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Bike advocate files suit over crash

The Register-Guard: Bike advocate files suit over crash

Paul Nicholson seeks payment for lost earnings and pain and suffering caused when he was hit by a car

BY KAREN MCCOWAN
The Register-Guard
Appeared in print: Tuesday, Mar 23, 2010

A bellwether of the local bicycle scene has filed a $250,000 personal injury suit over a 2008 car-bike crash that he says caused lasting injuries.

Paul Nicholson, whose Paul’s Bicycle Way of Life business marks its 25th anniversary this year, filed the suit in Lane County Circuit Court.

The lawsuit names Inez Oram Hostick, who ran a stop sign and struck Nicholson as he pedaled across Bertelsen Road in a bike path crosswalk on April 17, 2008. Hostick, then 83, was cited for failing to obey a traffic control device.

But that’s just the first step to reach his intended target. Nicholson wants her insurance carrier, The Hartford Life and Casualty, to pay for his lost earnings and pain and suffering caused by the crash.

The suit is a matter of principle, the 63-year-old former Eugene city councilor said. Nicholson alleged that the Connecticut- based insurance corporation rebuffed his direct efforts to obtain such compensation.

“If this woman had run a red light and fractured the side of my car, I don’t think the attitude would be the same,” he said. “They seem to have the attitude that when a car hits a cyclist, it ought to be free. I expected to be responded to and that they would consider it a serious issue.”

A spokesman for The Hartford did not respond to a request for comment on the suit. He previously has said the company does not speak publicly about litigation.

Nicholson’s suit alleges that he suffered injuries to his back, neck, left shoulder and right knee after Hostick’s Pontiac Fiero knocked him off his bike. He continues to suffer pain, disability, discomfort and interference with his normal activities, the suit claims.

And he continues to require medical care such as physical therapy and medication, the suit alleges.

Nicholson also claims that he has suffered diminished earning capacity because of his injuries. In total, he seeks $150,000 in economic damages and $100,000 in noneconomic damages.

Nicholson said he doesn’t need the money. His previous medical bills were paid by his own auto insurance company, he said, and he has good health insurance.

And his business — though diminished by his compromised health — continues to thrive.

What started out in 1985 as a single Paul’s Bicycles shop at 2480 Alder St. has grown to a four-store business. It provides more than two dozen local employees with jobs that include health insurance, paid vacations, profit- sharing and retirement benefits.

Nicholson said he had to sell a “very profitable” fifth store in Salem when he could no longer oversee its operations while recovering from a badly broken leg he suffered when another car struck him in 2002.

And his ability to run the remaining stores has been hampered by consequences of the 2008 accident, including difficulty sleeping and four-day-a-week physical therapy sessions, he said.

But Paul’s Bicycle Way of Life remains profitable enough that Nicholson asked Hartford representatives to simply donate $10,000 to each of five local charities.

Not only did they refuse to do so, he said, but “their whole attitude and tone of voice was disrespectful.”

Nicholson said he was reluctant to file the suit, in part because he was forced to name Hostick, the elderly driver, instead of The Hartford. Hostick has declined comment.

“That’s the way the rules are written,” Nicholson said. “You can’t actually name the insurance company.”

Nicholson’s attorney, Derek Johnson, said the law also prohibits revealing the existence or non-existence of insurance to a jury considering a personal injury claim.

Nicholson said he still plans to donate any proceeds from a successful suit to his favorite charities.

Even as he recovers from his latest injuries, he continues to live up to his business name’s credo: Cycling, for him, is still a way of life.

“I was just taking my afternoon ride,” he said at the beginning of an interview. “I used to try to ride 100 miles a week, at least. Now I’m working my way back up to that.”