The Bicycle Accident - Jon Bjornstad


On Nov 21, 2013 at 6:00 pm I was in a bicycle accident. I approached a crosswalk and saw a car coming. I assumed it would stop at the stop sign before the crosswalk but it didn't. It hit me, I fell off the bike, over the hood of the car, and to the ground. No bones were broken but the severe contusions to the hip, buttock, and lower back took several months to heal fully.

Here is a police report. Here are some pictures of the scene.

On December 13th I retained a lawyer to pursue a personal injury lawsuit against the driver. It was finally settled out of court on July 21, 2014.

Daily Journal

Thursday, Nov 21
I was riding home from work around 6:00 p.m. It was dark, of course. My bike has two lights, one white in front, one red in back. The back one flashing.

Coming out the main EA path onto the sidewalk on Redwood Shores heading west toward 101 I approached a crosswalk.

The driveway was the exit for the parking lot for the building at 201 Redwood Shores Parkway. I saw a car coming and it seemed to be slowing down. I assumed it was slowing to stop at the stop sign before the crosswalk, so I proceeded into the crosswalk. I soon realized the car was not stopping and I was HIT. It all happened very fast and I was on the ground. Oooomph. On my right side, head down. I had been hit on my right hip and buttock and had landed on the ground on that side. I felt a big impact bruise there. I was still conscious and breathing. I knew something bad had happened. I did not feel like moving. Someone came up to me and asked how I was. I could talk but didn't feel like moving. I said something about knowing that "I should not challenge the iron monsters. I had trusted them by mistake." Owwwwwch.

They told me not to move; they would call 911. I just laid there waiting and wondering how bad I was hurt. It felt like a very bad bruise but nothing obvious was broken. No acute piercing pain.

Someone turned the lights off on my bike. It had been moved from somewhere near the crosswalk onto a nearby grassy area. From my prone position I could see that it was not badly wrecked. I noted that my bike looked to have faired better than I did.

Perhaps 5 minutes later, quite soon, sirens sounded, and paramedics came to look after me. This emergency service is free, right? This is one aspect of our government that we all benefit from greatly in such times of emergency, right? I couldn't turn to see but I assume police and a fire engine were there as well. They removed my helmet and held my head. They asked a few questions and carefully palpated my neck and spine to see if I would cry out in pain. It seemed okay. They asked me to wiggle my toes/feet. They slipped my backpack off. They then asked if I was willing to try and stand up. I slowly moved to a crouch and, with assistance, carefully rose to my feet to more fully assess the damage. Checking into my body, I got the sense that nothing was broken but that the next morning I was going to be Damn Sore. The paramedics took my blood pressure and oxygen saturation and pulse. All was within normal limits. Elevated due to the trauma but nothing abnormal.

I still had not talked with the driver of the car. The paramedics (or the police) asked for my ID. I directed them to the purse in the backpack. The paramedics asked if I wanted to take the ambulance to the hospital. It did seem unnecessary. I asked to see my bike and see if I could ride it. A fireman helped put the chain back on the gears. The right crank had been bent and was grazing the bottom "stays" on each rotation but it was ride-able. I took a short ride trial and decided that I would be able to slowly limp home on the bike. I signed a "release form" that the paramedics had - saying that I had refused their further assistance.

A policeman came up to me and asked what had happened. I explained that I saw the car slowing down and had assumed it would stop. But it hadn't - and it had hit me in the crosswalk. He asked how fast I was going. I said probably about 5 mph. And the car between 10 and 15 mph. But I didn't really know.

The policeman asked me if he should file a police report. I said yes, of course. He gave me a note with this information:

Office R. Gomez #316
780-7100 x5198
Redwood City Police
He said the police report would be available in about a week. Redwood City Police Department phone number is: 650-780-7100 I asked if the driver would be cited for not stopping at the stop sign. He didn't answer but said this was a civil matter not a criminal one. It was up to me if I wanted to "go after" the driver. I asked if the police report would include the driver's insurance information. He said yes.

The officer asked if I'd like to talk with the driver. Sure. The fellow introduced himself as Harold and gave me his card. He said he did not see me. He said that he'd be glad to cover the costs of repairing the bicycle and that I should get an estimate and inform him. He did not say that he had failed to stop nor that he was sorry. His card reads like so:

Harold Kinoshita, CPA
Director of Accounting
201 Redwood Shores Parkway
Suite 100
Redwood City, CA 94065
O 650 517 1990
M 510 299 2131
KGC keating consulting group
I said that next time he should respect the stop sign. I asked about another fellow that was there at the time of the accident. Harold said that was a jogger who helped and then left. I remember him asking someone (the policeman?) if he could leave. We parted. I slowly, carefully, limpingly, rode home.

