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Man sues for $575K after crashing on dirt pile

Posted by on January 9th, 2009 at 12:07 pm

Here’s an interesting lawsuit filed by a Southeast Portland man. It was featured in a roundup of lawsuits published in The Oregonian yesterday:

A man bicycling through Southeast Portland is suing a pair of homeowners after he allegedly crashed into a mound of dirt placed on the side of the street.

Jeremy Hooten was pedaling along 21st Avenue near Division Street at 2 a.m. when he hit the pile, causing him to fly over his handlebars and slam into the street, according to his suit.
The suit doesn’t mention whether Hooten was using a light, but it does cite a city ordinance that street-side obstacles — such as mounds of dirt, bark dust or gravel — need to be marked with warning lights and barricades so passers-by can see them. The ordinance makes an exception for parked cars.

Hooten suffered broken bones in his face and skull, broken teeth, blurred vision and difficulty sleeping, among other injuries. He is seeking $575,000 from owners Joseph and Hau Hagedorn.

According to the Hagedorns, the incident happened in July of 2007.

Should Mr. Hooten just suck it up and take responsibility for what happened. Or, do you think someone leaving a pile of dirt in the street should be held liable? $575,000 sure seems like a ton of money.

I realize there are not many facts yet, I’ll work to do a follow-up story when/if I can. But in the meantime, what do you think?

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Comments
  • Lynne January 9, 2009 at 12:32 pm

    Isn’t that is why there is a city ordinance? So people don’t get hurt? Even with a really decent lighting system, piles of dirt and leaves just don’t stand out. Mr. Hooten won’t get what he’s suing for, but if he asks for less, he’ll get less than that.

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  • Dana January 9, 2009 at 12:33 pm

    Although the other people seem to be liable, this seems to be a typical american style lawsuit: Be an idiot by not paying attention to what you are doing, find a loophole that shows someone else was at fault, sue for money!

    I wonder if he a.) had a light or b.) was intoxicated, since he was traveling at 2 am (when bars stop serving alcohol).

    Is there also an exception for leaves in the street?

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  • colin January 9, 2009 at 12:45 pm

    I would like to know more about the cyclist before commenting, ie. did he have lights and more importantly since he is so concerned about safety, was he wearing a helmet? A fractured skull? 575k seems a little excessive but if he doesn’t have health insurance than I can see how they came up with that figure.

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  • Jason S. January 9, 2009 at 12:52 pm

    The facts are important. There are not enough facts to offer an opinion. Enough for a polemic maybe, but not a reasoned opinion.

    For what it is worth, lawsuits are not just for rich corporations and insurance companies. Real people can use the court system too! More American than apple pie.

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  • michael downes January 9, 2009 at 12:53 pm

    The amount seems excessive but then we have no idea how much the medical costs, loss of employment, damage to bicycle & clothing etc. came to and quite clearly the homeowners where in violation of a city ordinance.But I think there is another factor here and that is the generally poor state of street lighting on the average American side street. Unlike other countries (I’m thinking Europe here) where street lighting has to meet strictly applied standards & codes many districts and sub divisions have sporadic street lights attached to telephone & power poles. These poles are not distributed with lighting in mind but to carry transmission cables. In places where there are dedicated light poles the lights are often more decorative than functional. Add to that minuscule street signs and navigating the back streets can be tough. I consider myself an experienced cyclist and yet I have had a few close calls due to the generally poor lighting. Thank god most American city streets (in the West at least) are arranged in a grid.

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  • wsbob January 9, 2009 at 12:55 pm

    I saw that brief item in the O yesterday, and wondered why we hadn’t heard about it earlier. With the information provided, in spite of the fact that $575K may seem like an excessive pile of money to lay on a guy that had this kind of misfortune, it’s very difficult to tell exactly what the circumstances were here.

    If we had all the details available for us to consider, it the judgment might thoroughly reasonable. Personally, on the information provided, I see room for a decision to go either way. “…2am…” …well, there, we have the obvious suggestion that the guy on the bike may have been a stupid drunk trying to find his way home in the dark….but we don’t know for sure.

    “…a mound of dirt placed on the side of the street.” ….well, it’s not clear what function in this particular situation the ‘side of the street’ served. Sometimes this is where people park their cars, other times it’s where the bike lane is (though none is mentioned in the article). Regardless of what the function of the side of the street was here, the guy was riding on it.

