As reported by the various local news stations, a jury in San Francisco California last week awarded the family of a bicyclist killed by a commercial truck a verdict of $4 Million. While this may seem like a lot to many, I’m sure it is a paltry sum for the loss of a daughter to the two plaintiffs (the cyclists’ mother and father). The victim was Amelie Le Moullac, a 24 year old woman who was riding as her normal commute to work and was struck and killed when a large truck made an abrupt right hand turn in front of her on a busy intersection in downtown San Francisco. As a California bicycle rider’s attorney and advocate, I thought I would try to find some lessons out of this terrible tragedy that may be of use for persons like Amelie who use busy city streets in California for cycling. My thoughts are as follows:
- Intersection Collisions Between Motor Vehicles and Bikes Are The Most Common Type of Accident Scenario: In urban areas like S.F., Los Angeles, San Diego or other large cities in California or the U.S. as a whole, more bicycle accidents occur in and around busy intersections than just about anywhere else. This makes is extremely important to be extra cautious and “defensive” as a cyclist approaching or traveling through an intersection of any type but, especially one where there is a high volume of vehicular traffic. The scenario in this particular case is all too common. A cyclist is traveling straight along the ride hand edge of the roadway as proscribed and allowed by the California Vehicle Code, a larger vehicle fails to observe the cyclist and makes an abrupt right hand turn and a collision occurs. At a minimum, this results in a broadside collision and can result in the biker being dragged underneath the vehicle and crushed. There are several Cal. Vehicle Code (“CVC”) sections that come into play here including the following: (1) CVC 21200 and following, defines a bicycle as a ‘vehicle’ with the rights to use the roadway like any other; (2) CVC 22107, provides a duty on the part of a driver attempting to turn right to make sure that traffic traveling in the same direction of travel is a safe enough distance away to make the turn without coming into contact with any other vehicles.
- Inability/Unwillingness of Criminal Justice System to Deal With Bicycle Crashes: In this case, like many others, the local District Attorney’s office and police were reluctant to charge the driver with any type of criminal offense including but, not limited to reckless driving or vehicular manslaughter. They initially stated there was not enough “evidence” against the driver. The attorney for the victim’s family had to obtain footage from a local surveillance camera to show that the truck never even slowed down and never appeared to look in its side view mirrors prior to turning in front of the cyclist. This was impactful evidence that was very effective in the civil trial for wrongful death and could have certainly been used in a criminal prosecution of the driver.
- The Ability of the Civil Justice System to Compensate The Victim and Serve As A Deterrent to Reckless Driving That Kills or Injures Cyclists: Clearly the criminal justice system in California is overburdened and underfunded and without resources to prosecute gross negligence claims like this one. Except for the zealous representation of a personal injury attorney, evidence such as the surveillance footage referenced above would have never come to light. While the verdict certainly could have and should have been higher for the loss of a life so young, a multi-million jury award against a commercial trucking company will almost certainly serve as a deterrent for their drivers and the operators of other motor vehicles to look twice and be more cautious in areas with a heavy mix of both motor vehicle and bicycle traffic.
Our deepest condolences go out to the family of the bike crash victim in this case. We applaud the zealous efforts of her family’s civil justice attorney to conduct such a thorough investigation into the cause of the incident and to take this case to trial and obtain a verdict on their behalf!