Thomas G. WitkopLaw Offices

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Hard work and perseverance nets injured cyclist good settlement

Recently a young woman who was a victim of a bicycle accident came to me. She was riding her bicycle southbound on 18th St between parked cars and traffic. It was rush hour and the traffic was moving forward slowly, stopping and starting. Ahead of her coming the opposite direction was the defendant car driver. He made a left and cut into her lane and struck her with the front of his vehicle in her left knee. At the time of the accident it was daytime and she was traveling probably 10 mph in a 25 mph zone. She was knocked to the ground and suffered a knee injury and significant bruising.

The driver of the car did not speak to her and seemed preoccupied with the damage to his sport utility vehicle. People around the scene helped the fallen bicyclist. I only had one witness who actually saw the accident and she was not cooperative with my investigation. An ambulance came and she was taken to the hospital. She suffered a non-fracture injury to her left knee and was put on crutches and released. She recovered and after approximately 1 1/2 years after the accident she is still having some knee problems.

She hired a lawyer for settlement purposes and the insurance company denied liability. The claimed that their driver was not at fault for the accident and further, that she was at fault for riding between parked cars and moving traffic.

After her first lawyer could not resolve the case, she came to me. I did not bother calling the insurance company. I did not ask them to reconsider their position. I merely filed suit in the Superior Court of the District of Columbia.

Filing suit was the easy part. The defendant driver was a lawyer who actually had a high-ranking government position. My process server tried to serve him at home. The defendant lawyer lived in an expensive house and had servants. The servants would claim that the defendant was not home and service failed. I tried to have him served as his government office and his secretary would not accept service or let my process server see him. Finally I was able to serve him by certified mail through his mail room.

Of course the insurance company again denied liability. I went to the accident scene and took measurements and photographs. It was clear to me that the defendant was negligent in his driving. They took the deposition of my client. Prior to the deposition I spoke at length with my client and had her also go to the accident scene so the facts would be clear in her mind and she could speak with confidence. I talked with there as to what questions she could anticipate from the insurance company lawyer. At her deposition she was very credible and sympathetic.

I took the deposition of the defendant lawyer and he could not understand how this accident could possibly be his fault. He stated that he was angry at the bicyclist because she could've killed herself. He believed that the fact that she was silent after the accident was an indication that she was planning to sue him. Most importantly, he testified that when he looked to the right he only looked approximately 15 feet because after that his line of vision was cut off. He began moving his car and ran over the bicyclist. I was able to preserve the argument that he should not have moved at all because he could not look far enough up the road. His testimony looked fairly poor for him.

Through the assistance of the Washington area bicycle Association I was able to find a regulation which permits "lane splitting". There is a regulation which allows bicyclists to go between parked cars and traffic as long as it is done safely.

I provided this information to the insurance company lawyer and they finally accepted liability and made a very low offer. After a period of negotiation we were able to get the offer into a reasonable area. Even the court appointed mediator believed that the plaintiff secured a good settlement.

It took many hours of work which included visiting the accident scene, chasing down witnesses and getting their statements, preparing my client for her deposition, preparing for the deposition of the defendant, researching applicable law but the result was worth it: we turned the case around from zero to significant money for my client for the injury she suffered.
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