    If he had a legitimate right to ride there, an unmarked dirt pile probably had no business being there. Even with a light on a bike, depending on existing, ambient light on the street available at that time of night, a dirt pile might be virtually undetectable to a rider.

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  • Jeff TB January 9, 2009 at 12:59 pm

    Not knowing all the details, I still need to say:

    I dislike how litigious our society has become.

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  • Dave January 9, 2009 at 1:15 pm

    It seems to me, if it was a big enough pile of dirt to cause him to go flying and sustain such serious injuries, if he was paying attention, he probably would have seen it and could have easily avoided it. Even if it is illegal for them to have the pile there without lights around it, I think he bears some of the burden for actually riding responsibly.

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  • Dave January 9, 2009 at 1:18 pm

    But, as mentioned before, there’s hardly enough information here to condemn or absolve anyone.

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  • GlowBoy January 9, 2009 at 1:19 pm

    Roadway obstructions should be clearly marked, so it might be a legitimate lawsuit IF he was riding with proper lighting and was not intoxicated.

    Hard not to notice the bigger picture though. This whole thing — and 90% of big lawsuits generally — would be avoided if (like the rest of the industrialized world) we simply had a no-fault medical insurance system that covers people for their medical needs and doesn’t FORCE people to sue each other just to repair their bodies.

    Don’t like our litigious society? Then join the fight for universal coverage! Most big damage awards are tacked on top of suits that fundamentally medical, and if we simply had universal coverage most of our so-called liability crisis would disappear overnight.

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  • GlowBoy January 9, 2009 at 1:22 pm

    My above comments said, I agree with Dave (#9) that we don’t have anywhere enough information to pass judgment. It may have been a dark, rainy night, and the pile may have extended out a couple feet out past a parked car, making it difficult to see at night. We just don’t know. And the rider may have been intoxicated, lacking a helmet, or both. Again, we don’t know.

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  • John Lascurettes January 9, 2009 at 1:22 pm

    The homeowner is responsible because there was no marking per the ordinance.

    The bicyclist could possibly also partially be at fault.

    A skull fracture and face fractures are painful and expensive to treat.

    A court of law will determine the appropriate amount; or the parties will agree to an amount outside of court.

    These are the only facts I know.

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  • Pete January 9, 2009 at 1:25 pm

    michael (#5): I offer a different opinion on public lighting. I intentionally purchased the building I live in on a street with minimal lighting and retrofitted the property with motion sensors, which work better than static light for security purposes. I ride slower with very bright lights at night, and I personally don’t like my tax dollars spent on wasted energy and light pollution to brighten anything but the most safety-critical areas. But that’s just IMHO.

    It would be nice to know if the rider was properly lit, and I’m a big fan of helmets, though I know that’s a touchy subject on this blog.

    Sounds like a nasty crash, and as it’s been said, there’s a reason for the ordinance. I think there’s a liability with the people who placed it there, though how much is up to the courts to decide with proper facts.

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  • mc January 9, 2009 at 1:26 pm

    “city ordinance that street-side obstacles — such as mounds of dirt, bark dust or gravel — need to be marked with warning lights and barricades so passers-by can see them.”

    And yet most bike lanes in the SE (26th, Gladstone) are filled w. so much gravel it’s unsafe to ride in them…

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  • Matthew Denton January 9, 2009 at 1:32 pm

    Interesting ordinance. Besides the fairly large number of piles that people do pile on the street, those miniature storage containers aren’t cars either, and the city piles up the leaves from the park near my house in a huge (taller than me) pile on the side of the street, but I’ve never seen lights on any of those…

    It seems like when you order a load of compost, that the person that delivered it should know this ordinance.

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  • redhippie January 9, 2009 at 1:32 pm

    I wonder how his lawyer is getting paid. Retainer or contingent? A.O. any idea on the what the going % is for personal injury lawyers?

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  • Zoomzit January 9, 2009 at 1:39 pm

    As a homeowner in the SouthEast and a bike commuter I have reason to be sympathetic with both sides of this suit, but as the facts are currently stated, I mostly side with the homeowner.

    However, the real thing that irks me about this is that the city can create an ordinance that can make homeowners liable for massive damages, while the city itself is protected from such lawsuits.

    If Portland believe that keeping the streets free of debris is important, then they need to hold themselves to the same standard

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  • bikieboy January 9, 2009 at 1:42 pm

    Several folks have mentioned the question of whether or not the cyclists had lights, but on reading the ORS —
    “The lighting equipment must show a white
    light visible from a distance of at least 500feet to the front of the bicycle.” — I can’t see that this has any bearing on what happened, since the law doesn’t seem to require that a front light illuminate the roadway in any way, only that it make you visible to other roadway users. Hence, blinky lights are ok… and as we all know they’re pretty useless for showing any roadway obstructions.

