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‘A black box you wear’

GPS units on bike, wrist validate cyclist’s claim

bike_mainBicycles may be old technology, but the people who ride them are often sporting some of the latest electronic devices.

In the case of one injured cyclist, his two performance monitoring gadgets helped turn a rejected personal injury claim into a solid recovery.

The claim looked grim for bicycle rider Andrew Henle after he was hit by a car and injured in 2014 at the intersection of a bike trail and a highway in Loudoun County.

The auto driver and the driver’s passenger both said Henle rode his bike in front of the car without stopping. No other witnesses were identified. A police officer who investigated blamed the cyclist and declined to charge the driver.

But lawyer Doug Landau – a cyclist himself – said he was able to assemble a persuasive presentation based on data from two GPS devices: one mounted on his client’s bicycle and the other a wrist-worn fitness monitor.

Despite the conflicting stories about the crash, the case settled after depositions of the parties, Landau said.

Conflicting stories

Henle was riding on the Washington and Old Dominion Trail, a bike trail created from a defunct railroad bed, when he approached the crossing at Sterling Boulevard, according to his complaint in Loudoun County Circuit Court. The crossing is marked on the roadway of Sterling Boulevard, according to the lawsuit and a photo of the intersection.

Traffic was stopped when Henle began to cross the northbound lanes, Landau said. Drivers in the two through lanes allowed Henle to ride across those lanes. He said he was hit as he slowly crossed a third lane, the beginning of a left turn lane on the highway.

Henle claimed the car’s driver drove into the crosswalk without checking for anyone using the trail. The car’s driver said it was Henle who heedlessly rode into the intersection without looking.

Henle’s bicycle was thrown about 20 feet, Landau said. Henle ended on the car’s roof and then rolled onto the ground.

Henle suffered a crushed calf requiring surgery about a month later.

Creating aerial movies

Based on the driver’s account, backed up by her passenger, the investigating officer brought no charges. The driver’s insurance company took the position that it was a “no liability, no pay” case, Landau said.

But then Landau said he looked into what might be on the GPS unit mounted on the bike’s handlebars. The unit recorded things like speed, direction and even altitude.

“We were able to download it, then mate it with Google Earth, to produce a video that showed what he did prior to, during and after the crash,” Landau said.

The data showed Henle had stopped for 11 seconds before he entered the intersection and then crossed at three miles per hour, slower than walking speed. The digital information even showed how far he was thrown, allowing calculation of the car’s speed, Landau said.

A second device provided a “second opinion,” the lawyer said.

A fitness monitor on a person’s wrist can be a “black box you wear,’ he said.

A wrist-mounted monitor confirmed Henle’s stop, his slow speed in the intersection and the aftermath of the crash.

Bikers are fond of gadgets that let them measure their rides, Landau said.

“Some of these people are real techies,” he said.

Landau created videos to illustrate the events in real time. The case settled for a confidential amount after depositions of the parties, he said.

“My client was very pleased with the result,” Landau said.

GPS units can prove helpful

He said the case shows that lawyers may have access to a lot of information about a bicycle incident, even if the victim is unable to relate what happened. Similar information could be available for those injured while jogging, dog walking or just taking a “morning constitutional,” he said.

“You think the dealer has given you no cards to play, but technology provides you with a couple of picture cards that turn out to be a winning hand,” Landau said.

There can even be too much information. One of Henle’s devices recorded the speed of the rear bicycle wheel. The data showed a 25-mile-per-hour spike in wheel speed even as the bike seemed to be standing still at the crosswalk. Landau said he and Henle finally realized the spurt in wheel speed was recorded when Henle spun the wheel in order to put the bike in a lower gear.

The anomaly shows “you need to download and then talk to your cyclist about what he was doing,” Landau said.

A word of caution for lawyers hired to represent injured cyclists: Sometimes the property damage claim can eclipse the injury. Landau says to be prepared for skepticism from insurance adjusters when you advise the client’s bike was worth $9,000 or more.

Don’t expect a minor injury to lead to continuing medical bills, either. “Athletes tend to be very motivated to get well. They get back to their fitness very quickly,” Landau said.

Landau is himself an avid cyclist who teaches helmet safety in schools. He is a member of the American Association for Justice bicycle litigation group.

“Cyclists occupy a special place in my heart and in my practice,” he said.