I arrived home and put the bike away. Getting in the house I again assessed my body. I was aching pretty badly. The pain was not acute or sharp but it was extending from my right buttock and hip across the lower back and up the spine. I decided that now was not the time for being independent, self-reliant, brave, stoic, and pain forbearing. I needed help. Expert medical help. I needed to get myself to the Emergency Room. I carefully got in my car and headed for the Sequoia Hospital Emergency Room.

I arrived and registered. I was quickly assessed and asked what had happened. Blood pressure, etc. was taken. I then waited in the waiting room for about 45 minutes. During this time I did my best to remain upright, back straight, and with my eyes closed. That seemed to be the best position for being as comfortable as possible with the broad achy pain that was coursing through the hip, back and spine. No headache. Time for going within and focusing on breath and just being with my body giving it my attention, my healing conscious presence.

I was called and brought to a room. The male nurse said that I should put on a gown in preparation for having an X-ray taken and he gave me a warm blanket. Somehow I got out of my clothes and socks and shoes. I didn't want to try and get up on the gurney/bed thing. Just remained in the chair.

Doctor came in. He palpated my hips, spine, legs, arms, shoulders. I asked what he was doing. He said he was listening to see if and when I would yell "Ouch". His fairly quick expert assessment was that nothing was broken and that no X-Ray was needed. He prescribed ice packs for the next 2-3 days and then heat. And that he would give me a prescription for pain medications. Ibuprofen and Oxycodone, as needed. He said that I was lucky. It could have been much worse. I asked if a planned 3 hour trip to Fresno would be possible. He said yes but that for my comfort it would be best to periodically stop to walk about and change position and rest.

I signed out, paid the $150 co-pay and left. I drove to Walgreens dropped the prescription and then drove to Whole Foods where I got some groceries including 4 bags of frozen peas. I returned to Walgreens to get the pills ($22.50) and went home.

I immediately stripped, somehow got into bed and applied the frozen peas to my right buttock and lower back for about 15 minutes. It felt good and the right thing to do. I then wrote an email to my boss saying briefly what had happened and that I would be taking Friday off and laying low.

I then went to sleep trying to find the position that best accommodated my injuries.

Friday Nov 22
Slept very late, carefully got out of bed, took bike to repair shop. The bike mechanic was an older man (age 62) named Charlie. I told him about the accident. I said that I had two mantra that I tried to keep in my mind as I rode:
Do not challenge the iron monsters.
Do not expect their respect.
This time I had failed to take my own advice and had suffered for it.
He shared his cynical mantra:
Everyone is stupid.
They don't see you.
If they see you,
They don't care.
I walked home, packed, headed to Fresno to see a friend for the weekend. Arrived, ate, iced my hip/back. No real need for pills for pain. Slept.

Saturday Nov 23
Was able to move about okay. Back was sore but if I found the right position it was fine. Iced it 3 times that day.

Sunday Nov 24
I had a very difficult time getting out of bed this morning. Severe spasms in the lower back muscles. Once I managed to get out of bed and warmed up and started moving it was better. Still quite sore.

Monday Nov 25
Today was the first day that my bowel movements were normal. Prior to this I was constipated and defecation came slowly. For back support I changed my chair at work to a fixed chair rather than a rolling chair.

In the evening around 6:00 pm I went to the scene of the accident to see how cars exiting the parking lot approached the stop sign and crosswalk. I would estimate only 10% of them actually stopped at the stop sign. The rest did the usual rolling stop into the crosswalk as they were turning.

Tuesday Nov 26
Today I noticed that lifting my left leg (e.g. on getting in the car) was painful in the lower back and it helped if I assisted the leg with my left hand. Apparently the lifting stressed a muscle in my back. A weakness in one place affects another.

Thursday Nov 28
At Thanksgiving with my cousins I shared the story of the accident. Got some good sympathy and support. One lady said that I should definitely go to my primary care doctor and ask for physical therapy.

One of my cousin's in laws, on the other hand, said forcefully that bicyclists don't belong on the sidewalk; in fact, I was riding on the sidewalk illegally and that the accident was my fault.

Friday Nov 29
I called my doctor and left a message saying I needed an appointment.

Monday Dec 2
Not much change in the last few days - still sore and stiff muscles in the lower back, slowly getting better. No need for the pain medication but it is sore and I need back support and need to keep moving. It is still the worst in the morning - and getting out of bed. It warms up and then I'm better. I still can't bend over without some pain, however. My flexibility is still compromised. I've always been very flexible. If I cough my back hurts. It seems that healing has happened to some degree but has reached a plateau.

