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Lawsuit filed against United Rentals in 2010 right-hook incident

Posted by on March 27th, 2012 at 1:18 pm

Scene of right hook NE Couch and Grand-1
Jen Michaelree’s bike where it came to rest after the collision.
(Photos © J. Maus/BikePortland)

Lawyers for a woman injured in a right hook collision in September 2010 at the notorious NE Couch/Grand intersection have filed a lawsuit against United Rentals Northwest alleging that one of their drivers was not properly trained.

The suit has been filed by Portland-based Shulman DuBois LLC. According to a statement, they allege that United Rentals was “negligent in their failure to train [driver Drue] Kearsley properly and prevent this accident.” The suit seeks over $178,000 for Jill Michaelree, who suffered a broken foot and other injuries after she was struck by the truck while riding through the intersection in the bike lane.

Scene of right hook NE Couch and Grand-4
The United Rentals truck driven by Kearsley.

I happened to come on the scene of this collision right after it happened and the truck driver (who was clearly remorseful for what had happened) said to me, “We both had the green. I didn’t even see her.”

Ironically, the collision happened the morning after the City of Portland Bureau of Transportation named this intersection their #1 priority for a new, green-colored bike box due its crash history and safety risks. The bike box was installed one month after Michaelree’s incident. (But it turns out, not even a bike box could fix right-hooks here. Eventually, PBOT installed an illuminated bicycle sign and I haven’t heard about any collisions since.)

“The lack of a bicycle box does not excuse the allegedly negligent behavior of the United Rentals Northwest driver and his failure to watch for bicyclists before turning,” said lawyer Sean DuBois.

In a press statement, DuBois said this lawsuit is also meant to remind companies about the importance of training drivers to operate safely, especially when around bikeways.

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Comments
  • tonyt March 27, 2012 at 1:23 pm

    Hate to say it, but it’s exactly these kind of suits that get companies to train their employees properly. Wish they’d do it out of the goodness of their hearts, but they don’t.

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    • ambrown March 27, 2012 at 1:38 pm

      Yup.

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    • John Lascurettes March 27, 2012 at 2:33 pm

      So they’re not frivolous lawsuits. They’re “don’t tell us we didn’t tell you so” lawsuits.

      Recommended Thumb up 1

  • 9watts March 27, 2012 at 1:27 pm

    I could imagine that some of it is training but good mirrors, and the *ability* of a driver to see out of a big truck, especially on the right side is another matter. Nothing that can’t be fixed with enough determination, of course.

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    • Opus the Poet March 27, 2012 at 2:35 pm

      Again, that’s something that will get fixed when it costs somebody enough money, perhaps a suit against the truck maker? Because if you can’t see what’s in the next lane and you run it over because you don’t know it’s there even though you looked, is that the fault of the driver that can’t see, or the truck maker that made a truck you can’t see out of?

      United Rentals needs to sue the people they bought their truck from. After they lose this suit.

      Recommended Thumb up 2

      • Spiffy March 27, 2012 at 3:07 pm

        it’s not the truck’s fault that the driver navigated it negligently…

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        • 9watts March 27, 2012 at 3:10 pm

          No one here suggested suing the truck.

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      • matt picio March 27, 2012 at 7:39 pm

        It’s the fault of the company who owns the truck. Even if the manufacturer does not provide enough mirrors to provide proper visual coverage, there are aftermarket products the owner could install. The truck manufacturer is responsible for meeting federal and state laws regarding mirrors, and in doing so is protected somewhat from liability. (and those laws perhaps should be strengthened) But the truck owner is responsible for damages caused by that truck – training the operator, providing the proper safety equipment, performing inspections, etc – those are all responsibilities of the owner. The operator has additional responsibilities of their own.

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  • Todd Boulanger March 27, 2012 at 6:13 pm

    The point is that fleet managers make future vehicle decisions based on cost per unit and what were the most recent problems they were dealing with (safety, fuel cost, cargo, etc.)…

    …truck cab and trailer designs that are more vulnerable road user (VRU) friendly have been on the world market for the last generation or so. The question might be did the fleet purchaser have a more ‘bike friendly’ vehicle choice and if YES why was it not purchased? [It might be interesting to request company emails on fleet vehicle design and safety during the purchase process, etc.]

    Looking at the crash site photos…the supplemental passenger side ‘down view’ mirror (class V) and turn signal indicators this truck had are a good first start (assuming they are correctly adjusted, on/ functioning, clean, and the road scanned before moving from a stop vs. a previous right hook case’s damaged truck mirror held on by a bungee cord), but this 7600 International truck cab and trailer could [should?] have had:
    - additional window(s) lower in the door panel to aid in seeing stopped bicyclists (improved driver direct vision)
    - skirt to deflect bicyclists, peds, motorcyclists and small cars away from the path of the wheels when turning sharply
    - class VI mirror for seeing the area in front of the passenger side front wheel
    -?

    Versus the 2012 model year’s advertised improvements such as…a rosewood trim on the dash.

    Recommended Thumb up 3

  • Ron Richings March 27, 2012 at 7:40 pm

    Also available for maybe $ 20 or so is a plastic Fresnel lens, about a foot square, that adheres to the right side window and allows a clear view down the right side of the door to the ground. They have been using these on trucks in London, UK for several years. I have a couple of these lenses.
    Not perhaps a total solution, but a significant improvement to safety for very little money.

