In December 2015, a 38-year-old man was killed while riding his bicycle on what is known as Portland Highway.
According to the Portland Police Bureau, the bicyclist, who was wearing a helmet and had a flashing red light on the back of his bike, was struck from behind around 8:30 p.m. by a speeding driver. The cyclist died at the scene; the driver fled. When the driver was later apprehended, police said he smelled of marijuana, appeared slow and lethargic, and had bloodshot watery eyes and droopy eyelids. The motorist said he veered to the right to avoid another vehicle that had swerved toward him. He was charged with second-degree manslaughter, criminally negligent homicide, reckless driving and driving under the influence of intoxicants. After his arrest, he told court officials that he uses marijuana intermittently and has an Oregon medical marijuana card. He was sentenced to more than six years in prison.
The family of the deceased bicyclist filed a lawsuit against the City of Portland, the State of Oregon, and the negligent driver stating that all were at fault for the man’s death. The lawsuit sought $3.6 million in damages.
The claim against the city was over the lack of a bike lane on the stretch of road where the man was killed. The lawsuit said the bike lane is dangerous as it suddenly disappears at a “pinch point”, and that the city had been aware of the problem for at least a year before the crash but failed to provide for safe travel for both motorists and bicyclists. The suit also said that the cyclist relied heavily on a city published bicycle map that didn’t warn of the disappearing bike lane. The cyclist was new to town and was carrying the map to find his way home at the time he was struck and killed.
Although the lawsuit against the negligent drive is still pending, last week the family settled with the city for $23,000. The settlement came as a judge dismissed the city as a defendant and as the state was scheduled to seek dismissal, as well.
Given that the city had already prevailed, the family decided to reach a settlement, according to court papers. The City of Portland is paying $3,000 of the settlement while the State is paying $20,000. The State owns and manages the section of roadway, but the family felt the City of Portland also shared responsibility because their official bike map recommends the route the cyclist was taking.
While the settlement is far less than the $3.6 million sought, the plaintiff’s attorney said that the family is pleased because they believe the lawsuit prompted the state to expedite construction of a bike lane after years of continuous delays.
Excavation for a 6-foot-wide, 450-foot-long bike lane is already underway. It will allow cyclists to ride off the road and behind a barrier as they pass the pinch point where the crash occurred. The project is expected to be completed by the end of spring.
This case is a perfect example that a lawsuit is not just about financial compensation. It shows that even when a lawsuit does not result in a significant award, it can be the catalyst for change and safety improvements that can save lives.
Attorney, certified civil mediator, and award-winning author of the Zachary Blake Betrayal Series. Mark Bello is also a member of the State Bar of Michigan, a sustaining member of the Michigan Association for Justice, and a member of the American Association for Justice.