The witness told the driver that he had his license plate number and that police had been called. The driver yelled at the witness and sped away, leaving the scene again.

The license plate traced back to a red Ford F-150 owned by a Greeley resident.  Officers observed damage to the front right side of the truck when they arrived at the driver’s house. He was arrested by Colorado State Patrol on suspicion of vehicular assault, leaving the scene of a crash involving serious bodily injury, failure to notify police of the crash, reckless driving, passing on a shoulder, failure to obtain a valid CO registration within 90 days of becoming a resident and driving with expired plates. The driver had moved from Texas to Colorado in 2014 but still had Texas plates.

Too often these collisions are treated as ‘just accidents,’ but that diminishes what my family and I have been through.
— Riley Sheehan addressing the Court, at the driver's sentencing hearing

Riley had to undergo surgery to repair his broken clavicle. In the days leading up to the surgery, he was in extreme pain and could not sleep. Further surgery will be required to remove the stainless steel plate and screws. Riley still does not have full range of motion and can feel the metal plate every time he moves his right shoulder.

The experience has been painful, frustrating, depressing and draining both physically and emotionally. Riley missed school, training and racing opportunities.

His life and physical body are forever altered, leaving him to question his bike racing future.

Riley’s family with Fred Johnson, Chief Trial Deputy, 20th Judicial District Attorney’s Office

Riley’s family with Fred Johnson, Chief Trial Deputy, 20th Judicial District Attorney’s Office

When it came time for the drivers’ criminal case sentencing hearings, both Travis and Riley, along with his family, attended and addressed the court. They took part in the process, and it made a difference. Travis and Riley wanted to emphasize to the court, the district attorneys and to the defendants that what happens in these cases matters very much to the victims as well as to the cycling community as a whole.

Riley’s mom spent well over 100 hours filling out paperwork, documentation, getting medical referrals and going to appointments with Riley. His dad had to miss work as well.

Travis felt that it was important to attend, so that people see there is more going on. It is not just a bike that got hit on the road. “I think it’s important we show up and people know that we’re paying attention. We want to be seen and heard,” said Travis.

Fred Johnson, the DA in Riley’s case, believes that community members are an integral part of the criminal justice system:

One of our most important functions is making sure their voices are heard.  Victims at a sentencing hearing are the persons most affected by the crimes committed, and their input is extremely important to us as prosecutors and to the judge deciding the sentence.  When the crime implicates a specific community’s interest and safety such as the cycling community, it’s important for members of that community to attend sentencing hearings so the court can hear their perspective directly and consider it in reaching a just result.
— Fred Johnson, Boulder DA

The Boulder DA’s Office took these cases seriously and made very severe punishment recommendations to the judge.

Boulder County is a unique community and a great place to ride with an avid cycling community. The safety of the cycling community is very important to us as an office and we strive to enforce the laws in a way that maximizes the effectiveness of those laws in ensuring safety on the roads.  We take violations of the law that hurt cyclists extremely seriously, especially when a driver flees the scene in an effort to avoid responsibility. This disregard for the safety and well-being of the victim is especially egregious because it puts the victim’s life and physical safety in further jeopardy,” said Johnson.

The driver in Travis’ case pled guilty to driving under the influence and reckless vehicular assault. He received a suspended sentence of one year in the Boulder County Jail and must complete 200 hours of community service and three years of probation as well as serve nine months of jail-work release.

In Riley’s case, the driver pled guilty to both felony counts - leaving the scene of an accident causing serious bodily injury and vehicular assault. He was sentenced to three years of probation, with 90 days of jail, 120 more days of jail on work release, and 200 hours of community service work.  Conditions of probation included no driving until probation is completed and the court approves it, substance abuse and mental health evaluations with any recommended treatment, and completion of a bicycle driver’s course.

Our office plans to keep showing up at sentencing hearings. It matters. It makes a difference. It counts! #ShowUP. #CrashNOTaccident

Just Do the Right Thing!

Client Story- by Maureen 

Distasteful, despicable and unethical! That is how Scott describes his experience dealing with State Farm after his 15-year old son was involved with one of their drivers.

