UCLA Cyclist Hit and Sued by Driver

$9,646 of $9,000 goal

Raised by 304 people in 29 months
Hello, my name is Nako Nakatsuka. I am a 25 year old Ph.D. candidate in the Department of Chemistry at UCLA and a member of the UCLA Triathlon team. On Sunday April 6, 2014 while I was riding on my road bike from work, I was rear-ended by a speeding car with such force that the car’s front bumper was damaged. It is almost two years since the collision and I am still in great debt from the medical bills, property damage and lawyer fees.

Instead of paying for my medical bills, the driver’s auto insurance company had sent me four consecutive letters and invoices claiming thousands of dollars of damages and threatening to sue me for the broken front bumper. First, the company claimed that I backed into the car, although I was on a road bike that does not go backwards. Then, they accused me of smashing into the car from the side – even though my bike was run over by both the front and back wheels of the car. In fact, my bike was still underneath the back tire of the car when the ambulance and police arrived. 

Part of what made my case so difficult was that the police at the scene did not write a report. I had to hire a detective from the West Traffic Division to prove that the accident even happened in the first place.

I sustained a concussion from the fall, whiplash, lacerations on my body, and potentially permanent tissue damage to my glute that prevented me from training or participating in triathlons for a full year. At the time, I had been training for my first marathon for over 6 months and was 3 weeks away from my Ph.D. candidacy exam which would determine whether I could continue my doctoral studies at UCLA. I had to study as hard as I possibly could while nursing a concussion and being on pain medication. My bicycle was destroyed in the accident and it took me 7 months of tutoring during all of my spare time and selling my clothes to second-hand stores to be able to afford a new one. I felt compelled to face my trauma and get back on the bike again to do what I love. Today, I still have not fully recovered and must take extra precautions and treatments to be able to continue training.

I spoke with 12 lawyers in the months after my accident, and was represented by two of them. However, each lawyer at one stage or another abandoned the case because the potential award was too little. I struggled to find representation for 7 months while still receiving bills and phone calls from the insurance company threatening a lawsuit unless I paid them. It has been an agonizing psychological battle as much as a financial and physical struggle.

I finally found a lawyer that agreed to represent me. However, the legal fees and accompanying investigation fees alone cost me around $10,000, which is more than 40% of my yearly stipend as a graduate student. I had about $2,000 in savings, all of which I used on these fees. The remaining $8,000 for fees was unmanageable with my stipend and outstanding medical bills that resulted from the collision. My mother covered that for me and she is a single working mother and I know that was a significant amount of money for her that I want to repay.  

I would greatly appreciate any help you could offer. I will donate any excess to a non-profit organization that advocates for bicyclist safety. Thank you so much for your consideration.
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Dear all,

Thank you so much for your generosity and being a part of my fundraiser. The amount of gratitude I feel towards each and every donation and kind words of encouragement was something that truly motivated me to give back to the cycling community.

The recent publication in Bicycling Magazine ( https://www.bicycling.com/enough-Nakatsuka) where I described my crash caused a lot of controversy. Some of the negative comments I received for my article involved the things I did wrong (e.g. not leave the scene in an ambulance) and things I should have known (e.g. check for a police report ASAP after a crash). Others reached out to me asking for advice after finding themselves in similar situations. Many did not believe my story and I do not blame them - it was just as incredible to me when I was going through it.

Reading these comments, I was determined to channel all the negative energy and turn it into something good. I decided to create a website for cyclists that highlight all the things that I wish I had known prior to my crash.

The goal of this website is to share experiences and spread awareness. I have compiled a list of key points with the help of many friends and teammates who have endured crashes themselves. I have a list of attorney references (I have received permission to publish their contact info) that I wish I had access to back then, that are all chosen based on recommendations from cyclists who have hired them in the past. I included a section on what to do as a witness at the scene of a crash. It's a shock to witness a crash but your quick actions can determine the outcome of future lawsuits or even save a life.

There is also a forum and contact page for people to have conversations and ask questions. I think it is important for people who are not part of cycling teams/groups to have the capacity to discuss issues with people in the cycling community. I was lucky to have the UCLA Triathlon Team as a resource and inspiration to get back to biking a year and a half after my crash. Many others do not have that kind of privilege.

I wanted to share this all with YOU prior to making it public on social media. YOUR support has motivated me to do this with the hope that I can save someone in the future from encountering the same experiences as me.

With that, I will be closing this Gofundme officially (once I figure out how!) Thank you again for restoring my faith in humanity in one of my darkest times.

The website: bikewoke.com

Any feedback is of course, very welcome. I would greatly appreciate it if you could share the resource with anyone close to you who is a cyclist.

All my best,
Nako

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Dear all,

I cannot believe that I reached my goal in less than a week. I am overwhelmed and so grateful for the kindness and support I have witnessed from friends, students I taught Chemistry, professors, colleagues, cycling communities and strangers. I cannot thank you all enough.