My doctor called and I arranged for an appointment on Wednesday 10:00.

Took some pictures of the EA pathway and the crosswalk, and the faded white STOP on the road, and the smaller than usual stop sign. And the building sign that reduces visibility. And how it's obvious how the bike lane is much more dangerous than the sidewalk. It is rare that there are pedestrians so the sidewalk is better for everyone.

Tuesday Dec 3
Police report is available. Got it for $10. You can see it here. It says that I violated the "riding bike on sidewalk" law and that I was the cause of the accident. "It should be noted that there was a designated bicycle lane on the roadway that was not used." It didn't note that I had come from the EA pathway and could not have gotten over to the bike lane. In any case, the bike lane is right next to the fast moving cars and I deem it not as safe as the sidewalk, in general. Especially when it crosses 101. I would much much rather ride on the sidewalk over 101. The danger comes when two different vehicles share the same space. Bike/Car, Car/Big Truck, Bike/Pedestrian.

The report stated that the driver said that he had stopped at the stop sign. - yeah, right. "The bicyclist suddenly appeared in front of him." "He could not tell me [the policeman] which direction the bicyclist was coming from". Sounds to me like the driver was really not paying attention. The words "suddenly" and "appeared" make me sound like a ghost with teleportation powers.

The witness (David Steenson) was quoted: "David said that he did not think the driver had stopped for the stop sign but was not totally sure." Got the phone number of the witness.

I called a personal injury lawyer who happens to be very nearby:

    Mathew Haberkorn
    303 Twin Dolphin Dr 6th floor
    Redwood City
He said that I should send him the police report. I said I could do this in a day or two - when I am able to scan it.

Wednesday Dec 4
Went to Dr Bullock, my primary care physician. He examined me, asked lots of questions, had me squat, touch toes. He said I should get two X-rays and prescribed physical therapy 2-3 times a week for 4 weeks. Seemed a bit much. We'll see how it goes. I made an appointment for physical therapy on Friday morning at 8:30. I guess the doctor was practicing defensive medicine. On the other hand why not be extra cautious when it comes to a back injury like this. Co-pay at office was $25.00

Picked up bicycle. Got receipt. These charges were for the damage from the accident:


Sub Total - 145.97
4% tax - 5.83
Total - $151.80

I told the story of the accident to a fellow at the shop. He gave me the contact information for a lawyer that he would recommend:
    Gary C Brustin
Thursday Dec 5
I called the witness - David Steenson. I first sincerely thanked him for his help that night. I asked him what he had seen. He said that he had told the policeman that "the vehicle did not stop at the stop sign but did a "California rolling stop" into the crosswalk - where he hit the bicyclist. He knows that intersection well and knows how the vast majority of people don't stop. David said that he would be glad to talk to the policeman again.

So why did the policeman rephrase his answer to make it sound like David was not sure? I called the policeman and left a message that he should contact David and amend the report. If he doesn't I will raise some hell.

So the driver lied or mis-remembered? And the policeman had a bias for the driver? What the hell?

BOTH the driver and I were responsible - I for riding in the crosswalk and assuming the driver would stop, the driver for not stopping. The legal phrase is "contributory negligence". The accident was a case of an "unfortunate synchrony of mis-intention". Neither of us intended to cause the accident. The difference is that the driver was driving a lethal weapon. His not stopping had much more consequence than my riding on the sidewalk/crosswalk. I was in the crosswalk not in the road. What if I had been a jogger running as fast as I was riding my bike? Given his vehicle's destructive potential he has more responsibility for following the law. Bicyclists are not supposed to ride on the sidewalk so as to minimize the danger to pedestrians. That's why it's the law, I guess. Was I supposed to walk my bike down the EA pathway? And walk it through the crosswalk until I got to the street and the bike lane? Who in their right mind would actually do that? There are very very few pedestrians on these paths. I do understand that riding a bike on the sidewalk in a busy downtown (e.g. in San Francisco) area would be very dangerous for the pedestrians. The law does make sense there. Here, not really. I'd say that bicyclists should walk their bikes on a sidewalk if there are pedestrians present. Like the speed limit near a school is 20 mph if there are children present - otherwise it is 35 mph.

Of course, what I think about the law does not change it!

Honestly, I did not know what the law was for bicyclists riding on the sidewalk in Redwood City. A fellow named Christopher Kidd did an extensive study on this topic:

"Rules for sidewalk riding are left up to each city, with predictably scatter shot results. I recently completed a study of sidewalk riding rules for every City and County in the state of California: Sidewalk Riding Spreadsheet.

