Video: Geico (Partially) Blames This Cyclist for Getting Doored

California Vehicle Code 22517 is clear: “No person shall open the door of a vehicle on the side available to moving traffic unless it is reasonably safe to do so and can be done without interfering with the movement of such traffic.”

But in the view of Geico Car Insurance, which insures the driver who, on January 28, stopped in front of Melissa Moore in the Polk Street bike lane, opened his door, and knocked her off her bike, he’s only 80 percent at fault for the crash.

That’s right — even after seeing video footage of the crash, Moore says Geico is putting 20 percent of the blame on her for getting doored on northbound Polk at Golden Gate Avenue, leaving her with physical pain and a taxing legal battle.

In what Moore calls a “flat out lie,” she says Geico accuses her of speeding as she climbed uphill on Polk at what appears in the video to be single-digit speeds.

Geico’s statement, as relayed by Moore, is as follows: “According to the information available to us to date, our investigation indicates the damages occurred because you failed to control your speed in order to avoid an accident and lost control of your bicycle. Based on these facts, the percentage of negligence apportioned to you or your driver is 20%. The percentage of negligence apportioned to our insured driver is 80%.”

Moore says that even when presented with the video footage caught by a surveillance camera on the Supreme Court building where the crash occurred, the company’s insurance agents refuse to budge. Geico hasn’t responded to Streetsblog’s request for comment.

In the days since the crash, Moore said she has been left with physical pain like she has “never felt.”

“Pain during the first week was so bad that every movement was deliberate and slow,” she said. “The stiffness and diffused pain would wake me up several times in the night. My elbows and thighs were bruised, welted, and cut. My left hip took a beating as well, with some road rash. Luckily it was cold, so I was wearing thick gloves and three layers to protect from further injury.”

While “it’s hard to estimate how much this is all going to cost,” Moore said she’s “already paid out almost $800, and there’s still much more treatment to take place.”

Had another driver been traveling close behind Moore, the crash could have taken her life. Bicycle safety instructors often warn that the greatest danger of dooring – the second most common form of injury collision involving cyclists in San Francisco, and the highest injury collision type caused by motorists or their passengers, according to the SF Municipal Transportation Agency — can come from not just the opening door, but by being thrown into passing motor traffic, where a rider can be run over.

“Luckily,” Moore said, “a passing SUV going the opposite direction pulled over and blocked oncoming traffic from running me over. That video restored some of my faith in humanity.”

On top of the driver’s dooring violation (CVC 22517), Moore pointed out that he also violated CVC 21211, which prohibits parking in a bike lane.

The crash comes at a time when the SFMTA is developing plans to make Polk Street safer for walking and biking. Despite the project’s potential to save lives and boost business, it’s being opposed by merchants who are bristling at the prospect of removing even some of Polk’s on-street car parking, which in total makes up just 7 percent of parking spaces within a block’s range of the 20-block corridor. The project could provide more room for pedestrians, public seating, and protected bike lanes on the commercial street, which is the relatively flattest north-south route for bicycle riders.

Moore said she “definitely thinks” that having physical protection would have prevented the crash. “Bicyclists need a more defined separation from cars, and an inability for them to stop in the bike lane.”

“I think the proposed Polk St. safety improvements are hugely important for everyone who is not in a car on Polk,” she said. “In terms of concern over loss of business revenue, I think that’s a load of crap. It’s a scare tactic without any real backing. These safety projects have been modeled successfully all around the world, which is where the Sunday Streets idea came from. And I’m pretty sure that Sunday Streets brings more money to those businesses than an average Sunday.”

“Additionally,” she said, “there needs to be more car-free biking routes in this city overall. Not just bike lanes, but safe bike paths that are completely separate from vehicles, especially cars.”

Moore said the video footage was obtained by a CA Highway Patrol Officer who, “with obvious disgust for Geico, told me that it’s so obvious I did nothing wrong and that I need to fight this. And that’s what I’m doing.”

“I am fighting for the physical pain caused by the ignorant driver,” Moore said. “I’m fighting for the mental anguish caused by Geico’s outrageous lies and bullying nature. I’m fighting for every bicyclist who abides by the laws and yet receives very little protections. Everyone should be able to cycle in this great nation of ours without fear of being retaliated against, especially when a bicyclist is injured due to neglect. This fight belongs to all of us and I hope that one day we can unify to peacefully and respectfully coexist as bicyclists and drivers across the country.”

Here’s the full statement Moore provided to Streetsblog:

For the last 8 years, I have happily been an avid commuter bicyclist in Boston and San Francisco. The happiness and satisfaction I gained from cycling have mostly become foreign feelings since January 28, 2013. This was just another average Monday morning ride to work until I was forced into contact with an oblivious driver.