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  • Dave January 9, 2009 at 1:55 pm

    The thing that really strikes me about the situation is that in order to sustain such major injuries, he had to have been going really fast, and he had to have hit some kind of pretty major obstruction, which gives me a strong suspicion that he probably was either not paying attention, or not in a state in which he could properly handle his bicycle.

    But again, that’s entirely hypothetical.

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  • Jessica Roberts January 9, 2009 at 2:04 pm

    I had a similar situation happen to me, but it was a near miss. It was late on a rainy, dark night, and someone had left a GIANT pile of dirt spilling out into the middle of the travel lane on SE Ankeny. I hit it and spun out of control. Luckily I was able to right myself, and there were no cars behind me. But there was no way I could have seen it on a dark rainy night with no streetlight nearby (and yes, I had a headlight, but it didn’t help soon enough). It was scary.

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  • Michael M. January 9, 2009 at 2:18 pm

    I guess the commenters here have better lighting than I do, or better night-vision, or both. (I don’t see very well at night.) I was told at Bike Gallery that a Cat’s Eye was about the best I could do for a headlight without stepping up to lights that cost $150 and up, which I can’t afford, and that most bike lights are designed more to make the rider visible than to light the rider’s environment.

    It’s this kind of story that scares me, and the main reason I try to avoid riding at night. (I think the last time I rode at night was attending BikeCraft.) I just can’t see very far in front of me at night, and have a lot of trouble reading street signs, which are too small and often shrouded in darkness by trees in many Portland neighborhood anyway. I can see well enough to notice stop signs and the like, but an unexpected obstruction like this one would probably be the death of me (or, at least, the injury of me).

    I’m definitely pulling for the cyclist on this one.

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  • dahoos January 9, 2009 at 2:28 pm

    Many factors, not many facts. (so far)

    To flip over the bars requires some speed. If he didn’t have illuminating lights, he should have been going at a speed at which he could see obstructions when approaching them, and be able to react. Also wondering about the helmet…

    The homeowners probably should have made some attempt to draw attention to the pile, i.e. caution tape, cones. Honestly though, its not really something I would think of doing, until now. Seems there were mistakes by both parties.

    You’ll probably recall all the snow the city had recently received, it was the homeowners responsibility to clear it from public spaces, specifically the sidewalk. I can tell you just about nobody did that around my neighborhood. If I were to have slipped and smacked my head while walking the dog, I could sue the homeowner?

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  • Zoomzit January 9, 2009 at 2:30 pm

    Jessica Roberts and Michael M.,

    I totally understand where you are coming from on this. My blinkie barely lights the road in front of me. As a cyclist, that give me three options, slow down so I don’t ride “ahead of my lights,” get a better light or choose to not ride at night.

    If we can’t see, we shouldn’t ride. If we can’t see and ride anyway, we should take responsibility for what happens. The rider has to take responsibility here.

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  • Zoomzit January 9, 2009 at 2:35 pm

    Dahoos,

    Yes you could sue the homeowner. If you slip and fall on a public sidewalk, you can not sue the city of Portland. At least that’s my understanding.

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  • a.O January 9, 2009 at 2:46 pm

    Wow, I am pleasantly amazed at the number of people who understand that there aren’t enough facts presented to draw definitive conclusions one way or the other.

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  • Oliver January 9, 2009 at 3:27 pm

    “in order to sustain such major injuries, …he probably was either not paying attention, or not in a state in which he could properly handle his bicycle.”

    If it has been determined that 25mph is the safe speed to travel along the street (plenty fast enough to cause significant damage to oneself colliding with a substantial ‘blind’ obstacle), and one is not required to have a light which illuminates the road in front of you, then one could ‘reasonably’ expect it to be safe to travel at that speed along a given roadway.

    Doesn’t it seem that this is exactly the reason for the ordinance requiring such obstacles to be lit? On a roadway, you dont’ expect giant unlit obstacles to be placed in your path.

    if the facts match those stated, it seems intuitive that the owners are the ones liable for their dirt. It is unfortunate that the owners will be hit with such an apparently large suit, (this is what homeowners insurance is for) But I’d rather Farmers pay out on my behalf that crush my face.

