A Battle Every Step of the Way

Ben Boncella has been a State Farm customer for years. When he was hit by a driver whose insurance company was also State Farm, he thought the insurance company would be more willing to “take care of their own.” He realized how off-base his thinking was a week or two into the process of trying to handle his own claim.

Additionally, Ben feels that the insurance company/claims adjuster will give you zero respect if you are trying to resolve a claim on your own. “Although they try to come across as being nice and friendly, they are trying to take advantage of you by getting you to admit fault or partial responsibility for the crash.”  

Ben thought his case was clear cut, and that he would be successful in handling the claim himself; a police officer had witnessed the crash and the driver, who admitted that she was in the wrong, was cited at the scene. Yet State Farm denied responsibility to pay out his claim for bike repairs, property damage, and medical bills. “I was extremely surprised by how unwilling the insurance company was to pay my claim. I thought it would be very straightforward – they would pay for the damage to my bike and kit and cover the medical expenses I incurred as a result of the collision,” he says. “I wish I would’ve known how much of a pain the entire process of battling the driver’s auto insurance was going to be.”

When State Farm outright denied liability after months of working at it himself, Ben decided to contact and hire our firm. “As soon as Megan got involved, their tone changed immediately, they became more responsive, more cooperative, and the process of getting this resolved was expedited,” he says. 

The big takeaway from the whole process for Ben? It doesn’t matter how obvious the case/incident, the cyclist will always have to fight every step of the way. He was in a bike lane, riding below the posted speed limit, wearing brightly colored clothing, at a safe time of day, traveling on a route commonly used by local cyclists, had lights on his bike, a police officer witnessed the crash, the driver was cited on the scene, etc. “It doesn’t matter that you do everything right, and it’s extremely obvious. Insurance companies are out to make money, so they make you fight for everything. Do not give up!”

It was the morning of June 8, 2018, around 6:30 am when Ben was riding his bike to work heading north in the bike lane on Garrison Street in Lakewood, CO, and was coming up along vehicles that were stopped at a red light. Ben was wearing a cycling kit, a helmet, and sunglasses along with a backpack full of work clothes.

As he was riding through the intersection at Garrison and West 1st Avenue, the driver of a Ford Ranger pick-up truck failed to yield to Ben while making a right-hand turn, causing a front to side collision. Officer Arellano, who witnessed the crash, stated that Ben was not speeding and was riding properly in the bike lane with safety attire/equipment. Ben was not able to stop quickly enough to avoid the collision since the vehicle turned right in front of him.  He crashed into the front right side of the vehicle. 

The driver stopped immediately after hitting Ben and told the officer that she saw Ben but did not think he would be at the point of the turn. Officer Arellano stated that the driver was clearly at fault and that she needed to be better aware of the road and her surroundings to include checking the bike lane before turning. There were no obstructions, weather, or road conditions that would have affected her view of Ben or her ability to wait for him before turning according to Officer Arellano.

Ben was treated at the West Metro Fire Station, which is located directly across the street, where his injuries were cleaned up and bandaged. Ben finished his ride into work, but he went to St. Anthony's Hospital to get treated when his symptoms worsened after a few hours.  He had road rash on the left side of his body and had a CT of his head and spine done as well as x-rays of his chest and wrist.

Citation:  Careless driving, pleaded down to an unsafe vehicle charge.

Fines/Penalties: Two points assessed to the driver’s license and $134 in fines.The driver has two past convictions in 2004 in Lakewood and Denver, where she was also charged for driving an unsafe or defective vehicle.

Ben feels like it is way too easy for drivers to get charges reduced.

She should have pleaded guilty to the charge the police officer cited her with because that’s what actually happened. If we keep letting people off easy, they’re never going to get any better and cyclists aren’t going to be any safer.
— Ben Boncella

Eventually, Ben was back on his bike, but it was painful and he obviously wasn’t 100% healed physically. It took awhile before the swelling, bruising, road rash, and soreness went away, but he was eventually back to his normal riding and workouts. 

He was nervous to get back on the roads after the crash and rode a lot more bike paths afterwards.  Gradually, Ben transitioned back to more and more road riding, but even to this day (a year and a half later), he is still nervous riding through intersections. “Drivers don’t use their turn signals enough or check their passenger side mirrors before making right hand turns,” he says. 

If he could wave a magic wand, Ben would make the punishment for drivers who hit cyclists much more severe.  “All it takes is a quick Google search and you can read hundreds of stories and articles about drivers hitting and killing cyclists yet only having to pay a small fine or do some community service. It’s sad to see how little the life of a cyclist is valued in these situations.”

Ben recommends that every cyclist get educated about local cycling laws/regulations and follow them when riding. Ride defensively when you need to, but also be courteous and respectful to drivers as much as possible.