Just before 9am, I was going east on McAllister about to turn left onto Polk Street. I waited for a car to take a right onto Polk before I made my turn. About halfway up the block, the car pulled into the bike lane in front of me and then parked (despite the fact that there was an available driveway less than 10 feet in front of him). I maneuvered out into the street to circumvent the car. When I reached the driver side, he swung open his door into my bike. (I later learned that the door caught my right pedal.) I crashed into the street, pretzled with my bike. There was a white flash and a feeling of something snapping, then darkness. I heard muffled voices asking if I was okay. Unable to speak or move for a couple minutes, I searched for my breath and assessed if the snapping was my spine breaking. It hurt immensely and I expressed that to the anonymous voices. The driver asked if I wanted him to call the police and I said “yes.” Then I felt hands on me, pulling me up off the ground. Somebody moved my bike out of the street.

Luckily there was a witness who said he saw everything and gave me his number. I asked him what happened and he said it wasn’t my fault because “He stopped in front of you in the bike lane, then opened his door. Cars are never supposed to stop in the bike lane.”

An hour later, SFPD showed up. The officer took my statement, then sent me on my way. I went to the doctor about two hours after the crash, which was largely unhelpful. She checked my pupils and the scrapes on my elbows. Despite the fact that I told her I had a headache and that my neck and back were in a lot of pain, she merely offered to clean up my cuts and suggested that I take 1800 mg of Ibuprofen a day. I am a 110 lb woman who can’t even drink coffee because I won’t sleep for 24 hours. Nevertheless, I took the doctor’s advice.

Pain during the first week was so bad that every movement was deliberate and slow. I have never felt a pain like this. The stiffness and diffused pain would wake me up several times in the night. My elbows and thighs were bruised, welted, and cut. My left hip took a beating as well, with some road rash. Luckily it was cold, so I was wearing thick gloves and three layers to protect from further injury.

Since that day, I have all but begged the doctor several times to support me going to a chiropractor, which delayed getting the treatment I needed. I am still in the beginning stages of getting my neck and back healed through chiropractic treatment. In addition to the physical pain, there is a whole host of repercussions that has made me wish I left the house 5 minutes later or earlier that morning. I would trade so many things for not having to be in the middle of a claim that Geico adjusters have been completely awful about. I wish that someone would have told me never to talk to them. Unfortunately the driver didn’t file the claim with Geico, so I had to make that call. Of course, they were nice until I was told the following on 2/6/13:

“According to the information available to us to date, our investigation indicates the damages occurred because you failed to control your speed in order to avoid an accident and lost control of your bicycle. Based on these facts, the percentage of negligence apportioned to you or your driver is 20%. The percentage of negligence apportioned to our insured driver is 80%.”

Nevermind the fact that I was going uphill on a mountain bike, and that peddling standing up at full speed didn’t put me anywhere near the 25 mph speed limit. Nevermind that I followed all laws and that the driver actually broke two: California law V C Section 22517 and Section 21211. Nevermind the fact that this was a flat out lie on Geico’s part.

Thankfully this happened outside the San Francisco Courthouse and security guards said they saw the accident on the camera. An extremely nice and helpful California Highway Patrolman made me a copy of the footage and, with obvious disgust for Geico, told me that it’s so obvious I did nothing wrong and that I need to fight this. And that’s what I’m doing. I am fighting for the physical pain caused by the ignorant driver. I’m fighting for the mental anguish caused by Geico’s outrageous lies and bullying nature. I’m fighting for every bicyclist who abides by the laws and yet receives very little protections. Everyone should be able to cycle in this great nation of ours without fear of being retaliated against, especially when a bicyclist is injured due to neglect. This fight belongs to all of us and I hope that one day we can unify to peacefully and respectfully coexist as bicyclists and drivers across the country.

In the meantime, I share some recommendations based on the many mistakes I made after the accident and what I learned from this experience. First of all, I highly recommend that every bicyclist read the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition’s crash guide before getting into an accident. Always be a willing witness if you see anyone involved in a bike or pedestrian accident. Witnesses are invaluable. If you have a run-in with a car, do go to the hospital or doctor that day and make sure they run all the proper tests and take you seriously. Document everything. If you file a claim, prepare for several months of undue stress, so get a lawyer if possible. I got turned down by three before my acupuncturist referred me to Roger S. Reynolds, who has given me a good deal of my sanity back.

Lastly, don’t talk to the third party’s insurance, especially the assigned adjuster, if possible. NEVER consent to a recorded statement or interview. Ignore any lies about this being state law.

I am happy to share more from my experience and help others navigate these rough waters, since I found the Internet to be a time-suck and not all that helpful. Thank you for reading and please help support bicyclists by becoming an active member of the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition.