As a lawyer who represents plaintiffs who have suffered catastrophic personal injuries, my phone rings daily with stories that shake me. Recently, a new client–let’s call him Paul–was involved in a horrific cycling accident with an oncoming car. Paul had woken up in the emergency room, with gruesome, potentially life changing injuries to his leg, elbow, neck, and head. He could remember nothing about the accident.
Paul was lucky to be alive.
The only witness at the scene of the accident was the driver, who claimed Paul had “raced him,” crossed into the driver’s lane and hit him head on.
Paul was found by first responders that night, lying near the shoulder, on the wrong side of the street.
The police report, after considering the statement of the driver, cautiously assigned liability to Paul. Things did not look good.
Yet many aspects of the accident were strange. Of all of details that did not add up, one stood out more than any of the others. Only the left side of Paul’s body was injured. Think about this for a moment. How on earth could this happen? The left side.
We visited the accident scene. We inspected the bike, photographs of the car. We talked and talked. Paul’s memories returned. But as is the case for so many injured cyclists, the driver’s account of the accident and the initial police report remained formidable obstacles.
And then we began the technological investigation that changed the case for good.
Paul is an avid rider, and a member of Strava’s expanding cycling community, which uses GPS devices, such as those manufactured by Garmin (which Paul has), to record their rides. Speeds, routes, and habits such as obeying traffic laws–stopping appropriately at stop signs, riding within California’s basic speed law, and so on–are all saved and recorded by these electronic systems. And they were waiting for us.
As Paul’s memory of his ride came into focus, alongside hundreds of similar rides that had been mapped previously on his Strava account, on the same route that as the accident, we came to understand the true nature of the accident.
We learned that Paul had been entering a bike path, on a route commonly used by local cyclists, when the driver veered into him, across double white lines, and without a signal. He was forced to turn right, because there was no other direction to take evasive action. This was why only the left side of his body had been injured.
Liability shifted to the driver. The police report would be supplemented. An impossible case, with an adverse police report and only one witness, had now turned on its head.
Strava and Garmin saved Paul’s case, and could save the lives of so many others, because these systems and products not only provide an incentive for cyclists to ride safely (after all, one’s traffic infractions are also recorded), they can also corroborate and lend material credence to the fragile memories of those who are injured every day on California’s vast network of roads.
What began as a competitive charting tool for comparing “racing” amongst fellow cyclists wound up providing us with evidence that no one had been racing at all as Paul rode home on the night of the accident. He had been riding safely and smoothly all along.
The Law Office of Scott Herndon is a boutique catastrophic personal injury firm located in Berkeley, California.