Minneapolis cyclist left in the dust

  • Article by: LORA PABST , Star Tribune
  • Updated: August 29, 2009 - 8:24 PM

Nicole Lindgren's transportation was destroyed by a bus. Now she's facing insurance company hassles.

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Nicole Lindgren pondered a bike that might have to replace the one destroyed when she was in a crosswalk in Minneapolis and a bus turned into her path. She jumped off her bike to get out of the way, escaping with bumps and bruises. Her bike, however, was mangled. She is still trying to get the bus company to pay for it.

Photo: Richard Tsong-Taatarii, Star Tribune

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Nicole Lindgren was walking her bicycle through a downtown crosswalk when the transit bus sideswiped her.

Lindgren wasn't seriously injured, but as the bus turned the corner, it drove over her $700 bike, mangling its metal frame.

Lindgren screamed at the driver to stop, but instead he slowly backed over her bike to clear the curb and continued down the road.

"He should have been able to know he was hitting something," said Lindgren, 36, who escaped with a sore leg and a few cuts and bruises. "And if you know you're on the curb, wouldn't you want to make sure you didn't hit somebody?"

The big white bus was carrying passengers for the Minnesota Valley Transit Authority, which subcontracts the service to Schmitty and Sons Transit Service in Lakeville. When Whistleblower contacted Schmitty and Sons, operations manager Bill Forbord said the firm didn't find out about the accident until a Minneapolis police officer called to talk about it.

Forbord said the driver insisted he didn't know he hit anything. The driver was not charged or ticketed by police, but he was immediately taken off the road and subsequently fired.

"It was a combination of violation of policy and safe driving habits," Forbord said.

Lindgren is still waiting for the company to make good on the damage. Initially, National Interstate Insurance Company, the bus company's insurer, offered Lindgren $10 for her fully loaded Trek Navigator. She also missed several days of work because of her injuries and is facing more than $500 in medical bills.

Forbord said Lindgren shouldn't have to wait this long for a new bicycle.

"I'll hold the insurance company accountable," he said. "If she is not happy and feels like she's being run around by the insurance company, we want to know that."

Split-second decision

For the past four years, Lindgren, who lives in south Minneapolis, has used her bike as her main mode of transportation. She says she's a careful rider. She wears a helmet and tries to stay on paths. She has even equipped her bike with extra lights and mirrors.

Lindgren, who works as a personal care attendant on the overnight shift at an assisted living center, usually gets off work at 7 a.m. She was heading downtown after work on the morning of July 31 to take care of an errand when she crossed the street at Third Avenue and S. 11th Street. She was almost to the curb when she realized a transit bus was looming over her on the crosswalk.

"My leg got kind of jammed between the bus, the bike pedal and the wheel," she said, describing how she had been straddling the bike as she walked. "It happened so fast. I just jumped off."

After the bus left, bystanders called police. Lindgren gave her statement to an officer before an ambulance took her to Abbott Northwestern Hospital. A doctor told her to take the next two nights off work because of the pain in her leg.

Lindgren took a few pain pills, but she couldn't stop thinking about her crushed bike. Later that day, a friend brought her to Penn Cycle and Fitness to see whether her bike could be repaired. Store manager Tim Larson was stunned by the damage and surprised that she wasn't more seriously injured.

"The whole back of the bike was destroyed," Larson said. "The only salvageable part was the seat."

Lindgren left her bike at the store to meet its fate at the recycling pile. She figured she'd get a replacement soon. "I thought it was going to be really easy," Lindgren said. "Just call MVTA, say I got hit, they say 'We'll take care of you and your bike.'"

Waiting for a response

Instead, Lindgren found out that even getting hit by a bus doesn't guarantee a quick response. Transit officials referred her to the contractor, Schmitty and Sons. They sent her to their insurance company.

But when Lindgren called National Interstate, the customer service representative questioned how a bike could be totaled and offered Lindgren $10. She turned it down. She also wants the company to replace her helmet, cover her medical bills and make restitution for her $180 in lost wages.

"Nobody offered me squat," Lindgren said.

She has filled out a bunch of forms, but the insurer is sending even more. Forbord said he would contact the insurer to help speed the process. He said he thought his company took appropriate action after the accident. Forbord said drivers are required to inform the company if they hit anything.

In the meantime, Lindgren is riding the bus to work. She cringes every time she gets on. "I was kind of apprehensive,'' she said. "After the dust had settled, I realized I was traumatized."

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