I am keeping my page up for just a while longer because yesterday a friend on my triathlon team got hit by a car and his bike got split in two. The driver tried to blame him for the crash. Many people have reached out with lawyers to call and resources to use that I was never privy to and I want that to help the people that need it NOW. I have also been personally contacted by many cyclists who are in a very similar situation as me and who got sued by drivers. If you commented on my gofundme with a source and someone reaches out to you, please be as kind to them as you were to me and help them in their time of need. The toughest part for me was facing a lot of my problems without a lawyer to back me up and I hope that the least I can do is make the process less traumatizing for others.

The more I look into this issue in LA, the more I realize it's an unbelievable and still very relevant problem. This is one of the articles that upset me the most: http://laist.com/2007/09/04/beverly_hills_c.php

If you are a driver, please be mindful on the road. If you're already careful, please share these stories. We get ticketed for being on the sidewalk, yet we can get ticketed by cops for getting in the way of angry drivers on the road. I'm from Japan and don't have a license and many of my friends cannot afford to drive a car in LA. We bike not only because it's fun but because it's our ONLY means of transportation in this big city. Even my friends sometimes text and drive and I always stop them because people often forget they're driving a machine that has the potential to kill. To this day I've been yelled at while being in a bicycle lane on the road and people have not only insulted me but have swerved close to scare me from the mere fact that I am a cyclist. I hope that this culture can one day change for the better.

Thank you all again for your donations and supportive messages. I will be working hard to pay your selfless generosity forwards in my daily life.

Best,
Nako
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Dear all,

Thank you so much for the overwhelming support I've received in just a day. I am really truly touched and it's been an emotional day. For every person that has made my life hell, I realize there's a 100 people that makes it better. Thank you from the bottom of my heart.

To answer some of the questions and comments - I've already settled my case. I fought the driver and their insurance company for 2 years and ran out financially and emotionally to keep fighting and we settled for $2000 out of which UCLA insurance took out a cut since my medical damages were caused by a third party and my lawyer took contingency so I was left with nothing. It's too late for me to get a lawyer and I wish I knew of all these resources back in the day. I went through 10 lawyers and most just cost me time and money. I will keep everything mentioned in mind and hopefully help someone in the future who is as lost and helpless as I was during the aftermath of the accident.
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Read a Previous Update
Alex De Cordoba
29 months ago
6
6

Hi Nako, Can you share the name of the insurance company and the driver who struck you? I'd like to publicize their outrageous behavior as far and wide as humanly possible. Thanks!

+ Read More
Benjamin Brukardt
29 months ago
2
2

As a college student as well, I can't afford to give as much as my heart wishes. As the President of CSUF's Collegiate cycling team, we will bring awareness to this on our Facebook following, and bring this to the attention of UCLA 's Collegiate team as well. I hope everything is brought right on you. No cyclists deserves to go through this alone and you are no exception. God's blessings.

+ Read More
David Ruiz
27 months ago
1
1

Condolences to the family. Please call Thomas F. Forsyth. He is a California attorney who has been representing cyclists for over 25 years. HE SUPPORTS ALL WOLFPACK HUSTLE RIDES AND IS AN AVID CYCLIST HIMSELF. No recovery no fee. Free consultation. Call him. www.bicycleattorney.net

+ Read More
Chris Convis
29 months ago
1
1

What insurance company did the driver have?

+ Read More
James Eastwood
29 months ago

You said UCLA took a cut of the money you received because the damages were caused by a third party. This is highly unlikely, unless the other insurance company denied your claim or found their driver less than 100% liable for the accident. In third party liability cases, the medical provider you go through gets compensated from the 3rd party insurance company (in this case the insurance company for the driver of the vehicle that hit you). You aren't responsible for those medical expenses out of pocket. You should also consider filing a complaint with the California Department of Insurance against the insurance company that you stated you settled with since they are responsible for paying all of your medical bills plus additional compensation for lost wages, pain and suffering and the damage to your property. I would also consider filing a complaint with the California Bar against the attorney's that represented you. You have to have a snake of an attorney that will put a client in a position where he or she is getting less money that the attorney or that would advise you to settle for only $2000. I would file a complaint with the bar as well as with the attorney's E&O insurance unless this went to trial and that's the settlement your received from a judge or jury. I'm curious to know that if the insurance company settled with you, did they find their driver completely liable or only a percentage liable for the accident? If the insurance company was eventually found 100% liable you can still be reimbursed for your out of pocket expenses, your best bet is to first contact the CA DOI.

+ Read More
Kenny Mitchell
29 months ago

Help me out with mt dream of getting big on youtube.......

+ Read More
Fred Becerra
29 months ago

Call Otto Haselhoff he won someone 1.5 million for falling off their own roof... He can get you justice. 3104349260

+ Read More
Angus Beverly
29 months ago

Have you looked in UCLA's Student Legal Services?

+ Read More
Xiao Yu
29 months ago

Feel you. Similar thing happened to me too. 1- Hit the cyclist hard enough so that they're semi-conscious and don't have their lawyer sense at the scene 2- File insurance claim 3- ??? 4- Profit

+ Read More
Marc Caswell
29 months ago

You should speak with Josh Cohen - he's a good friend of mine who has helped many people in similar situations: http://losangelesbicycleattorney.com/

+ Read More
Gabriel Frazee
29 months ago

I am unable to help financially, but please contact Gary Brustin at (800) 841-2453. He's only represented cyclists for the last 20 years, and was the lawyer who represented me; from everything you're saying, I don't see why he wouldn't take your case.