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  • mc January 9, 2009 at 4:08 pm

    Point of fact is that whoever puts any kind of obstruction on public roadway is personally responsible for ensuring that it’s not a hazard to the users of the roadway.

    That clearly wasn’t done. Whether or not the bicyclist had a light, was riding fast, or had imbibed. I don’t condone any of that behavior, but those things don’t change the fact that it is the homeowner’s responsibility.

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  • bahueh January 9, 2009 at 4:45 pm

    maybe now this is a good time to start the conversation about all the dolts who didn’t plow their sidewalks for two weeks last month?

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  • Michael M. January 9, 2009 at 4:54 pm

    Zoomit: When I ride at night, I certainly don’t go very fast — even in daylight hours, anywhere in the city, I don’t ride faster than I feel is safe for me, which I tend to think of as “being able to stop on a dime if a little kid suddenly runs into the road ahead of me. On a couple of occasions, I have annoyed the more impatient cyclists among us if they can’t safely pass. So I understand what you’re saying with regard to speed. But I don’t think your other options are reasonable. It was difficult enough for me to scrape together the cash to buy a bike in the first place and I got the best light I can afford. What you’re really saying is “don’t ride at night,” which is severely limiting during Oregon winters, when it is dark after 7AM and by 4:30PM. You’re effectively shutting out anyone who has a typical work schedule from commuting by bike. I don’t see how that fits in with promoting cycling as a viable means of transportation, especially for low-wage earners or those on fixed incomes, who are among the people who can benefit most from cycling as transportation. I save a good deal of money (by my standards) by cycling over other means of transport; frankly, I depend on this savings to help me get by.

    It doesn’t seem to me that it matters much whether or not this guy was going too fast, unless he was exceeding the speed limit, or wearing a helmet. Oliver is exactly right: “On a roadway, you don’t expect giant unlit obstacles to be placed in your path.” I go slow enough that the chances of me flipping over the handlebars are virtually nil, but that doesn’t mean I can’t sustain some serious injury or another in a fall, and it mystifies me how I’m supposed to avoid such unlit, unmarked, unexpected obstacles in darkness. I’m finding it hard to imagine how someone who haphazardly places such an obstacle in the roadway isn’t liable for his actions, regardless of who crashes into it or under what circumstances.

    The upshot is that if this lawsuit doesn’t succeed in some measure, I’m going to have to rethink my assumptions about the viability of cycling as transport. I can’t afford to risk incurring potentially crippling medical expenses because someone dumps a dark pile of dirt in my path that I can’t possibly see in time to avoid, not without being reasonably sure that I can get restitution.

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  • DT January 9, 2009 at 5:38 pm

    No way to pass any judgment here, as others have said, but I will chime in that I was riding Willamette Blvd home last winter (the residential part, not the high-speed part that becomes N Portland Blvd), and there is very little lighting beyond my own bike light. I remember being startled by a very large pile of dirt that had been placed in the road in front of a house. It startled me not because I was close to running into it (it was late and no one was around, so I was riding more toward the middle of the road), but because it was so difficult to see until I was almost even with it. It scared me that there could be such a large object in the road where I could’ve been riding and me not see it! I don’t have the best headlight money can buy, and it is probably better for making me visible than lighting the road for me, but the fact that the pile of dirt was not visible until I got to it was really scary. As this story rightly shows.

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  • Joe January 9, 2009 at 5:45 pm

    If i hit a pile of shit in a lane, or i have meds bill sure, or my bike is FUBAR!
    i’d build a case.

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  • John January 9, 2009 at 6:07 pm

    I must say…some streets can be very dark here in Portland and if you don’t have an ultra bright light you may not be able to see a big mound of dark dirt. That stuff blends right into the night and I don’t know too many others who sport big ugly bright lights. I mean…we’re not required to anyway. I mean if he had been paying good attention, he may have noticed the mound but all it takes is a split second to get distracted by something. Maybe a noise or something that catches your eye for a moment. It’s not his fault. That’s why the ordinance is in place. So yes…the guy has all the right in the world to sue. That is a lot of money…but maybe its justified. He probably has a lot of medical bills, he needs a new bike and I’m sure he needs help while he’s not working. Also….I highly doubt anyone would purposefully ride their bike into a mound of dirt and hurt themselves just so they can get a chance to sue for thousands. That’s the most ridiculous thing I’ve ever heard. Have a little more faith in humanity people!

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  • Joe Rowe January 9, 2009 at 6:12 pm

    We are a country of rule by law not the emotion fabricated by the Snore-gonian. Let the system work it out. There is not yet enough information for anyone to make any statements of judgement. The very small percentage of gouging in injury lawsuits should not be our focus. I wish the Oregonian would report on the hundreds or thousands of happy ending stories where mistakes were made and a lawsuit helped a victim stay out of debt and being homeless. This is why the insurance industry exists and also provides jobs and services.

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  • gabriel amadeus January 9, 2009 at 6:21 pm

    Seriously? It is the middle of the night. Very dark. You’re riding fast. It’s up to YOU to see and avoid obstacles. You know, like curves in the road, curbs, stop signs, parked cars, stop signs…

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  • Joe Rowe January 9, 2009 at 6:39 pm

    One more thing. I bet the “reporters” are picking on bikes again.

    I’m guessing the long list of lawsuits used to fabricate this news included victims in cars with high cost settlements and less severe injuries.

    I will be asking aimeegreen@news.oregonian.com to send me the full list or more information.

    The story reads like a tabloid with easy to hate lawsuits related to coffee, landlords, and towing companies. Again I say Bore-gonian.

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  • Zoomzit January 9, 2009 at 7:26 pm

    Michael M.

    I think, according to your logic, that you ought to stop riding. In the end, there are thousand of obstacles in our bike paths that are at least as difficult to see as a mound of dirt (sticks, stones, dead squirrels, cats, potholes, gravel, snow, ice, puddles, etc.) that you can hit at night due to riding too fast and having poor lighting.

    The majority of things that you could hit, you can not sue for. You must, as a bicyclist, ensure your own safety (i.e. bicycle at night with a light that will effectively light the path in front of you) as most things that you could hit will ultimately be your responsibility for. Only hitting items left in front of homes that you can safely identify as the homeowners give you an avenue to sue the homeowner.

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  • Mac January 9, 2009 at 7:29 pm

    As you all determine whether to “side with the cyclist” or not – be aware that the homeowners themselves are avid cycle commuters. Their home was right near an intersection and the area always seemed fairly well lit to me. The suit may be claiming that they didn’t meet the city’s requirements for marking the pile, but that doesn’t mean that they hadn’t marked it. It just means that the individual is claiming they didn’t do it adequately.

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  • mark January 9, 2009 at 9:06 pm

    the only lights I’ve seen that would light up a pile of dirt in an otherwise dark street at 2 a.m. are the ones you charge up and put on your bike for a night ride to Forest Park, who uses those for normal commuting? and who cares if he was coming home from a bar or not, if he was, at least he wasn’t driving. I agree with most, I’d need to know more about the specifics before jumping to conclusions, but it sounds like a clear case of the homeowner not following through on what they should do when placing a large obstacle in the street.

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  • petey January 9, 2009 at 9:06 pm

    Does this mean that I can’t leave my trash can and recycling at the curb without lighting it up??

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  • jake January 9, 2009 at 9:31 pm

    sounds like all the homeowner had to do was block the dirt with a car and it would have been legal, and safe to boot. I think that the suit is ridiculous and maybe the homeowners insurance should cover the bills but no more. I only say this because I not only see a lot of unaware cyclists (myself included at times) but I see alot of homeowners that are unaware of how to safely organize the space that they are responsible for. I guess that the problem with common sense is that its not common anymore.

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  • GlowBoy January 9, 2009 at 11:54 pm

    Dahoos, the answer to your question is absolutely YES you can be sued if someone slips on your sidewalk and it’s found that you failed to clear it when you should have. I grew up in Minnesota where this is a Big Deal.

    I have at a neighbor who went to more trouble than most to keep his sidewalk clear during last month’s storms. When I asked him about it, he said “I don’t wanna get sued!” I wasn’t as anal as he was about it, but I spent at least a couple hours shoveling my 160 feet of sidewalk (corner lot). I’d like to think my motivation was mostly civic duty and not wanting people to get hurt, but I have to admit Not Getting Sued was definitely in the back of my mind.

    I don’t think a big pile of dirt is equivalent to the city failing to clear bike lanes. I have yet to see a bike lane that was actually unsafe to ride (#14) with a bike that has decent tires on it. I’ve seen plenty of dirt piles along the edge of the street that are unrideable, however.

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  • Mike January 10, 2009 at 9:32 am

    Without knowing all the details of the situation, from what is known, it would seem that both parties are at fault. The law states that the homeowner was required to barricade and clearly mark the obstruction which they didn’t.

