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Man wins in court three years after police, insurance company blamed him for collision

Posted by on June 25th, 2015 at 12:03 pm

Still from KGW-TV video taken at the scene in 2012.

A Portland man who was blamed for a collision on a notorious section of North Broadway three years ago has been absolved in court.

Three years ago 33-year old Karl Zickrick was riding down North Broadway on his way to work. As he approached Wheeler he noticed a large SUV encroaching into the bike lane in front of him as it prepared to turn right. To avoid being right-hooked, Zickrick moved to the left out of the bike lane to go around the SUV. However, just as he made that move the driver of the SUV, 62-year-old Michael McLerren, slammed on his brakes and Zickrick flew into the back window. The impact shattered the window and left Zickrick with severe facial injuries and a broken jaw. (Two months after this collision, former Mayor Sam Adams decided to prohibit all right turns onto Wheeler.)

Adding insult to injury, the Portland Police Bureau blamed Zickrick for the collision. The day the crash occurred the PPB said this in an official statement (emphases mine):

The cyclist, 30-year-old Karl Thomas Zickrick, apparently swerved into the back of the Expedition, shattering the back window…

Although a traffic crash investigation was conducted, no citations will be issued as the driver of the SUV was properly yielding to the cyclist.

According to the PPB, Zickrick, the bicycle rider, was following too closely and failed to yield the right-of-way to McLerren.

The PPB’s finding led McLerren’s insurance company (Farmers Insurance) to lay 100% of the blame on Zickrick, thus refusing to pay for his damaged bike, lost wages, or medical bills.

Thankfully, Zickrick decided to fight the case in court. And he won.

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Zickrick hired Ray Thomas of Swanson, Thomas Coon & Newton to try his case. Thomas and his associate Charley Gee wrapped up the three-day trial yesterday at the Multnomah County Courthouse.

“It feels great. It’s been a weight on me for the last three years.”
— Karl Zickrick

“This case shows that insurance companies cannot treat commuters on bicycles like second class road users,” Thomas wrote to us in an email, “It is a shame that Karl had to go through a trial to receive any damages.”

Gee tells us that at the trial, lawyers for Farmers Insurance claimed Zickrick was riding too fast for conditions. That allegation came, “Despite riding under the speed limit on a dry day with very light traffic,” Gee said. They also said Zickrick was at fault because he left the bike lane.

Here’s more from Gee about how they won the case:

“Ray Thomas and I took this case in front of a conservative Multnomah County jury and they found that the SUV driver was 100% at fault for causing the collision. The driver, besides driving his large SUV onto the bicycle lane immediately in front of the bicyclist, also failed to wear the glasses he was required to wear to legally drive, failed to do a shoulder check when crossing lanes or merging, and failed to check his rear-view mirror.”

The jury awarded Zickrick $41,231 in economic damages and an additional $30,000 in non-economic damages.

It’s fitting that this case was heard just a block from yesterday’s protests and rallies. It’s a reminder, Gee says, that, “This fight is in all levels of government, city, county and state.”

In an interview today Zickrick told us he feels “great” about the ruling. “It’s been a weight on me for the last three years.” Zickrick said initially he just wanted to move on, but Thomas convinced him to take it to trial.

Beyond his injuries, Zickrick said being blamed and piled-on in the media was the hardest thing to deal with. “I suffered some bad injuries but the thing that resonated the most was all the stuff I read about it.” Zickrick also learned that not every police officer knows bike laws. He said the police investigator he spoke with while in the emergency room admitted to him that he didn’t know the laws about bike lanes and right-of-way. “He talked to me on the phone as if I should have yielded to the SUV, like a car would have to do.”

The best part of his court experience, Zickrick says, is how the case changed how jurors perceive news coverage of bicycle collisions. It turns out that a lot of the jurors had seen coverage of the incident on the news and accepted the “facts” and blame as it was presented. But after hearing the facts of the case, Zickrick says, “It totally changed their trust and perception of the media on these kinds of events. At first, a lot of them just took the bias of the newspapers and TV stations, so it was cool to hear them say that. That was exactly what I had hoped would come out of the situation.”

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Kyle
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Kyle

“also failed to wear the glasses he was required to wear to legally drive”

Wow. I wonder how many other drivers like this are out there…

9watts
Guest
9watts

“The driver, besides driving his large SUV onto the bicycle lane immediately in front of the bicyclist, also failed to wear the glasses he was required to wear to legally drive, failed to do a shoulder check when crossing lanes or merging, and failed to check his rear-view mirror.”

Wow. That’s some pretty specific findings. I’m trying to imagine how one would determine this after the fact? Other crashes come to mind where the driver (in the minds of many of us commenting on the situation here on bikeportland) were almost certainly similarly inattentive.
I wonder what Christeen Osborn would have found if she’d sued Wanda Cortese? (For that matter, How would we know if she sued?) Congratulations to Zickrick and his team!

reader
Guest
reader

I remember a lot of blustery comments on OregonLive blaming the cyclist for the collision. I think this was one article where I commented that the only opinion that matters is that of the jury. Here we are now and the jury has spoken.

Amy Subach
Guest

If only we had strict liability laws here, drivers might be more cautious, and this kind of court case wouldn’t be necessary.