Bicyclists are never sure of where they can, and cannot, legally ride on the sidewalk. Drivers are often unaware as well; irate drivers have often told me to "get on the sidewalk", even in cities where it's illegal. Worse, there is almost never any signage letting bicyclists know what rules exist where. Imagine what would happen were the 'right-turn-on-red' law applied city by city, but with no signage or education to let drivers know where it was legal and where it wasn't? It would be total chaos. That bicyclists aren't afforded the same certainty starkly shows the second-class status they are given as a legitimate mode of transportation."

Also see this news article about Bicycle Safety.

Friday Dec 6
Physical therapy with Stuart Katzman, PT and his assistant, Vanessa. Co-pay is $18 per visit. He said there was no real need for the X-rays; that Dr. Bullock orders lots of tests that are not really needed. The body will let you know if there is a break. Two weeks out it would have had some symptoms if there was a break. He did a close examination and concluded that the lower back is surely injured but that it will heal just fine. Physical therapy will help it heal faster. They did some ultra sound and icing and electro stimulation on the lower back. I have further appointments for Monday and Wednesday, Dec 9 and 11.

Sunday Dec 8
In the last two days I have iced my lower back twice. There is still significant stiffness and pain in the lower back in the morning when I try to get out of bed. It improves as the day progresses. I took one of the ibuprofen today.

Sent a link to this blog/document to several friends and relatives. Also to two lawyers and my insurance agent.

When filling out a form for one of the lawyers (Brustin) one question was - how many days of work have you missed? I said just one full day plus several hours here and there for appointments. It is the nature of my profession (software engineer) that I could actually be paralyzed from the neck down and still work! I have probably been more distracted at work in the process of dealing with this injury what with all all the mental and emotional processing that I've been doing. For one example, look at the length of this web site/blog!

Monday Dec 9
A lot happened today.

At physical therapy this morning Stuart said that because there is irritation and tenderness at several locations on the lower spine it indicates that there is probably not a break - otherwise one area would have more acute pain.

Ultrasound, icing, and electrical stimulation (interferential therapy). An exercise to strengthen the quadriceps and lower back muscles. Vanessa said that the insurance may not pay because it was an accident that "they had nothing to do with". I'm not sure what that means. I'll ask on Wednesday.

My lower back is still quite sore and stiff in the morning. I had trouble getting out of bed and on and off the table in the physical therapy rooms. During the day it seemed to continuously ache on a low level. Not enough to need a pain pill but enough so I couldn't ignore it. Perhaps the injured area needs to get worse before it gets better?

Heard back from the lawyer, Matthew Haberkorn, by email. I will meet with him tomorrow at 11:00 am. I find this encouraging. He could have just talked with me on the telephone.

Got a call from the lawyer, Gary Brustin. He was very helpful. I took notes from our conversation. Yes, there is a law/municipal code in Redwood City that says that bikes cannot be ridden on sidewalks. But I was hit in the crosswalk - and bikes do have the right to be there - even going against the traffic!. I need to find the CVC/code that guarantees that right. Given this he said that I likely could win the case.

I asked him about my request to the policeman to amend his report given what the witness said to me. In his experience the police have never changed a report. He said that it would be better to use his misquoting the witness as "ammunition" to question him in court and make him look unreliable. He said that I should contact the witness, send him a copy of the police report and have him send me a written version of what he told the officer that night. I said that I could also call him as a witness in a court appearance.

He said I could go two ways. Either hire a lawyer to help fight the case or file a small claims lawsuit on my own. If I go it on my own he suggested two books from Nolo Press:

  1. How to Win a Personal Injury Lawsuit
  2. Everyone's Guide to Small Claims Court
He said the limit in a small claims court in California is now $10,000. The suit would be against the driver not his insurance company.

If I go the lawyer route he said that he wouldn't be able to take the case but he could refer me to one of his colleagues.

He said that, yes, it is very dicey for a bicyclist to ride over the 101 overpass given the two lane crossovers, etc. Yet, it is the law that bicyclists cannot be on the sidewalk. So riding on the sidewalk would be illegal. The only other option is to take a different route. As a lawyer he can't advise anyone to break the law. He does advise people to go through the political process to change the law. I said that I have thought about asking the owners of 201 Redwood Shores to:

  1. Refresh the painted STOP on the road and the crosswalk lines.
  2. Replace the little stop sign with a bigger normal size one.
  3. Send an email/letter to everyone in their building that they must stop at the stop sign - that an accident happened at that crosswalk.
  4. Consider removing the building sign that obscures the vision of drivers to the left.
He approved of these ideas. I also fantasized about standing near the crosswalk and doing some tallies of who stops and who rolls through the stop - like the driver did. I also thought about finding the driver's car and waiting for him to exit the parking lot to see what he is doing now. I've thought about waiting for cars to roll into the crosswalk and then start walking into the crosswalk and remind them that they do need to stop. Or wait until they roll into the crosswalk and then accost them. That would take some guts to actually do. But I may very well do it!