    But it’s obvious the rider either had no lights or if they did, they were travelling at a speed faster than they could stop or avoid obstacles. It’s true that we don’t expect major obstacles in our paths. But that doesn’t mean it’s not our responsibility to not “override” our headlights. If I’m driving at night in my car and go around a bend and run over a log in the road, whose at fault? Is it the log because it was somewhere it shouldn’t have been? Is it me for not anticipating a potential hazard and not being able to react in time?

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  • scoot January 10, 2009 at 10:20 am

    Definitely not enough information to take a side, but maybe it ought to be noted that the huge-sounding amounts in this kind of lawsuit are sometimes supposed to be punishing, preventative amounts that ripple out beyond the individuals involved, and not so much anyone’s attempt to get rich. If people get fined 10 bucks for leaving piles of stuff in the roadway, they’re a lot more likely to decide it’s worth 10 bucks.

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  • r January 10, 2009 at 12:24 pm

    so many comments, my, my. just to take a few: even with decent lighting, I have been startled at the last instant by heaps of dirt in the street at night. but because I do not ride as far to the right as you are “supposed to,” I have been able to avoid these. so far. none but the most expensive lighting is going to light up the path — most bike lights are to make you visible to motorists. typically a cyclist at night is relying in large part on the ambient lighting. if your wheel stops dead in a heap of dirt, it does not require much speed to go over the bars. almost certainly any lawyer taking this would take it on a contingency. the quoted amount is probably some multiple of actual expenses (usually three). in a lot of other states, the court rules permit you to itemize your actual damages, but not plead an arbitrary number. these do sound like pretty tough injuries, glad it was not my face.

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  • 2ndaveflyer January 10, 2009 at 1:17 pm

    Unfortunately this report falls into the ‘Fox News’ category. I suppose it’s difficult to break stories when they are fresh and at the same time have adequate details. Nevertheless inviting people to comment on the lack of information falls below the usually high standards of journalism found at this site. If the summons to write had asked instead “share what obstacles you’ve observed while riding your bike” it would have served a legitimate and useful purpose. Still one dud out of a hundred ain’t bad; keep up the good work.

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  • John January 10, 2009 at 1:26 pm

    I have to agree with Michael M. and Bikieboy, you’d have to spend at least a hundred dollars for a high-lumen “pathfinder” type light, such as Night Rider brand. Most handlebar mounted lights are maybe (maybe!) effective to alert cars turning left. None of the AA or AAA battery type lights that I’ve seen (planet bike, blackburn) are capable of illuminating a sewer grate, pothole, mound of dirt. etc. A mound of dirt at night has no facets or shiny surfaces, it reflects nothing–it can look like a shadow even at moderate speeds.

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  • Kurt January 10, 2009 at 1:57 pm

    Laws. Over-analyzing. $$$. Our society is so depressing sometimes.

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  • Bob in Beaverton January 10, 2009 at 2:03 pm

    I didn’t read every prior comment; don’t have time for that. At face value of article, yes, many facts are missing or not available. Most important: Q: Was the cyclist occupying a designated bike lane at 21st and Division? If so, then ORS Chapter 811 will apply and the cyclist could sue for the maximum the law allows. That’s the job of his legal representation anyway, and let the legalese determine the punitives and compesatories. If this rider was not using a headlight then this is legally relevant as a separate issue. I’m reasonably sure the City of Portland Municipal Code requires cyclists to use lighting one-half-hour post sunset through until sunrise. But if this incident was not investigated by police then the issue of adequate lighting or blood alcohol level is irrelevant.

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  • JR January 10, 2009 at 4:36 pm

    I have almost hit a boat sitting on a trailer and parked on the street once. It was dark, there were no street lights and certainly no reflectors on the boat to reflect my bike light. Also, parts of the boat jutted out past where a car possibly might be parked. All-in-all, very dangerous. While I can sympathize with the situation, I think that amount is excessive and it reflects the lack of a public health care system here and the excessive costs of private health care. I imagine this guy doesn’t have insurance.. if I didn’t have insurance, I might sue the homeowners as well.. might, but probably not..

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  • beth h January 11, 2009 at 10:08 am

    When the law requires bicyclists to use lights that are actually and specifically bright enough to light up the road, and requires bicyclists to wear helmets, then people can squawk about someone getting hurt BECAUSE he had neither. It’s no better a cause-and-effect argument after becoming law, but the weight of law gives it more legitimacy (right or wrong) in many peoples’ minds.

