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Beware Being Doored: Broken Bones & Bicycling Blues

by Megan Fitch

Cyclists beware, this is a rough season. It’s that time of year again here in Flagstaff, Arizona. Fall, that hazy season in between summer and winter. Chilly in the mornings and warm during the day with the occasional wind advisory. All bicyclists know to be cautious when riding alongside cars in busy areas. Riding as if no one sees you (because they don’t) is important, along with trying to make yourself seen by using lights and reflective gear. Drivers are getting more comfortable being in their cars because it’s colder outside, but precipitation has not yet sprinkled the land as to add cautionary measures to motorists’ driving consciousness. With the days getting shorter, added measures should be taken to be seen before riding.

However, traffic is not the only cause of broken bones. Whether biking off-road or commuting in heavy traffic, broken bones are a part of the avid bicyclists lifestyle. It’s a matter of chance. The Bike Trailer Shop has been struck with a case of bicycling blues in the month of September due to broken bones. Here is how we have been coping with temporarily being out of the saddle.

THE ACCIDENT

It was a lovely Saturday afternoon in Flagstaff and I was coasting along downtown on my trusty old road bike. Smiles turned into obscenities quickly when I found myself on the ground. A young man inside a parked SUV had decided to fling his car door out into traffic without bothering to take the slightest glance. Being that Flagstaff’s downtown area is fairly congested for a small town, and that cars are parallel parked up and down all of the downtown streets, it is my habit to look into the windows of all the parked cars I pass. This method has been effective in the past.

On this particular occasion, I was not so lucky, and I did not see the rambunctious college kid inside the car. Finding myself in excruciating pain and writhing on the asphalt 15 feet from the point of impact (door -vs- bike), I was appalled at the lack of responsibility and empathy I received from the door-er. He proceeded to protest that it was not his fault and that I was riding too close to his vehicle. It’s kind of funny being argued at with someone standing 10 feet away from you, while you’re on the floor bleeding profusely from your hand with pieces of bone protruding out of your flesh. Ambulance came, etc. as the only two things I could think of were, I hope my wheels are still true and, how long before I can get back in the saddle.

After biking 30 miles per day, every day for 3 years, the attachment to the nuances of the bicycle grows considerably. For me, it’s the feeling of the pedals on each of my tiny feet.

It’s kind of like backwards rehabilitation from an addiction. Acceptance is the first step. You have to first accept your limitations, and then you can slowly get back to inhaling the fresh air and feeling the adrenaline and dopamine coursing through your veins and exciting important neurons again. My co-worker Jeff is going through similar grief, as he broke his collar bone in 4 places 2 days after my injury.

BACK IN THE SADDLE?

Any avid bicyclist would be anxious to get back in the saddle, but there are many variables to consider when recovering from a broken bone or bad injury and still wanting to stay active.

WEEK 1

I broke my right index finger at the proximal phalange. The break was a pretty bad compound fracture, which elicited a titanium medal plate and 3 screws. The injuries Jeff sustained to his clavicle consisted of multiple fractures, which necessitated a long, stainless steel plate held in place with 14 screws. Despite the cool plates we obtained, remember, you are not a bike accessory!

WEEK 2

I was able to down size my full-hand splint to a finger splint, which allowed me to mount the trainer (uncomfortably) as I had to contort if I wanted to do any fine-tune shifting. It was best to set the trainer, and ride at a single speed.

WEEK 3

This was my breakthrough week. I mounted the saddle, and I am able to type again. I tested a few of my bikes before deciding to go around town. The 1966 Schwinn Cruiser was comfortable, and I didn’t have to worry about shifting because it’s a single speed, or braking because you brake with the pedals, but it was very jarring over any cracks or bumps. The 1988 Specialized Sirrus road bike is my favorite, however, problematic to ride on many levels. The bike of choice was my Kona Blast mountain bike. The upright position is comfortable and the rapid-fire shifters allow me to shift using my thumb and middle finger. The front suspension was also nice, to prevent jarring of the still healing bone.

BICYCLISTS FIGHT BACK

I had been doing some research on the subject of getting doored. There have been many cases of people getting severely maimed (yours truly) and even killed. I consider myself very lucky that I did not sustain more severe injuries. Many motorists don’t understand the gravity of the dooring situation. Across the United States there are laws to protect the right to not travel by means of gas guzzling gluttony; the laws vary, but the gist is the same.