+ Read More
Mitchell Rattanavipapong
29 months ago

Have you spoken to anyone at Cal Bike Law? Gerry is an avid cyclist and has help many cyclists in your situation in the past, including myself.

+ Read More

$9,646 of $9,000 goal

Raised by 304 people in 29 months
Created March 7, 2016
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SS
$50
Steve Smuck
10 months ago

I just read about your story in Bicycling. I hope you are back to full strength! So sad we have such a so screwed up legal system.

KH
$20
Kenneth D Howard
10 months ago

I ride, and I know we have to be more alert about our surroundings than anyone behind the wheel of a car. I know it's been three year since this terrible accident occurred, but hope by giving what I can it will help you back to where you need to be...

KM
$11
Keith Martinez
11 months ago

Good luck with your recovery (on all fronts) and thanks for inspiring me to get over my own bike accident and continued injury despite surgery (compound clavicle fracture). See you at the Kona finish someday!

GT
$50
Gary Thabet
13 months ago

Just read about your situation. As a cyclist it makes me mad and as a human being it makes me sad. I wish you the best.

$50
Anonymous
15 months ago
$25
Melinda Holloway
15 months ago

Just read your story in Bicycling magazine. Unbelievable. Hope this helps. Wish it could be more!

$20
Anonymous
24 months ago
Alex De Cordoba
29 months ago
6
6

Hi Nako, Can you share the name of the insurance company and the driver who struck you? I'd like to publicize their outrageous behavior as far and wide as humanly possible. Thanks!

+ Read More
Benjamin Brukardt
29 months ago
2
2

As a college student as well, I can't afford to give as much as my heart wishes. As the President of CSUF's Collegiate cycling team, we will bring awareness to this on our Facebook following, and bring this to the attention of UCLA 's Collegiate team as well. I hope everything is brought right on you. No cyclists deserves to go through this alone and you are no exception. God's blessings.

+ Read More
David Ruiz
27 months ago
1
1

Condolences to the family. Please call Thomas F. Forsyth. He is a California attorney who has been representing cyclists for over 25 years. HE SUPPORTS ALL WOLFPACK HUSTLE RIDES AND IS AN AVID CYCLIST HIMSELF. No recovery no fee. Free consultation. Call him. www.bicycleattorney.net

+ Read More
Chris Convis
29 months ago
1
1

What insurance company did the driver have?

+ Read More
James Eastwood
29 months ago

You said UCLA took a cut of the money you received because the damages were caused by a third party. This is highly unlikely, unless the other insurance company denied your claim or found their driver less than 100% liable for the accident. In third party liability cases, the medical provider you go through gets compensated from the 3rd party insurance company (in this case the insurance company for the driver of the vehicle that hit you). You aren't responsible for those medical expenses out of pocket. You should also consider filing a complaint with the California Department of Insurance against the insurance company that you stated you settled with since they are responsible for paying all of your medical bills plus additional compensation for lost wages, pain and suffering and the damage to your property. I would also consider filing a complaint with the California Bar against the attorney's that represented you. You have to have a snake of an attorney that will put a client in a position where he or she is getting less money that the attorney or that would advise you to settle for only $2000. I would file a complaint with the bar as well as with the attorney's E&O insurance unless this went to trial and that's the settlement your received from a judge or jury. I'm curious to know that if the insurance company settled with you, did they find their driver completely liable or only a percentage liable for the accident? If the insurance company was eventually found 100% liable you can still be reimbursed for your out of pocket expenses, your best bet is to first contact the CA DOI.

+ Read More
Kenny Mitchell
29 months ago

Help me out with mt dream of getting big on youtube.......

+ Read More
Fred Becerra
29 months ago

Call Otto Haselhoff he won someone 1.5 million for falling off their own roof... He can get you justice. 3104349260

+ Read More
Angus Beverly
29 months ago

Have you looked in UCLA's Student Legal Services?

+ Read More
Xiao Yu
29 months ago

Feel you. Similar thing happened to me too. 1- Hit the cyclist hard enough so that they're semi-conscious and don't have their lawyer sense at the scene 2- File insurance claim 3- ??? 4- Profit

+ Read More
Marc Caswell
29 months ago

You should speak with Josh Cohen - he's a good friend of mine who has helped many people in similar situations: http://losangelesbicycleattorney.com/

+ Read More
Gabriel Frazee
29 months ago

I am unable to help financially, but please contact Gary Brustin at (800) 841-2453. He's only represented cyclists for the last 20 years, and was the lawyer who represented me; from everything you're saying, I don't see why he wouldn't take your case.

+ Read More
Mitchell Rattanavipapong
29 months ago

Have you spoken to anyone at Cal Bike Law? Gerry is an avid cyclist and has help many cyclists in your situation in the past, including myself.

+ Read More
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