A year, a week, and a day after Leap Day of 2016 I received a large check in the mail. How this came to pass is not the ten-second story of a hot-heated bully. Rather it demonstrates the high cost of what’s wrong with our country in a more conscious manner. Call it systematic amorality.
When a Porsche crossed my right-of-way in Fairhope, Alabama on February 29, 2016, I flew off Surly and hit the pavement. I received excellent medical care and within four months was able to return to my journey. Although the Porsche driver was legally at fault, it was an accident. Accidents happen.
When I resumed my journey in July I sent a letter to the driver’s insurance agent, Tony Williams of Cincinnati Insurance. I requested they reimburse my direct accident-related costs, $4500, plus medical expenses. It seemed a straightforward settlement for an accident with eyewitnesses and a police report that assigned fault. Within half an hour I received a letter from Mr. Williams denying liability. I was dumbfounded. I decided to make a point about cyclist crashes.
Enter the hero of my story, Danny Feldman, a liability attorney in Birmingham. I’ve never met Danny but he earned my trust on our first call when we said, “If insurance companies did what they are supposed to do I wouldn’t have a job.”
For the next six months, while I cycled across country meeting wonderful people and collecting collaborative ideas about living tomorrow, I simultaneously sued a well-insured motorist who made a mistake. I bear no malice to the driver; it was his insurance company that stonewalled. The details are not so ugly as many cases, but the whole thing was unnecessary. By the time my cycling odyssey was complete, Cincinnati agreed to pay me more than five times my accrued direct and medical expenses. I give all the credit to Danny Feldman, who treated all parties with respect and was extraordinarily communicative to me.
The check that arrived a year and a week and a day after the accident created a conundrum. After more than a year of living independent of money, my trip generated an unexpected windfall. I cannot in good faith keep the money. Besides, money can’t alleviate the backache likely to remain for the rest of my days. I long ago learned to re-envision that discomfort as a lasting souvenir of my adventure.
I decided to give the money away, shared evenly among a dozen organizations that enabled and enriched my trip. I hope it will help them continue their good work toward a better tomorrow:
The Right Question Institute, Cambridge MA, for promoting the benefits of asking as the pathway to understanding and influencing
Warmshowers.org, Boulder CO for promoting fellowship and community among bicyclists
Racine Police Association, Racine WI for encouraging positive interactions between police and citizens
Myrna Loy Center, Helena MT for conceiving of Art in the broadest terms, in the remotest areas
The Circus Project, Portland OR, where I witnessed innovative opportunities for homeless people
The Unusual Suspects, Los Angeles CA, for their work with incarcerated youth (Meisha Rainman) (Nick Williams)
Alabama Bicycle Coalition, Huntsville AL, because Alabama sure needs it
I Heart Ferguson, Ferguson MO, to promote community in the aftermath of tragedy (Councilor Linda Lipka) (Councilor Wesley Bell) (Corliss and Carl Thorn)
Friends of the Clovis-Carter Public Library, Clovis NM, where I witnessed patient, respectful teaching of immigrants
Library Endowment Trust of the Metropolitan Library System, Oklahoma City OK, where I witnessed an enthusiasm for education lacking in the public schools
Florida Restorative Justice Association, Tallahassee FL to promote restorative justice (Julie and Michael McBride) (Kate and Andy Grosmaire) (Evan Wilhelm and Conor McBride)
Many thanks to Cincinnati Insurance Company for being so shortsighted they wound up supporting these great organizations. Even better, perhaps this settlement will make them revisit the precedent of dismissing claims by cyclists out of hand.