I'm reminded of the quote from Emerson:

If we make love a crime we all will lust.

If we make it too dangerous for bicycles to ride in the road then everyone will ride on the sidewalks and break the law. I wonder how often a bicyclist is cited for riding on the sidewalk. The police must have some stats on that.

Gary Brustin listed the different factors that go into determining the 'value' of a case:

I searched the web for 'bicycle sidewalk california' and found this article that discusses riding a bicycle on a sidewalk. It was part of a blog by two personal injury lawyers in Los Angeles.

Today I felt "taken care of" with regard to the accident. Not so alone. It was likely the physical therapy and the attention from the lawyers.

Tuesday Dec 13
I sent the lawyer, Matthew Haberkorn this email:


I enjoyed meeting you as well. Tonight I was feeling that I would retain you for this matter.

I'm not that interested in the $$ settlement - mostly I'd just like closure and a sense of justice. The thought of doing the work (clerical, mental, and emotional) to put together a small claims lawsuit and the service and the likely mediation beforehand is not attractive to me. For one, I'd be doing it all alone. It would be great to have a ally/agent to help.

I'll call tomorrow (Wednesday) and we can discuss what arrangements we can make.

Thank you,

So began a very long series of phone calls, emails, text messages, and document exchanges.

Wednesday December 14, 2013 through July 21, 2014
In all, there were 87 emails sent back and forth. Here are the 40 formal documents that were needed to resolve the case and finally settle it out of court. If it had gone to trial there would surely have been even more!

Nov 11Bicycle Repair bill
Nov 21Walgreens prescription receipt
Nov 30Explanation of Benefits #2
Dec 9Explanation of Benefits #1
Dec 13Haberkorn Retainer
Dec 13Xray #1
Dec 13Xray #2
Dec 13Xray #3
Dec 13Xray #4
Dec 13Xray #5
Dec 13Xray #6
Dec 17Medical bill from the ER #1
Dec 18HIPPA Authorization from Sequoia Hospital
Dec 23Physical Therapy bill #1
Dec 23Physical Therapy bill #2
Jan 6Medical bill from the ER #2
Jan 9Explanation of Benefits #3
Feb 10Xray Explanation of Benefits #1
Feb 13Denial of Liability
Feb 15Xray Explanation of Benefits #2
Mar 11Claim
Mar 14Rejection of Demand
Mar 17Meridian Subrogation #2
Mar 17Anthem Blue Cross rollup of payments
Apr 13Subrogation Questionaire Responses
Apr 29Conformed Summons Complaint
May 19Meridian Subrogation #1
Jun 11All Interrogatories
Jun 23Comparative Liability Offer
Jun 27Sound recording of a phone call from the Insurance company lawyer
Jun 28My Interrogatory Responses
Jun 30Response to Form Interrogatory
Jun 30Responses to Special Interrogatories
Jun 30Verification Form of Form Interrogatories
Jun 30Responses to Demand for Inspection and Production of Documents
Jun 30Verification of Request for Production of Documents
Jun 30Verification of Special Interrogatories
Jul 1Meridian Lien
Jul 21Summary and Case Closed
Jul 25Dismissal

Healing the Injuries

The injuries I suffered as a result of the accident took about 6 months to heal fully. I thought they had been resolved (with the help of physical therapy) by the end of December but in February a tendonitis resurfaced in the upper insertion point of the gluteus maximus - the exact area where I was hit on November 21st. It proved very difficult to treat and heal. Anti-inflammatory drugs didn't seem to help, physical therapy proved ineffective, a cortisone shot, an inconclusive evaluation by an orthopedist - the pain and inflammation persisted. Not a sharp pain but a constant ache.

At the beginning of June I went to a local acupuncturist to try something different. Four treatments did not seem to be helpful in healing the tendonitis at all. Perhaps they had a delayed effect because at the same time I was doing repeated consistent icings before bed - whether it had been hurting much that day or not. This did seem to help. It was, perhaps, like taking a full course of antibiotics for an infection - rather than stopping them when the symptoms subside. Today (Aug 15) I am gladly symptom free and have full function of the hip and back. Lately, I've been working in the garden with a shovel and an axe digging up roots and rocks and moving them here and there with a wheelbarrow. Symptom free.