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A competitive mountain biker and road cyclist, Ian, Scott's son, was out on a ride in his neighborhood in Golden, CO trying to get in 100 miles of training that week. It was just a little after 6:00 pm on May 15, 2016 when Ian was heading north on Washington Avenue. As he was coming down the hill, a car on Washington Avenue and 14th St. made a left hand turn right in front of him.                                  

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Ian was unable to stop in time to avoid a collision and ran into the rear passenger door of the car. When Officer Austin Beck from the Golden Police Department arrived, Ian was lying on his back on the roadway. He was incoherent and was not able to tell the officer what had happened.

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Ian was transported by ambulance to St. Anthony’s Hospital for possible head injuries. It was determined that Ian had suffered a hairline collarbone fracture and a concussion. He also had a cut near his eye and contusions all over his body.

Scott was notified by the hospital... “It’s a sinking feeling when you get a call from the ER to say that your son has been hit by a car.”

The driver was cited for failing to yield the right of way. He was driving his girlfriend’s car; she was riding in the front passenger seat.

Following the collision, Ian experienced memory loss, and his cognitive functions were not as strong as normal.

On behalf of Ian and Scott, we filed a claim with the car owner’s insurance company. GEICO readily paid policy limits (minimal). However, due to Ian’s high medical bills and other costs, we also filed a claim with State Farm, the driver’s insurance.  State Farm refused to take responsibility!

The Fromm family decided to pursue litigation and hired us to represent them. State Farm came up with several reasons for denying the claim:

  • They refused to pay because they claimed that the driver was not at fault.

  • They claimed that the driver was not insured with them at the time of the collision.

  • Attorneys for State Farm even suggested that the crash could have occurred in a different way than was stated in the police report.

They went as far as questioning Officer Beck’s qualifications and experience at investigating traffic crashes. The driver and his girlfriend even pushed responsibility on Ian stating that he was riding too fast.

Scott described his family’s experience in their road to get a recovery from the insurance company as a very stereotypical experience: “What happened is what I expected the experience to be. They are going to deny everything. It’s about enriching themselves, not insuring the insured.”

About a year and a half after the crash, the case went to mediation. Scott said that he was in a very uneasy place at that point. All he wanted to do was to settle for Ian’s sake. Ian had come to him before mediation and told his dad that he just wanted to get it over with. “It was the right decision, but we just wanted to be compensated for our losses,” said Scott.

Scott, also a cyclist, strongly believes that bicyclists are treated like second-class citizens even though they have the same rights as motor vehicles. “Your rights will be less. If my son was in a car, (I believe) State Farm would have paid.”

State Farm used tactics that delayed the Fromm’s claim from being paid out. Over 800 emails were exchanged with the clients/opposing counsel/experts during this case.  DENY. DELAY.  “That’s a dodging tactic to not pay out the claim,” said Scott.

Following mediation, State Farm continued to further delay payment by insisting that Scott and Ian’s Social Security numbers had to be provided before the check would be issued- contrary to the CMS rules and forms, and contrary to standard practice. 

Scott encourages bicyclists who have been injured to hire an attorney when dealing with insurance companies. “You could try to fight it yourself, but you would not be successful in recovering for your loss without an attorney.” “If I didn’t have Megan, we would have a different outcome. We would have been worse off.”

Megan adds some additional advice in situations like this one: "prepare to dig in for a long fight.  Insurance companies will bully and delay and drag on and on.  Treat this as an endurance sport. They will try to wear you out.  We are here to keep you fueled, motivated, and willing to go the distance. Resilience is key."  

What needs to change so that bicyclists are safer on the roads in Scott's opinion?

  • More legislation needs to be passed to protect bicyclists and their rights.

  • Governments need to make the investment to improve roads for bicyclists.

  • Drivers need to be more patient around bicyclists. Our culture is impatient.

The entire experience has left Scott fearful and has him thinking about switching from road to gravel biking. He wants to know where Ian is at all times now.  He and his family will move on from this experience, but he does have a message to insurance companies. “Just do the right thing!”

Lives Forever Changed

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:

  1. Operating a motor vehicle under the influence

  2. Two counts of assault in the 1st degree

  3. 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.

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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!

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