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  • Ron Richings March 27, 2012 at 7:53 pm

    You can see a video of how the lens works at: http://tinyurl.com/7bcqt9c
    and an information page at: http://tinyurl.com/bl8flvv
    More specific info and presentation pdf’s at the bottom of the page.

    Recommended Thumb up 2

  • 99th Monkey March 27, 2012 at 9:28 pm

    RON! OMG.. we need EVERY 10Ton+ truck in Oregon to get one of these Fresnel lenses installed on the passenger-side window!

    Recommended Thumb up 2

    • todd boulanger March 28, 2012 at 5:34 pm

      Yep – talk to your state legislator (or perhaps it should be a city law?).

      Recommended Thumb up 0

  • Utility Cyclists March 28, 2012 at 12:18 am

    Rather than try to make trucks safe in an environment that’s not safe for them, perhaps we could rethink the freight problem and break up loads into units that fit in smaller vehicles. We could also restrict truck access to off-peak times when there’s less traffic.
    I’m in Paris right now, and I haven’t seen a single 18 wheeler, flatbed truck, or anything larger than a Dodge Sprinter in a week. Somehow they manage to stock their markets, clothing stores, and tabacs without 18 wheelers and deuce and a half trucks driving around neighborhood streets.

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    • Indy March 28, 2012 at 9:40 am

      Smaller trucks means smaller deliveries and more of them, which increases fuel costs, which increases goods costs. Also you have entire infrastructures built around large truck deliveries. Entire docks and the backs of storefronts would need to be redesigned. Something that technology could likely solve with a $100 camera mounted on the front of every rig. Many cars now come with blind-spot detection systems standard.

      This is a training+technology issue more than an infrastructure issue.

      If you look at bike accidents and/or deaths in Oregon, the majority aren’t from trucks or large vehicles, nor are they proportionally per capita from large vehicles.

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    • esther c March 31, 2012 at 1:41 pm

      Exactly. I have been ranting about his for years. These enormous trucks are also tearing up our city streets and curbs. We live in times of mass unemployment. We have plenty of people to drive smaller trucks and manage our freight in smaller increments.

      Our freight needs to be shipped by train which is much more fuel efficient. Then it needs to be shipped to the local areas in smaller trucks. We do not need these unstable and dangerous semi-trailers killing our citizens, tearing up our streets and highways.

      Sadly the rest of the world has joined us in letting these behemoths on the roads.

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  • Indy March 28, 2012 at 9:36 am

    Actually the only thing that will change is the insurance providers of trucking fleets will start to require training in the future, if they already don’t. This is first a money issue, which is an insurance issue.

    Hate to get all corporate here, but when you talk corporations, you talk money, not people.

    I *could* see their insurance provider being sued, given they are ultimately the ones that audit the company to make sure training is done.

    Recommended Thumb up 1

  • Ron Richings March 28, 2012 at 10:59 am

    Solutions to the curse of big trucks in an urban environment are possible.

    Have a look at this video from Utrecht.

    http://youtu.be/lRqKOztzLDs

    More info about the Cargo Hopper technology at:

    http://tinyurl.com/7afdvl9

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  • Joe Adamski March 28, 2012 at 9:17 pm

    development is incremental. Often what is learned best comes from a failure, a disaster, the ‘worst case scenario’.
    And when it costs money to learn the lesson, the lesson is better learned.
    I expect when this case comes to its conclusion, the managers of a lot of companies that have fleets of trucks will look at it as ‘lessons learned’. Among the lessons I see here is that training and awareness regarding other users provide the best outcomes at the lowest cost.
    Or more simply stated: an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.

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  • RyNO Dan March 29, 2012 at 2:55 pm

    What “proper training” did this truck driver lack that caused this collision ?
    I get the feeling he had enough training, and that the amount of training (or lack thereof) is not the cause.

    Recommended Thumb up 1

  • Jon March 29, 2012 at 9:16 pm

    It is things like this that remind me that there is no such thing as an accident. There is always someone at fault. It is odd that the party at fault always has a bunch of money or insurance. Next time I crash on my mountain bike I better sue the manufacturer because it should not have been able to steer off the trail. Just remember the new USA motto: Somebody else is always at fault and lawsuits solve every problem.

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    • are March 30, 2012 at 8:34 pm

      you are saying it is okay for a truck driver to turn across a bike lane without knowing whether a cyclist is coming up on the right? or are you saying a cyclist should not use the bike lane provided for her? i can assure you she would have zero luck in a lawsuit if she were not in the bike lane. someone obviously is “at fault” when two vehicles enter the same space simultaneously. and unfortunately it is by no means always the case that the person at fault has money and/or insurance. somewhere between one in seven and one in four drivers does not have liability coverage.

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  • jim March 31, 2012 at 12:34 pm

    This is an accident that is designed to happen, unfortunately for both parties. It always has been illegal to pas a turning vehicle for safety reasons, now it is redisigned so people do put themselves into these deadly situations. The better approach would be to make it a shared lane at the intersection. A turning vehicle has so many things to watch in front of him, cars approaching from different ways, pedestrians coming off sidewalks, often you have seconds to actually make your move, and now you have to watch out for a skinny bike trying to pass you as you turn. Much better to have the bike take its place in line with the cars and not get run over

    Recommended Thumb up 1

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