    Until we REQUIRE bikes and bike riders to be much better equipped, there’s a lot of gray area; and this is the kind of thing that sometimes allows judges to toss cases and allows juries to (statistically speaking) find against adult bike riders in 50 per cent of all cases that go to trial. That statistic is why even the best lawyers try to get a settlement for their bike riding clients when possible.
    Mr. Hooten should hope for a settlement.

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  • John Reinhold January 11, 2009 at 12:02 pm

    Additions to a long discussion:

    At night colors wash out, and contrast dissapears. Even lights don’t make dark dirt visible on dark pavement. (I used to have a pavement colored car that was virtually invisible during gray Portland winter days – grey light, grey car, grey pavement. At night you couldn’t see it if you didn’t shine light off it’s reflectors.)

    Mini storage units are not legally allowed to be placed in the street either.

    The city even as an ordinance that a vehicle taller than 7 feet can’t be parked on the street within 50ft of an intersection. Ever see this one enforced?

    This whole thing is one of the reasons you have homeowners insurance.

    Don’t pile crap in the street. At best it is impolite or inconsiderate, at worst it is dangerous.

    Don’t ride faster than you can see, stop or steer. No matter what a “law” says it is unethical to expect others to be responsible for your poor judgement.

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  • chuck wagon January 11, 2009 at 3:19 pm

    If it’s legal to leave piles of dirt in the street, maybe I’ll build some dirt jumps in front of my house.

    $575k might sound excessive… but come on… he broke multiple bones.. face.. teeth… OUCH! All because of somebody’s negligence. No need to blame the victim here, and insinuate that he was drunk, helmetless (maybe helmets — especially full face ones should be mandatory for bikes), etc.

    If you get doored by a car, who’s fault is that? The guy who opened the door or the cyclist that ran into it? Same argument.

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  • justa January 11, 2009 at 5:37 pm

    “in order to sustain such major injuries, he had to have been going really fast, and he had to have hit some kind of pretty major obstruction”

    i would like to point out that that is simply not true. riding a bike is a delicate balance, and sometimes the smallest unexpected disturbances are enough to seriously screw your shit up before you even know it’s happening.

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  • Mike January 11, 2009 at 7:51 pm

    “If you get doored by a car, who’s fault is that? The guy who opened the door or the cyclist that ran into it? Same argument.”

    It’s not the same argument. The dirt pile is an immovable object that wasn’t seen in time to avoid. A door opening in your path is an immediate occurrence that is directly caused by someone other than the rider and is often times near impossible to avoid. Although any careful rider will be anticipating the “possibility” of a door opening if their riding next to parked cars.

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  • outlaw7x77 January 11, 2009 at 10:59 pm

    This is the problem with America. Sue Sue Sue… I know, the mound of dirt probably shouln’t have been there but the people who put it there in July were probably just trying to improve their garden and couldn’t use it all up that night. A person on a bike at 2:00AM should have a good light esspecially in residential and urban areas… People need to take responsibility for their own actions. They need to watch where they’re going. I’m pro bike, I own a bike shop. I feel bad for the guy but this is the low road. These attorneys that advertise on this website are the ones who will someday go to hell. They make me sick.

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  • outlaw7x77 January 11, 2009 at 11:08 pm

    These are the reasons why so many people are against spending tax dollars on bike lanes, trails, parks, etc… If your riding your bike at 2AM you need to watch where your going. I hate it so much when people cling to the law and get rich off it because the LAW says so.

    I heard today that 45% of the money in health care goes to the insurance industry. I don’t want insurance, I want health care. Just like I don’t want attorneys, I want justice. That is why I dig Jesus Christ…he did away with the Law. It’s written in our hearts…some people only have stones that pump blood.

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  • outlaw7x77 January 11, 2009 at 11:15 pm

    How about this one…right now it is legal to ride your bike on the street at night. Due to unreasonable lawsuits, they are now outlawed at night. This is what this lawsuit says. It says that it is not safe to ride your bike at night. Last year I drove up to Canada and way up in Clearwater BC I stumbled upon a smalltown public swimming area. It still had diving boards. It also had picnic tables, swingsets, horse shoe pits, cazebos, high diving platforms, lifeguards on duty, (way more that I can remember to list)…When was the last time you saw a diving board at a motel or a public beach or anyway other than a school pool? It’s unheard of nowdays. It was common when I grew up in the ’70′s. Lawsuits like this ruin it for everyone.