TonyT
Guest
Tony T

“This case shows that insurance companies cannot treat commuters on bicycles like second class road users”

Well, they can and do, but this case shows there are consequences. Having been on the receiving end of that second class treatment, I know you do have to push back hard. They expect actions from people who ride (“we’ll pay you, but you have to give us your damaged bike parts.”) that they would NEVER ask of people who drive.

Congrats to Karl!

daisy
Guest
daisy

Such great news! Cheers to Karl Zickrick for fighting back and for Ray Thomas, Charley Gee, and firm for doing such a great job in court!

Does a case like this have any impact on PPB even though it’s apparently a civil case against the insurance company? They did an investigation that uncovered something quite different.

Tim
Guest
Tim

I am often forced to move around drives executing right hooks. This often puts me very close to their back end. A sudden brake could but me into their back. Nice to know I may be able to win damages in front of a jury, but I will be leaving more room when maneuvering around the right hook.

Speaking of right hooks. There is a new Audi SUV with a nice gash in their pretty black paint. No signal, not look, left the scene, but I am OK.

Steve B
Guest
Steve B

Ray Thomas & Charley Gee are treasures to bike and pedestrian advocacy in Portland. ❤ ❤ ❤

John Lascurettes
Guest

This is wonderful. Thanks for sticking to your moral guns, Zickrick. It benefits us all.

armando
Guest
armando

i also wonder in these court cases is if the issue of illegal window tinting ever comes into play. i see many many cars and trucks that have window tinting that does not meet legal light transmittance requirements. http://www.oregon.gov/ODOT/TS/docs/veheq/window_tint_brochure.pdf

El Biciclero
Guest
El Biciclero

I would find it very hard not to gloat right now if this had happened to me. This ruling is awesome and, I must admit, surprising.

I’d love to see “driver was not wearing his glasses” mentioned at least as much as “bicyclist was not wearing a helmet” in coverage of these incidents. Wearing corrective lenses is a legal requirement if you need them; wearing a helmet is not.

rachel b
Guest
rachel b

So happy for Karl Z! What a miserable three years it must’ve been. I feel I owe him a debt of gratitude. This suit matters–makes it better for the rest of us, ultimately. The response of the jury restores (just a little) my hope in humanity.

Spiffy
Guest
Spiffy

he got $307,769 less than he was asking for… I wonder how those negotiations went…

AndyC of Linnton
Guest
AndyC of Linnton

Thanks a ton for a follow up on this collision.
Thank you Karl & Ray Thomas for your time and energy with this case, as said above, it helps benefit us all.
Karl, are you riding again by any chance?

Ernest Ezis
Guest

It’s great that Zickrick prevailed. But as cyclists we need to remember that when a case is tried in court, the judge, prosecutor, and jurors are usually drivers rather than cyclists and are predisposed to the driver’s perspective.

In this case, the driver was honest about his actions and seems to have admitted what he did wrong in court that is a *RARE* event.

Most motorists know they are in front of sympathetic ears and can lie their way out of it. Had this motorist taken that tact I believe he probably would have prevailed instead of the cyclist. I run the Close Call Database for Cyclists and after corresponding with hundreds of cyclists about their experiences, I can assure you that cyclists always seems to lose the “his word vs your word” battle. This case is the exception, not the rule.

That’s why I ride with a videocamera — a Fly6 — and I encourage other cyclists to do the same. One day it might be you in court, and if the driver decides to lie, the video may be what “saves” you.

Congratulations Mr. Zickrick.

Todd Boulanger
Guest
Todd Boulanger

I hope this case with the raised jury awareness (perhaps due to more public discussions on vision zero and vulnerable road users) becomes a watershed in how local juries evaluate the whole situation…and start at a more neutral (in the middle) point when weighing each parties’ responsibility…in my past experiences watching a jury find fault for a driver for injury to a cyclist has been a rare thing even when the driver did traffic movements/ actions that one would expect a jury to find fault with…but the juries did not just a few years ago…find these drivers at fault.

Jonathan Radmacher
Guest
Jonathan Radmacher

Nice legal outcome. Although anyone who suggests that Multnomah County juries are conservative hasn’t been around the block very often…

danny
Guest
danny

It takes an excellent attorney to win this sort of a case. Fortunately we have people like Ray Thomas here in town who have the knowledge and skills to secure a great verdict and educate people to boot. Congrats Karl & Ray!

J_R
Guest
J_R

I hope that this case also results in PPB officers learning more about the laws as the apply to bicyclists, the operational aspects of riding a bicycle, and that PPB officers will be more critical in their evaluation of motorists’ actions and more inclined to believe what a bicyclist tells them.

Todd Hudson
Guest
Todd Hudson

Hopefully, Michael McLerren will now spend the rest of his life being very mindful of vulnerable road users.

Spiffy
Guest
Spiffy

I’m guessing that since the statute of limitations ran out that the driver will not be cited…

or does the court case extend those and he’s able to be cited?

winning the money is one thing, but it’s important to get a mark on this person’s driving record as well…

Chris L
Guest
Chris L

What are the laws with respect to bike lanes, right of way, and yielding?
“”police… didn’t know the laws about bike lanes and right-of-way. “He talked to me on the phone as if I should have yielded to the SUV, like a car would have to do.” “”