Although Ben initially tried to deal with State Farm on his own, he was glad that he handed over the case to our team. “When I spoke with Megan about having her take over my case, she was extremely up front and honest about what would be involved, the timeline, the outcome, the financial side of things, etc. In the end, things worked out almost exactly as she had initially described them to me. The whole team was incredibly well organized and thorough. I’m not happy to have gone through this, but I’m glad that I had such a great team of people on my side fighting for me.”

Empowering Cyclists Through Education

Cyclist Takes Action for the Better and Safety of all Cyclists

If bike lanes are designed for use by cyclists to keep them safe from vehicles and other hazards, why do cyclists constantly have to deal with delivery trucks or ride-share vehicles parked in bike lanes, piles of snow shoveled into the bike lane, or trash bins blocking a cyclist’s path? Even traffic cones or construction signs are set up in bike lanes. What gives?!?

A campaign called Things in Bike Lanes, which was launched in Denver in 2018, encouraged the cycling community to take photos showing blocked bike lanes in an effort to raise awareness about safety issues and to help officials better understand, monitor, and begin to address these issues.

At one of our recent cycling law education classes, attendee Randy Limmer brought up a safety issue concerning blocked bike lanes on Lucent Boulevard in Highlands Ranch. Construction barrels and cones had been blocking the bike lane on Lucent between Town Center Drive and Plaza Road for approximately two years due to the construction of the UCHealth Highlands Ranch Hospital.


Lucent is a very heavily traveled road by motorists attempting to gain access to E-470. Randy says that the arrangement of the barrels and cones was typically quite random and caused different levels of blockage of the bike lane, which is one of the key feeders for cyclists from Highlands Ranch to the E-470 trail, Chatfield State Park, and Deer Creek Canyon.  

Randy has lived in Highlands Ranch since 2003 and commutes to work by bike and tries to complete 100 bicycle commutes annually. He also tries to put more miles on his bike every year than miles on his car.

On the Sunday after Thanksgiving in 2017, Randy was heading out for a ride and as usual traveling on Lucent Boulevard heading north to the E-470 bike trail. Being a Sunday, the motorist traffic was very low, and it was a beautiful day for a ride. As he approached the construction barrels and cones in the bike lane, Randy checked for vehicle traffic in the lane furthest to the right of three vehicle lanes noting that it was clear. He extended his left arm to let motorists know that he was moving left into the lane. As he continued in the right vehicle lane, a motorist came up behind him and honked the horn continuously. Randy looked back to see the driver who appeared to be very upset.

Based on his quick review of the situation, he decided to go right back into the bike lane and stop before the next construction barrel to let the motorist proceed. Unfortunately, based on his speed of 20-25 miles per hour (it’s downhill in this area) and the angle that he was able to accomplish around the barrels, his front tire and wheel got stuck in a very large expansion gap in the concrete road between the vehicle lane and bike lane.

His front wheel stopped, but his body kept going. Randy ended up in the right vehicle lane and the honking car swerved around his body on the ground. Fortunately, a young woman in the next vehicle stopped behind him and blocked additional vehicle traffic until he could gather his composure, stand up, and get out of the road.

He ended up in the ER and received many stitches, mostly in his left knee and others on the top of the knuckles on both hands. The front wheel of his bike was bent, and his saddle had a couple of tears.

Randy has recovered from his injuries and is back on his bike commuting to work, riding trails and recently participated in his twelfth MS150 ride with his company’s team at Johns Manville. Before the MS150, Megan spoke to the employees at Johns Manville about bike safety issues and laws.

From left to right: D. Marquez, R. Limmer and Megan

From left to right: D. Marquez, R. Limmer and Megan

Following the class, Randy says he felt empowered. He contacted the construction superintendent at the hospital, and all the construction drums and cones were removed from the bike lane. “This is a big win for all Highlands Ranch bicyclists. Thanks for the encouragement,” says Randy.


 Randy has worked in a manufacturing environment his entire career and says this has made him quite a safety nerd. His friends and family call him ‘Safety Bob’. He loves the nickname and is very proud of the impact that he has had in both his work and personal life.

“The end result is good, but I am disappointed in myself for not acting sooner,” says Randy.  His advice is to act quickly when it comes to cyclist safety. “I waited too long to act and hundreds if not thousands of cyclists were impacted by this situation over the years.”

We say...better cycling starts with all of us. Well done, Randy!


Safer Roads Through Advocacy and Education

A collaborative blog post by Hottman Law Office and FC Bikes

We can all agree that education is key in making the roads safer for everyone. One of our missions at Hottman Law Office is to get more people on bikes through advocacy and education.

It is a mission that we share with the City of Fort Collins and FC Bikes. They are working hard to encourage bicycling as a viable and healthy means of transportation for Fort Collins' residents, employees and visitors of all ages and abilities. Jamie Gaskill, Program Specialist at FC Bikes, acknowledges the need for continuous education for all road users. One reason she gives is Colorado’s growing population which means more people riding and driving. Colorado has experienced rapid population growth throughout the past decade. The U.S. Census Bureau estimated Colorado’s population at 5.6 million in July 2017; that’s an 11.5 % increase from 2010.

