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Get Legal With Ray Thomas

Welcome to our legal special feature of legal articles written by Ray Thomas of Portland-based firm Swanson, Thomas, Coon & Newton.

Get Legal: Being “nice” is dangerous and could make you at fault in a collision

Wednesday, September 17th, 2014
Rosa Parks Way -3
Being nice isn’t so nice when it creates confusion.
(Photo by J. Maus/BikePortland)

Written by lawyer Ray Thomas of Swanson, Thomas Coon & Newton.

Some road users go out of their way (and beyond the law) to be “nice.” Being nice isn’t always a bad thing. Sometimes it involves giving somebody a break, or allowing a successful traffic merge; but other times — such as when a driver waves another driver through stopped traffic — there can be disastrous consequences.

When road users go out of their way to accommodate others when there is no legal authority for doing so, it creates real trouble later if someone gets hurt as a result of their “nice” gesture. In this column, I’ll go over some common scenarios where being what you think is good can actually be very bad. (more…)

Get Legal: Auto insurance, biking, walking, and you

Wednesday, June 4th, 2014
Charley Gee helps us work through the
wonk on insurance.

Welcome to our Get Legal column. This is usually written by noted local bike lawyer Ray Thomas. But this time we’ve got one of Mr. Thomas’s co-workers Charley Gee filling in. Gee, an attorney at Swanson, Thomas, Coon & Newton is also an expert on how bicycles fit into the legal fine print. Today he’ll unravel confusion that often exists around insurance. Specifically, how auto insurance policies impacts those of us who don’t drive much (or at all).

Q. I have an Oregon automobile insurance policy. What does that mean?

A. In Oregon, every automobile insurance policy has four areas of coverage: Liability, Personal Injury Protection (PIP), Property Damage, and Uninsured/Underinsured Motorist Coverage (UM/UIM).

Q. What is PIP?

A. PIP covers medical expenses and lost wages if you are injured in a collision. In Oregon, the minimum amount of coverage is $15,000. PIP is (usually) “first party” coverage which means your automobile insurance covers your medical bills and wage loss despite the collision being the fault of another road user.

Q. I ride a bicycle and walk places sometimes, do I need to buy an additional insurance policy that covers me when I ride?
(more…)

Get Legal: Doored? The law is on your side (but that might not be enough)

Tuesday, April 22nd, 2014
door zone warning stencil-10
(Photo J. Maus/BikePortland)

If you ever have the unfortunate luck of coming into conflict with another road user, it’s always a pleasure to find out the law is in your favor.

Usually, conflicts on the road relate to the question of who has the right to the same space at the same time. Having someone open their car door into you — a.k.a. getting “doored” — falls into this category. Usually a motor vehicle operator fails to see a bicycle rider and opens a door so close to their path that a collision or near-miss occurs. While defensive riding can go a long way toward avoiding this sometimes painful encounter, sometimes there is just nothing a rider can do — everything happens too fast.

Fortunately, this is one of those areas where the law is on the side of the bicycle rider. Here’s the relevant section of Oregon’s Vehicle Code (remember bicycles are “vehicles” too) that prohibits opening the door of any vehicle unless it is reasonably safe to do so: (more…)

Get legal with Ray Thomas: How to fight for your property damage claim (Part 2)

Wednesday, March 12th, 2014
Now what?
(Photo by J. Maus/BikePortland)

(This is the second (and final) part of our in-depth look at property damage claims by Portland lawyer Ray Thomas*. See the first part here.)

V. Gear and Rental List

Sometimes riders are discouraged because the responsible driver’s insurance company fails to promptly pay on the property damage claim. In auto v. auto cases, property damage claims get settled promptly because claims adjusters are accustomed to providing a rental car while the damaged vehicle is in the shop getting fixed. The same law applies to bicycles – the bicycle rider is entitled to a rental vehicle or bus fare, ride-share costs or other reasonable expenses for the time it takes to get the damaged bicycle fixed and serviceable again. One tip for adding speed to the property damage disposition is to have the quote at the bicycle shop include the cost of a comparable rental bicycle by the day, week, and month so that the rider can let the adjuster know how the cost of delay is going to be transferred to the insurance company. (more…)

Get legal with Ray Thomas: How to fight for your property damage claim (Part 1)

Monday, March 10th, 2014
Now what?
(Photo by J. Maus/BikePortland)

(Publisher’s Note: We’ve split this article into two parts because Ray is an authority on this topic and he gets into some important details. Come back tomorrow for the finale. Also worth mentioning is that Ray’s firm, Swanson, Thomas, Coon & Newton, is a BikePortland advertiser and this column is part of our partnership. — Jonathan)

I. Introduction

Sometimes it’s tough to get fair treatment when a collision results in property damage but no personal injury. While it’s always better not to have to deal with a physical injury, there is not enough money involved from the contingent fee (1/3) on a property damage case for most lawyers to even justify opening a file, so most riders end up representing themselves. If you are going to go it alone it helps to know the lay of the land before you start. This article contains an overview of the law of property damage and some tips on how to get a fair amount for your damaged ride.

