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.

DIY prosecution of dangerous vehicle operators: A guide from Ray Thomas

by on June 9th, 2015 at 11:44 am

Fighting for fixed gears in court
Take ’em to court.
(Photo J. Maus/BikePortland)

It’s been over nine years now since we first shared the concept of “citizen initiated citations” here on BikePortland. At that time it was a little-known statute. Today, people are a bit more aware of it; but it’s still not a process that many people have gone through.

Unfortunately however, it’s still needed. As the number of people who operate vehicles illegally shows no signs of letting up and enforcement resources remain abysmal, it’s often the only option for justice. With an unusually high number of collisions and other incidents reported lately, we’ve decided to publish this article from Ray Thomas, the Portland-based lawyer and expert on bicycling issues who’s been at the forefront of citizen prosecution for nearly a decade.

(Note: Thomas uses “drivers” in his article, but his advice can be used by any road user regardless of how they get around.) — Jonathan Maus

Citizen Prosecution of Dangerous Drivers: How You Can Do It for Yourself (more…)

Get Legal with Ray Thomas: Passing on the right from a rider’s perspective

by on March 12th, 2015 at 12:30 pm

A ride with the family-3
Knowing how to legally pass on the
right can help you get to your destination
faster and help you breathe easier.
(Photo by J. Maus/BikePortland)

Today’s article will try to clear up confusion about how and when you are legally permitted to pass another vehicle operator on the right side of the roadway.

While Oregon law did not specifically authorize passing on the right before 2006, the law was clarified that year to follow the great majority of other states (and the Uniform Vehicle Code) in specifically allowing bicycle riders to pass other vehicles on the right when it can be done safely.

Bicycle riders complained for many years about the pre-2006 Oregon law that appeared to prohibit passing on the right when road users were sharing the same lane. In 2005, the Oregon legislature (thanks to lobbying by the Bicycle Transportation Alliance) voted to change the law so that passing on the right would be allowed “if the overtaking vehicle is a bicycle that may safely make the passage under the existing conditions” (ORS 811.415). The “new” law went into effect in January of 2006. (more…)

Get Legal with Ray Thomas: What you need to know about hit and run

by on January 6th, 2015 at 12:10 pm

Gresham-Fairview Trail gap at Burnside
(Photo by J. Maus/BikePortland)

Hit and runs are far too common in Oregon. Unfortunately, so is the feeling of helplessness about what to do about them. In the spirit that knowledge equals power, I’ve put together a primer on the laws surrounding hit and runs and what do to if you are ever involved in one.

Here’s the sad but true fact: If a vehicle operator* can escape a collision scene then the chances are they will get away without having to pay for the damage they caused and they can also avoid things like: arrest on an outstanding warrant; a DUI charge for driving/riding while impaired; a possible police search of the vehicle for drugs or contraband on board; a car with no insurance, or not having a drivers’ license.

If the perpetrator is ever caught (and they usually are), here’s what the law says about their crime.

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

by on September 17th, 2014 at 2:54 pm

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

by on June 4th, 2014 at 11:58 am

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?

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

by on April 22nd, 2014 at 9:20 am

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)

by on March 12th, 2014 at 2:14 pm

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)

by on March 10th, 2014 at 12:25 pm

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

by on January 6th, 2014 at 3:53 pm

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’

by on December 11th, 2013 at 10:44 am

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…)