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  • maxadders January 12, 2009 at 9:53 am

    I’ve almost had this happen to me, even with a decent (half-watt LED) light. It can be really hard to see a pile of black topsoil or fill!

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  • AndresM January 12, 2009 at 12:52 pm

    I agree with outlaw7x77. I myself am a biker and advocate for bikers rights and infrastructure; but seriously – you shouldn’t be able to sue for being stupid. The extent of the injuries suggests a hard fall. Every time I’ve fallen it’s my hands and arms that suffer the brunt of the hit, not my face. This guy a) was going too fast to be able to react or b)was too impaired to react properly, or c) was going too fast while being impaired.
    It’s 2 am on a dark street, you shouldn’t be going faster than 10 – 15 mph.

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  • dan January 12, 2009 at 5:26 pm

    Last winter, I ran into a pile of barkdust that I couldn’t see _at all_, even when I was in/on it.

    I use two lights up front, a Planet Bike flasher with this Cateye, with the Cateye set to steady.

    Even with this setup, which is about as good as you’re going to get until you get a Night Sun or something similar ($$$), I had no warning at all.

    It happened heading uphill on SE Lincoln, between 20th and 30th. Fortunately, I was riding a mountain bike and (because I was climbing), not moving too fast. I managed to stay upright. The next day, riding downhill on my way into town, I checked out the pile and saw that I’d left some deep tracks — and the homeowners had bracketed the dirt pile with their cars to prevent another cyclist from making the same mistake.

    Just funny for me because I was heading uphill/traveling slowly and therefore managed to stay upright, but if that dirt had been on the other side of the street, I could easily imagine someone hitting it at high speed, and that would probably not have turned out so well.

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  • Jim F. January 12, 2009 at 7:55 pm

    This case isn’t “cyclist” vs. the world. The homeowners who were sued here are actually total bike fanatics (they are friends of friends). So, this one is cyclist vs. cyclist.

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  • r January 12, 2009 at 9:23 pm

    of what possible relevance is it that the homeowners also ride bikes? they put a load of dirt in the street and they did not mark it. period. nobody is going to get “rich” here. some guy who was hurt pretty bad is going to get his medical bills paid and some compensation for time missed from work, and yes, a little extra because it hurt, and maybe his face is permanently messed up or whatever. okay, maybe the lawyer will get “rich” if he get a third or two-fifths of the award, but he is taking the risk that he will get nothing at all, after spending quite a lot of time putting this together for trial. maybe what the bike shop owner (comment 56) is really saying is that we need to do away entirely with the concept of “fault” and just have some kind of comprehensive social insurance that covers everybody for everything. get rid of that 45 percent overhead problem at the same time. property is theft. etc.

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  • maxadders January 13, 2009 at 11:02 am

    Yeah, it doesn’t matter that the defendants are cyclists. What if they were the owners of a Hummer dealership? Same difference. This isn’t a case of eating-our-own, just as it isn’t a case of “us vs. them”. It’s about an individual who (apparently) created an unmarked hazard on a public street that led to an injury, and the victim’s attempt to receive compensation for his costs and injuries.

    I’m sure it sucks to be the family slapped with a $500k lawsuit, but them’s the breaks.

    Personally, I don’t think the city should allow homeowners / etc to store building materials in the street without permits. The permits would encourage oversight, inspection and enforcement. The city uses cones, tapes, orange fence and flashing lights to mark their street obstructions. A homeowner who fails to do so creates liability. It’s an open invitation for this type of thing to happen.

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  • SkidMark January 13, 2009 at 11:01 pm

    Face fractures and broken teeth, sounds like something to sue over.

    If we had nationalized health care you wouldn’t have to think about sueing someone to cover your medical expenses.

    Lawsuits of this nature are often triple damages, 1/3 goes to medical, 1/3 goes to the lawyer, and 1/3 goes into your pocket for your trouble.

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  • SkidMark January 13, 2009 at 11:05 pm

    If you don’t see the road hazard that is going to dump you on your face, you don’t have much time to get your hands in between your face and the ground.

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  • jim January 14, 2009 at 12:04 am

    Rider should have had insurance. He is accountable for his own accident, The dirt is not at fault. If he was unable to stop or go around it than that defines him riding out of control, a missdemeanor. Who knows what kind of light he did or did not have. Fact is he was riding out of control and suffered the consequences and now wants someone else to suffer along with him.

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  • A-dub January 14, 2009 at 12:24 pm

    Thanks for your input JK. Don’t feed the trolls.

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