Jude still can’t recall the accident. One moment he was on his bike at the intersection of Broad and Spring Garden, waiting for the light to change. The next, he was waking up in a hospital bed with a broken leg, two broken ribs, a shattered shoulder, about eight head staples and a bill of $360,000.
The driver, who’d sped through a red light, left Jude for dead and abandoned the car less than a mile from the scene. There were no police charges and no locatable witness, and Jude didn’t have health insurance. Luckily, he did have the name of Stuart Leon.
Leon is Philly’s bicyclist defender. He’s an avid cycler with 25 years experience in accident cases. After graduating from Widener Law, Leon gradually moved away from defending cars and construction and, for the past 10 years, has worked exclusively with bikes. His private Center City high-rise office vaguely resembles a college dorm, with degrees covered in Post-Its and family photos, a hanging electric guitar, a snowboard, a poster of James Dean and a photo of a North Philly youth drumming band that Leon helped fund. There are also pictures of busted body parts, including Jude’s new metal shoulder. “Everyone wants to be a sports agent nowadays,” Leon explains. “I represent people who are using their bodies—often couriers—to make a living. I’ve got a lot of respect for them.”
Leon hears stories like Jude’s all the time; he handles about two cases a week. Someone in the bike lane got clipped, someone was hit on an intersection, someone was doored. The vehicle’s occupant, trained to spot cars and pedestrians, will say the biker came out of nowhere. The victim usually won’t even admit to being hurt. He’ll just say he needs compensation for his bike and, maybe, his hospital bills.
Leon deals with the bikes and the bills. After the numbers are churned out, his first step is to hold hospitals accountable to government-mandated service fees pertaining to car accidents, which means he gets the bill down to about 10 per cent of its original amount. Then he tracks down hospital records, photos and affidavits to confront the driver’s insurance company and get the bill’s remainder paid. He usually has to go to court to get compensation for the destroyed bicycle and lost wages. For Jude, Leon had to buy $900 in police investigator photos and do a white paint transfer on the abandoned vehicle to prove it hit Jude’s bike. But even after a police investigative report was compiled, the insurance company refused to pay until Leon’s civil lawsuit against the vehicle’s owner resulted in a testimony that identified the driver.
Fortunately, Jude’s case wrapped up in less than a year with the driver’s insurance awarding $100,000 with an additional $5,000 in medical benefits and payment for the totaled bike. His hospital bill had been reduced to $37,000 so he walked away with some cash. Leon was also able to get Jude into intensive physical rehabilitation. After a year of rehab, court and doctor’s exams, Jude says he’s on the mend. He’s had to quit his former courier job, but he now works as a Fuji mechanic and continues his hobby of mountain bike racing with a brand new appreciation for the use of his body. “I’m still alive,” he says. “I’m not interested in having something like that slow me down.”
Leon claims that if you call him he will get your bike recovered and your bills paid. Anything after that, well, its a bonus. It’s not the most glamorous, high profile venue, but it’s the least he can do to help fellow bikers. Recoveries like Jude’s are part of the reward, “I appreciate what my clients have been through,” he says. “Cyclists [cases] just aren’t profit-driven. I enjoy representing them, its more satisfying, the interaction is more fun, and they seem more appreciative of what I do.”
The Urban Cyclists’ Legal Handbook
When riding with cars, there’s a few Pennsylvania laws you should know:
3505 Roadways and Pedalcycle Paths
- Bicycles are considered vehicles and must abide by traffic guides.
- If it’s a highway, stay on the shoulder going the same direction as the cars.
- If you pedal slower than they drive, stay as close to the right hand curb as you can.
- If the traffic is one-way and the lanes are at least two, you may ride the left-hand curb, but be careful, especially if you’re trying to pass a car.
- No more than two single-file bikes together at once, unless you’re on the bike lane.
3507 Lamps and Other Equipment
- When riding at night, have a white light to see 500 feet in front and a red light to be seen for 500 feet.
3705 Applicable Portion of the PA Motor Vehicle Code
- If you are in a car, do not open the door until you’re sure that no bicycles are coming.
Story by Dana Henry. This story originally appeared in Grid's 2008 prototype issue.