Arizona statute 28-905 Opening Vehicle Door

A person shall not open a door on a motor vehicle unless it is reasonably safe to do so and can be done without interfering with the movement of other traffic. A person shall not leave a door open on a side of a motor vehicle exposed to moving traffic for a period of time longer than necessary to load or unload a passenger.

California statute 22517 – Opening and Closing Doors
Illinois statute 11-1407 – Opening and Closing Vehicle Doors
New York statute 26-1146 – Drivers to Exercise Due Care

Here are a few sites dedicated to people who have been doored: bicyclesafe.com, and Riin’srants.info
Crash Maps
– Map of various places in New York where either pedestrians or bicyclists have been killed
Street films video of New York street traffic, and how separated bicycle lanes could prevent many accidents

If you survive a dooring incident, the next question is “What about the $20,000 medical bills?” and “I’m so injured, I’m unable to work for the next 3 months, what do I do?”. With my case in particular, the motorist was completely unapologetic and unwilling to accept any responsibility for the accident, even though he admitted to not looking before he acted. Because of this uncompromising behavior, I did have to seek legal help. The site bicyclelaw.com is a helpful source if legal action is necessary. If the motorist has car insurance, the insurance company should cover the medical bills. I will update you with the progression of my case in a future blog once all is said and done.

Despite the minor set-back of not being able to bicycle for a month or longer, I am still very determined to be back to full throttle as soon as possible. I have a bicycle tour up the Pacific Coast Highway coming up in December. I will begin training again in a couple weeks (if all goes well). The biking break is definitely humbling, and reminds you of just how much you love your work horse. My horse’s name is Red.

 
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15 Responses to “Beware Being Doored: Broken Bones & Bicycling Blues”

  1. Tash says:

    I have seen Megans hand and it is not pretty! I admire her bravery though. I would like to start biking but as she is one of several friends of mine who are injured this month (all bike accidents) I am a little freaked!

  2. Dick Fitch says:

    That’s my girl! — Dad

  3. vcspinner says:

    Sorry to hear about your injury. Legal action is definitely the right course.

    Moral of the story – don’t ride in the door zone. Looking through windows on parked cars works – until it doesn’t.

  4. I hope you are feeling better now and almost ready to start riding again.
    After more than a year without been able to ride (amongst many other things) I finally started to ride a few weeks ago. The return was not easy (I am a “chicken” LOL) but it really felt great.

    I wish you a fast and complete recovery.

  5. I hope you are doing better! Thank you for the link to the Ca Law about open door. This has become a topic among my buddies and I due to many people flinging their door open on the coast. Many people are parked along the PCH to watch the surf or whatever and forget about the HUNDREDS of cyclists and runners that use the same space. You can yell at them, but I doubt it sinks in.
    My neighbor recently had a pickup with longboards hanging out the back,(that it all he remembers) quickly back out of a space in Encinitas in front of him . Since the boards were sticking out so much he was struck in the head which immediatly knocked him out. He woke up in the hospital and was told he was found that way in the middle of the road. A year recovery, and occasional headaches and still no clues as to who did the deed.
    Good luck on your PCH trip, but watch the surfboards too.

  6. Megan says:

    Thanks so much Ricardo and SD rider for the encouragement. After 2 months of not riding (with the exception of 4 miles here, 3 miles there), I’m finally officially back in the saddle (back to 20 miles per day) with a little jumpstarted Thanksgiving ride to the Grand Canyon from Flagstaff. 160 miles roundtrip in 2 days in the rain. Nothing like the elements to get you back in your cycling shoes. My xrays still show a fracture, but i’m slowly gaining mobility. Glad you’re back in the saddle too Ricardo, and I’ll made sure to watch for surfboards.

  7. [...] because of a recent bicycling injury to my hand, I have been unable to ride. Preparing for a tour without being able to integrate [...]

  8. jon b says:

    I was ‘doored’ the other night here in Seattle. It was dark and rainy, but I had two blinkers on the front of my bike [and one on the back]. I am now in a sling with a separated shoulder and off the saddle for at least 2 months. I feel EXTREMELY lucky that it wasn’t worse than it was, but it’s still extremely aggravating.

    I was obviously in shock after the accident. I got the guy’s personal info, but not his insurance. I was also hit from behind by a cyclist who was riding right behind me. He was ok and able to continue his ride. I should have, but didn’t get any info from him. I just called and left the ‘driver’ a message in hopes of getting the needed information to take care of medical, etc.

    I knew I wasn’t at fault, but I had to look anyway:
    The Washington state statute is:
    RCW 46.61.620 ‘Opening and closing vehicle doors.’