Fortunately, most bicycle collisions do not result in personal injuries. Instead, wheels get bent, helmets scraped and, if the accident is the motorist’s fault, a “property damage” claim is made against an insurance company. For bicyclists, property damage claims can be frustrating because they typically have little or no experience in legal matters and find themselves advocating for damages with experienced claims adjusters. Since the amount involved is usually small, the bicyclist ends up appealing to the claims adjuster’s sense of fairness. Most claims adjusters are not experienced riders and they are frequently shocked by the costs of bicycle repair and parts. (more…)

Get Legal with Ray Thomas: Oregon’s ‘Safe Passing’ law explained

Monday, January 6th, 2014

This is the final installment of our three-part series on Oregon’s passing laws written by our legal correspondent Ray Thomas. Read previous parts here and here.

The 2007 Oregon Legislature added an innovative law to the nation’s passing laws when Senator Floyd Prozanski (D-Eugene) reformed Oregon’s bicycle passing laws with a new collection of legal concepts. The new passing law was intended to remedy several factors believed responsible for the tragic death of triathlete Jane Higdon on Territorial Road in Eugene when she and a group of riders were passed by a truck hauling logs.

Here’s the text of the law: (more…)

Get Legal with Ray Thomas: Passing around centerline myths and riding ‘two-up’

Wednesday, December 11th, 2013
Ride to Monmouth-14
Legal? That depends.
(Photos by J. Maus/BikePortland)

This is part two of our three-part series on Oregon’s passing laws written by our legal correspondent Ray Thomas. Read part one here.

​When is it OK to ride side-by-side? (more…)

Get Legal with Ray Thomas: Bicycling and Oregon’s passing laws

Monday, December 2nd, 2013
passing
The legal side of getting passed.
(Photo by J. Maus/BikePortland)

Welcome to part one of a three part series on Oregon’s passing laws.

Trying to decipher Oregon’s passing laws are a perfect example of how it’s often difficult to know when (and how) a particular vehicle law applies to someone riding a bicycle. Confusion about application of the rules of the road and vehicle laws sometimes results when frustrated motor vehicle operators turn to the statutes to try to put bicycle riders in their “proper” place on the roadway; but rights and responsibilities of bicycle riders on the roadway are somewhat of a legal hybrid in the Oregon statutes. Frustration of motor vehicle operators must not be allowed to diminish the bicycle operator’s legitimate right to share the traveled portion of the roadway — and even to occupy a full lane when necessary — to avoid surface hazards or other potential dangers. ​ (more…)

Get Legal with Ray Thomas: The skinny on sidewalk riding

Monday, September 30th, 2013
Weidler detour on sidewalk-6
Learn the laws about sidewalk riding.
(Photos © J Maus/BikePortland)

People that bike, walk (or roll, in the case of wheelchair and electric scooter users) share sidewalks every day, and the combination of modes can cause conflict and confusion. Oregon law, however, is very clear on right-of-way and the legal conduct required when you are bicycling on the sidewalk.

Legal clarity aside, the devil is in the details.

One problem is that bicycle operators travel much faster than walkers and require considerably greater distance to turn and stop. When bicycle traffic is constricted, such as on bridges and other multi-use paths, the inevitable congestion magnifies the impact of the small steering or control mistakes that lead to occasional collisions. (more…)

Get Legal with Ray Thomas: What to do if you’re in a collision

Monday, August 26th, 2013
Scene of right hook NE Couch and Grand-1
It might never happen to you,
but just in case…
(Photo © J. Maus/BikePortland)

What should you do if you are in a collision with a motor vehicle? First, be prepared. While the odds may be pretty good that you will never be involved in a collision there are several tips you can follow which will make any collision less of a disruption in your life. An understanding of the fundamentals of insurance, medical services, and the legal system will help you after your collision.

This article is a very basic primer on these areas.

If you are in a collision

If you do get in a collision with an automobile while riding your bicycle, make sure that you obtain complete and accurate information about the driver. It is an unfortunate fact of modern life that some people with driving and insurance problems carry false identification. Make sure that the driver shows you an official document such as a driver license or other photo ID as well as a certificate of current insurance coverage before they leave the scene of the collision. If they will not do so, then call the police. (more…)

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