THE LOOP — A bicyclist who was badly injured when a car passenger abruptly opened a door as she biked in the Washington Street protected bike lane was awarded nearly $213,000 by a jury — and the case shows how people are becoming more aware of bicyclist safety, transit advocates said.
Local chef Guadalupe Cebreros — who suffered a concussion, contusions and other injuries from the dooring — was awarded $212,976 by the jury. The win was hailed as a huge victory for all bicyclists by advocates, who said Chicago’s bicyclists are used to not being protected after a driver injures them.
“Jurors understand that if you’re a driver or a passenger and you injure a bicyclist, you will be held responsible,” said Mike Keating, who represented Cebreros with fellow Keating Law attorney Catelyn Viggiano.
Keating, who has represented injured bicyclists for more than a decade, said, unlike in years past, “everyone in this jury seemed to understand that bikes and bike lanes are a big part of Chicago’s transportation scheme.”
“That’s a dramatic shift from even just 10 years ago,” Keating said. “A jury made up of 12 people from a wide range of backgrounds and locations throughout Cook County are willing to step in and protect bicyclists when they get injured in the bike lane.”
Chicago bicyclists are accustomed to officials deciding they are to blame when someone doors them, said Kyle Lucas, co-founder of transportation advocacy group Better Streets Chicago. He hopes the verdict “signals to people that dooring is very serious.”
“It’s encouraging for cyclists to see that if they become victims, there can be a path forward,” Lucas said. “That’s something a lot of us think about all the time: If I get injured, am I going to be able to afford the medical costs and am I going to be able to go to work?”
Cebreros’ contusions and concussion healed after a few weeks, but she’s still in pain from swelling and disk herniations caused by the dooring. She said being doored “forever changed biking” for her.
“It took away the complete joy I had while riding,” Cebreros said. “I will never have the same joy I once did while feeling completely safe in the green lane.”
‘It Never, Ever Should Have Happened’
The dooring happened 1 p.m. on a Thursday in June 2017. Mikhael Tatishvili drove to The Loop and picked up Ketevan Ingorokva Gewarges to give her documents and chat briefly, their defense attorney, Dave Flynn, said during the trial.
Tatishvilli parked adjacent to the Washington Street bike lane to let out Gewarges, wedging his Lexus SUV between flex posts that line the green lane for cyclist safety. Tatishvili’s hazards were on while the car was stopped, Flynn said.
Gewarges propped the door slightly open, intending to get out; at that point, “they both looked and it was clear,” Flynn said.
Gewarges spoke to Tatishvili with the door ajar for 30-40 more seconds, then she fully opened the door and hit Cebreros, Flynn said.
Keating said his team and Cebreros were forced to take the case to trial when an insurance company refused to make a settlement offer “that would have fairly compensated” Cebreros. The amount the jury awarded to Cebreros ended up being four times what the insurance company had offered and five the times the amount suggested by the defense in closing arguments.
The insurance company, Gewarges and Tatishvili argued Cebreros was at fault for the crash and challenged the extent of her injuries. The defense said Cebreros was negligent for not paying enough attention, biking quickly and coming into contact with a parked car.
But Keating said the driver and passenger’s actions went against Chicago law.
“The law doesn’t say, ‘Because you have a Lexus SUV, you get to park whenever you want,’” Keating said in his closing statement.
Chicago Municipal Code prohibits anyone from driving, standing or parking a car “upon any on-street path or lane designated by official signs or markings for the use of bicycles.” The city also prohibits people from opening their door “on the side available to moving traffic unless and until it is reasonably safe to do so, and can be done without interfering with the movement of other traffic.”
“If the Police Department won’t charge someone, there’s still the civil justice system that stands to protect cyclists,” Keating said. “The Loop is busy; we need rules.”
Keating suggested the jury award Cebreros about $253,000 in damages and proportion fault 75 percent on the passenger, Gewarges, and 25 on the driver, Tatishvili.
“They caused this,” Keating said. “It never, ever should have happened.”
‘It Creates Trauma’
Chicago bicyclists are five times more likely to be killed or injured in a crash than someone in a car, according to the Chicago Department of Transportation. And thousands of bicyclist injuries are reported every year; in 2016, the state reported 2,635 bike injuries in the Chicago region.
“Cyclists die or are severely injured and it has a tremendous impact on their life and emotional wellbeing,” Lucas said. “It creates trauma.”
In 2011, Chicago launched a safety initiative called Vision Zero to bring the number of traffic fatalities down to zero by 2026. Since then, the city has added miles of protected bike lanes, including the one Cebreros was doored in. Officials announced they were installing 9 miles of protected bike lanes throughout the city in 2021.
The first three years under Vision Zero — 2011, 2012 and 2013 — saw 336, 334 and 270 doorings, respectively, according to the Illinois Department of Transportation. There were 203 doorings reported in 2014 in Chicago and 302 reported in 2015.
Many of such incidents aren’t reported, however.
Cebreros was doored in one of the areas defined as a “high crash corridor” under Vision Zero. The Washington Street “high crash corridor” spans Michigan to Wacker avenues. It’s one of 43 parts of the city where officials are prioritizing the creation of bike lanes, flex posts and separation of lanes by bus, bike or car to bring down pedestrian injuries and fatalities.
In Cebreros’ case, the infrastructure installed by the city on Washington Street — standard paint-and-post protection — failed to keep danger out of the bike lane.
“That’s fundamentally the issue,” Lucas said. “We have a program that cuts corners left and right.”
Lucas compared the Washington Street lane to the Clark Street bike lane that was installed this summer and has garnered a reputation among bicyclists for constantly being blocked by parked cars.
Cebreros’ dooring experience is “a testament to a lot of what cyclists in Chicago go through,” Lucas said.
Lucas stopped biking in August after he was the victim of a hit-and-run “on a street that technically people would claim as a safe street to ride on,” he said.
“So often, in those places that the system or that people in power claim are safe places for us — that they’ve dedicated to us — that reality isn’t reflected in the street,” he said.
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