Fatal Bicycle Accident Raises Concerns over Trail Safety

The Attorneys of Zneimer & Zneimer P.C. discuss the issue of the growing number of bike trail and bike path accidents in the Chicago area. In particular, we address the topic of bike pathway and trail incidents caused by what we refer to as ‘avoidance-related’ factors. Our use of the term ‘avoidance-related’ refers to actions taken by a bicyclist in attempt to avoid striking an oncoming pedestrian, bicyclist, or object, which as a result of such efforts, causes a subsequent fall or collision.

Avoidance-related accidents have long been a concern for cyclists that travel upon roadways. For example, swerving to avoid a vehicle that suddenly stops, only to strike an oncoming pedestrian, or worse yet, be struck by an oncoming vehicle. Likewise, attempting to avoid a dooring accident, which causes the bicyclist to fall, or collide with a person or object. These are just a few avoidance-related issues along roadways-now consider the same along bike paths and bike trails.

For explanatory purposes, we discuss a recent fatal bike accident that occurred along a Will County Forest Preserve Trail, as reported by the Chicago Tribune:

On the morning of August 9, 2014, 42-year-old Vaidas Varpucanskis was riding his bicycling along the Hickory Creek Junction Trail in Frankfort Township, when he came upon a jogger that he wished to pass. Authorities say that Varpucanskis properly notified the jogger of his presence by yelling out ‘On your left,’ before proceeding to go around, where he then encountered another bicyclist that was heading towards him. Varpucanskis swerved to avoid the oncoming bicyclist, but as a result fell from his bike, causing him to strike his head. Tragically, the victim, who was not wearing a helmet, suffered severe head trauma, and was pronounced dead a short time later.

This devastating incident demonstrates precisely the type of avoidance-related circumstances that we are beginning to see happen more and more often. Whereas, the dangers posed to cyclists and pedestrians were once limited primarily to areas occupied by motor-vehicle traffic, concerns have now extended into non-traffic settings, such as bike paths and bike trails. Ironically, pathways and trails are intended to improve safety by providing residents with recreational outlets and, in some areas, a safe and convenient means of accessing nearby communities as well. Yet, as trail and pathways usage increases, so has the risk of accident or injury for all trail users, whether bicyclist, jogger, rollerblader, or pedestrian.

While there are a number of factors that can contribute to the need for a bicyclist to take action in order to avoid an accident, just a few examples include:

• Bicycling at an unreasonable or excessive rate of speed • Inability to see oncoming trail users when traveling around corners • Unexpected obstructions (i.e. stray child, pathway debris)
• Joggers/Runners listening to music unaware of passing bicyclist • Inexperienced bicyclists • Distracted bicyclists (i.e. talking on cell phone; texting while biking)
• Bicycling while intoxicated or otherwise impaired • Faulty bicycle equipment (i.e. worn brakes or bent rims)

In addition to avoidance-related factors associated with the cause of an accident, it is equally important to consider other factors related to the cause of an injury. In example, it is a well- known fact that helmets significantly reduce the risk of injury or death in bicycle accidents. And while bicyclists may feel that they are in a safer position to ride-helmet free along bike paths and trails, this is not necessarily true, as demonstrated by the fatal trail accident discussed above, and others similar to it.

The Bicycle Accident Attorneys of Zneimer & Zneimer P.C. send our heartfelt condolences to the loved ones of Vaidas Varpucanskis, as they grieve over this tragic loss. At the same time, we hope that, in the very least, this incident will raise awareness over the dangers of trail use, as well as the benefits of wearing a helmet at all times while biking, no matter what the setting.