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THIS CYCLING LAWYER PASSES THE (HANDLE) BAR EXAM IN HIS FIGHT FOR RIDERS’ RIGHTS

by Scott Martin
Published May 1, 1998

Bicycling Attorney article

Some lawyers specialize in corporate law, others in probate. Gary Brustin specializes in bikes. A personal-injury attorney with offices in Beverly Hills and throughout California, the 48-year-old Brustin has been a lawyer for more than 20 years and a cyclist for more than 30. About ten years ago he decided to focus on cycling-related cases. Today these condstitute 95% of his practice.

That doesn’t leave much time for riding, but Brustin manages to get in four to five hours a week around his home in the Los Angeles area. He owns five bikes, including a classic 20-year-old Masi Gran Criterium road bike equipped with Campy Nuovo Record and a sleek Trek Y33 dual-suspension carbon mountain bike with Shimano XTR components.

Brustin dropped by our West Coast office recently to talk about his most memorable cases, as well as such topics as cycling and the legal system, road rage, and what to do if you’re in an accident.

How do cyclists fare in our legal system?

Ten years ago, a driver would be apologetic if he hit a bike rider. Now the driver attitude I’m seeing is, “What were you doing on the road? Why weren’t you on the sidewalk? It’s not my fault-I’m going to fight this.” I’ve even had a judge say to me, “Why wasn’t your client on a bike path?” A judge! It’s frightening-that’s not the law.

In virtually every state, cyclists have the same rights and responsibilities as motorists. But there’s a big danger these laws could be taken away. In Louisiana, for example, a legislator recently proposed a bill outlawing bikes in business districts statewide.

We are clearly under attack. As cyclists we walk into the judicial system with two strikes against us.

What are the most tragic cases you’ve been involved with?

A car thief had stolen an SUV and was driving around scaring cyclists by crossing the center line and buzzing them.
A woman was out training for a charity ride on a country road. The driver hit her head-on and broke almost every bone in her body. She was lucky to be alive, but she’ll have lifelong problems. The guy got 25 years without parole. Another time, a drunk driver swerved and hit a rider who was going 10 mph uphill, killing him instantly. The police asked the driver how much he’d been drinking that day and he said, “No more than usual-about a six pack.”

What are the most humorous cases you’ve encountered?

A guy was riding home around dusk in the bike lane with lots of shadows. A gas-company truck was parked in the lane-which was legal-in a shaded area with it’s rear doors open. The cyclist rode right into the interior of the truck and landed practically in the driver’s seat. He wasn’t hurt badly and I didn’t take the case. In another case, a dog ran into the middle of a club ride and caused a pile-up. Several witnesses saw the dog run back to its home, but the homeowner claimed it wasn’t his animal. So I subpoenaed the dog. But the defense attorney refused to produce the pooch and demanded a dog lineup! The judge said this was absurd, and we ultimately proved it was the owner’s dog.

Do you get many cases involving mountain bikes?

I get a lot of calls, but often there’s nobody to prosecute-if you ride off a cliff, for instance, who’s to blame? In California, mountain biking is considered an ultra-hazardous activity, so the state is immune from prosecution. the law really works against you on those trails.

What should you do if you’re involved in an accident?

First, get medical care if you need it. Cooperate with the police, even if they seem hostile. Get names and addresses of witnesses. Police officers, especially those in big cities, are often too busy to do this. And preserve evidence. Don’t fix your bike, don’t wash your clothes-they’re important indicators of how the accident occurred. If you feel your rights have been violated and you have sustained a serious injury-something beyond scrapes and bruises-contact a lawyer.

-Scott Martin

Southern California