We Shouldn't Need a Biking Lawyer, but We Do

CC BY 2.0. The biking lawyer/ Photo Lloyd Alter

The streets are deadly and the cops don't care, but we now have David Shellnutt.

On New Year's Day I saw a tweet about David Shellnutt opening a new practice, The Biking Lawyer, specializing in personal injury and bike law. I wondered how much need there was for such a specialty, so I biked down to meet Shellnutt in his new office.

Shellnutt has a real story to tell about personal injury; exactly a year before, on New Year's Day in 2019, two guys got out of a Dodge Charger and beat him almost to death. After months of recovery, he got back on his bike to ride to a rehab appointment and got hit by a driver while in a bike lane. He could be his own best customer, telling Global News:

People need support and protection, having been hit myself, in a bike lane, breaking my wrist and my elbow, I know that it’s really necessary to have lawyers who understand what cycling in Toronto is like.
rules of the road

© Rules of the road/ David Shellnutt

One thing Toronto bike riders don't know or understand is what their rights are. He's prepared a card, based on his experience. It explains the rules on one side,

Accident report

© Accident report/ David Shellnutt

And an accident report form with all the right questions on the other side, and advice that you "take photos of the car, the driver, the bike, the scene, and anything else that might be valuable to remember!"

Unfortunately, he is very busy. Shellnut described how he used to commute half an hour to work and "every day each way, I would either get cut off or have a near miss." With respect to the police,

I don't think that there is a nefarious plan to treat cyclists unfairly, but there is a real lack of concern for vulnerable road users, pedestrians or cyclists, and enforcement is abysmal. In a lot of my cases, there are some good officers, but most of the time we have trouble getting Motor Vehicle Accident Reports or any sort of assistance whatsoever. And I have written to the Chief of Police about this.

You can read the letter to Chief Saunders, where he writes:

On numerous occasions I have witnessed Toronto Police officers refusing to provide Motor Vehicle Accident Reports or insurance information to injured cyclists. By not providing this report, injured people are not able to access insurance information. Without the insurance information, injured people are not getting access to their legally entitled and much needed no-fault Accident Benefits.

This is particularly relevant in "dooring" incidents, which the police do not consider motor vehicle accidents, even though the law and the insurance companies do. So it becomes really difficult for victims to collect any money for rehabilitation. But then the police don't take dooring seriously and didn't consider charges when one of their own doored a cyclist, calling a recent incident "a momentary lack of attention and fell short of constituting a marked departure from a reasonable level of care in the circumstances."

More useful information can be found on his postHit and Runs: a Cyclist Safety Guide. These have become disturbingly common in Toronto; the first pedestrian killed in Toronto in 2020 (it only took 3 days) was a senior and a hit-and-run victim.

David at his desk

David Shellnutt at his desk/ Photo Lloyd Alter/CC BY 2.0

I wish David Shellnutt was able to spend more time at the Y across the street from his office. I wish he didn't have any work. Unfortunately, I suspect he is going to be very busy, and I am putting his card in my pannier and his number and email in my phone. Other Toronto cyclists might consider it too.

He is not the first bike lawyer in Toronto; there is also Shellnutt's mentor, Patrick Brown.