    Thanks for the post..it was very encouraging.

  9. Amanda says:

    Thanks for the article. I checked out some of your links to other websites “dedicated to people who have been doored”, and you should ABSOLUTELY REMOVE http://WWW.ANTIDOORING.COM from your list. This is an anti-biking website, where the inane author writes “The most important action you can take is to prevent dooring is to stop riding your damn bike on the street. Remember, streets are for cars.” !!!!

  10. megan says:

    amanda,
    thanks for noticing the chauvinistic, car eccentric language in the anti-dooring website. I will certainly take it off. :)
    As we know, dooring is usually due to the vehicles neglecting to look before they open doors into traffic. When it’s a vehicle coming, they care because their door gets ripped off, but when it’s a person on a bike, and there’s not much damage to the car, they don’t care. Frustrating!!

  11. Kumar says:

    Hey Megan,

    Any success with the legal side of things after that accident. Just saw this post today. This morning, after a daily run, watched a woman a half block up powerwalk down the sidewalk, stroll out to her street parked car and fling the door open without once looking to see the cars bearing down on her. Frightening….and probably a future doorer.

  12. Megan says:

    Hey Kumar,

    Thanks for your concern. Unfortunately, I did not get a very good settlement considering I was unable to use my dominant hand for 2 months while I was working full time and in school full time. Pretty much I only got enough money to cover my medical bills, my attorney fees, and have a little money left over for repairing my bike, and some treatments.

    I used the best attorneys in the south west, but it was unfortunate that the driver only had the minimum amount for car insurance $25,000, which barely covered my medical bills. I did get the full amount, but my attorneys had to negotiate down the hospital bills (there were 6 different businesses related to ‘medical bills’) with each agency. I wasn’t going to draw it out and garnish the wrong-doer’s wages because my attorney’s fees would have gone up, and it would have taken FOREVER.

    If I would have owned a car at the time (I hadn’t had one for 4 years at the time of the accident) my insurance would have covered it because I’ve always driven with all the bells and whistles. My thought was, even though I didn’t have a (running) vehicle, to get car insurance for it. I’m unsure on if there is bicycle specific insurance, but the point is if you don’t have a car, and you get pegged by a car, you can use YOUR car insurance to cover yourself and not risk being hit by someone who is under-insured.

    That’s my advice, have good car insurance if you use the roads.

    Keep an eye out for yourself, and good luck out there. I still cannot extend my finger the full way, and have my fancy Titanium plate and screws. I guess there’s always the ‘could’ve been worse’ but let’s hope we can increase awareness and cut down on hurt cyclists.

  13. cynthia says:

    i got doored a few weeks ago, broken hand. i have car insurance, including uninsured. unsure if the “doorer” has insurance. i opened a claim my insurance is acting as if they dont deal with these things (bikes). question: im in cali, should my car insurance be actively pursuing him, is it their responsibility? or is this all lawyer territory?

  14. Megan says:

    I’m so sorry to hear about your experience, Cynthia.

    I’m not sure what the laws are in CA, as I’m in AZ, but my experience has been that any time you are in a ‘run in’ with a vehicle, that the insurance should take care of it. I believe it’s under the MEDICAL ($25,000/person, etc)

    Sometimes, they may try to find loop holes of whether or not the car was moving or not, however, consider if someone driving ripped off the door of a vehicle who flung their door into traffic.

    If the door-er doesn’t have insurance, or even if he does, I would see what your insurance will cover right away. They should cover everything, and it is their responsibility to collect from the other insurance company.

    If they are unwilling to work with you, then I would make it the main priority to get all of your treatments, keep your receipts, and contact an attorney. The attorney will not charge you until the case is settled, and they can work with the health care providers you are seeing to put attorney’s liens on the bills so you don’t have to pay anything out of pocket.

    I hope this is helpful information. Good luck, and I’d be interested at how it turns out. In my case, the door-er’s insurance was at $25,000, so that’s what I got to cover the cost of medical bills, and my attorney fees, and a little extra for me. All of my bills totaled a little more than $26K, but I had a good lawyer who lowered their fees by half, and talked almost all of the medical bills down by half as well, so I did walk away will a little bit of cash for over 6 months of recovery, and having to drop my classes I had already paid for.

    I hope your hand feels better soon. You will be ambidextrous pretty soon. Keep on your physical therapy!

  15. [...] lanes. Always be prepared to take the lane. Plus, many bike lanes put you solidly in the door zone when youre anywhere on the inner two-thirds of the lane. Thats not much of a problem [...]

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