Another reason Gaskill cites is the increased emphasis on Vision Zero - the goal of having zero traffic-related fatalities. Colorado’s statewide initiative, which began in 2015, is called Moving Towards Zero Deaths. Fort Collins was the first city in Colorado to adopt this initiative.

There is also an emphasis on making Colorado the best bicycling state in the nation. In September 2015, Governor Hickenlooper announced a four-year plan and slated 100 million dollars to help make Colorado the best state for biking in the nation. The objective is to make bikes more accessible and riding safer by adding bike lanes and improving driver education.

Hottman Law Office and FC Bikes are helping to make the state better for bicycling in a number of ways.

In 2016, Fort Collins launched a bike share program with 100 bikes. Since then, 23 bikes stations have been added around town, and the bike share fleet is now at 250 bikes.

FC Bikes is participating in a three-year initiative with PeopleforBikes called the Big Jump Project. The goal is to create a safe, connected, comfortable and vibrant environment for bicycling in northwest Fort Collins. FC Bikes is achieving this through infrastructure improvements such as the new Mulberry Protected bike lane pilot project that was recently installed. FC Bikes is also doing neighborhood-based outreach and engagement to bring residents what they need in order to get more people on bikes.

In addition, FC Bikes works to celebrate bicycling and encourage new ridership. Events such as Bike to Work Day and Winter Bike to Work Day are community-wide celebrations of bicycling in Fort Collins. FC Bikes organizes Open Streets events which allow community members to experience roadways with minimal motorized traffic and can encourage people to try bicycling or bicycle more often.

FC Bikes offers a great selection of educational classes, information and opportunities for both motorists and cyclists:

  • Bicycle Ambassador Program – Become an ambassador of safe cycling in northern Colorado.

  • Bicycling Education Classes and Presentations – Sign up for an adult or youth education class and learn about safe cycling practices.

  • Rules of the Road – Learn the laws regarding safe passing, helmets, distracted driving, sidewalk riding and much more.

  • Bicycle Friendly Driver Program – Get educated about the best and safest ways to share the road with people on bicycles. This 1 1/2 hour class discusses common crashes and how to avoid them, why bicyclists ‘take the lane’ and what motorists should do in response and how to navigate bicycle related infrastructure such as sharrows, bike boxes, and green lanes.

They are also partnering with Fort Collins Police Services in a program called Ride Smart Drive Smart which is designed to educate both cyclists and motorists on how to safely and lawfully share the roadways, encourage smart riding and driving behavior and enforce laws for safety. As part of this initiative, the Fort Collins Police Services staff received educational workshops from Hottman Law Office and will also attend the Bicycle Friendly Driver trainings starting in March 2019.

Megan presents to a full house of cyclists at Full Cycle Bike Shop in Boulder every June.

Megan presents to a full house of cyclists at Full Cycle Bike Shop in Boulder every June.

Hottman Law Office is committed to providing education and advocating to make the roads safer for everyone. It is why we offer classes about Colorado cycling laws to both motorists and cyclists at local bike clubs, driving schools as well as to law enforcement personnel. Most recently, we have been offering workshops to cyclists on how to handle their insurance claims in personal injury cases.

Our Bike Ambassadors and the Golden Police Dept.

Our Bike Ambassadors and the Golden Police Dept.

This year, we partnered with the Golden Police Department and our Bike Ambassador team to put together informative safety videos on group riding, taking the lane, headphones, the right hook, and lots more. Visit the Golden Police Department’s Facebook page for more information.

Check out more of our educational videos here. The Let's Ride Safe // Let's Drive Safe video addresses ways that drivers and cyclists can ride and drive safely.

Hottman Law Office has hosted a Bike to Work Day station every year since 2012 and organizes a group ride in June to Lookout Mountain to bring together the cycling community:

Our website offers information on cycling laws, crash advice, commuting tips and how to handle aggressive drivers. Topics we have covered on our blog relevant for both motorists and cyclists include:

Megan presented her safe cycling talk to the PEDAL Racing and PEDAL bike shop team earlier this year.

Megan presented her safe cycling talk to the PEDAL Racing and PEDAL bike shop team earlier this year.

Cycling Deaths: I Have Something I Need To Say

This morning started off well enough - coffee, some social media-ing, breakfast ... 

And then the news of Andrew Tilin’s death popped up on my feed in an article posted by Outside Magazine.  He was hit and killed by a car on his bike ride yesterday.

I met Andrew in 2014 after he reached out, saying he wanted to do a piece about me and my law firm. We talked by phone numerous times, exchanged plentiful emails, and he traveled to Golden that summer to meet me in person, see the office, and do a long bike ride together.  He also sat in on a bike law briefing I provided to the Boulder County Sheriffs Department. 

Andrew's bright pink DORA the EXPLORER backpack, which he wore on our ride and carried with him everywhere we went (for his notebook, recorder, etc) was a source of laughs and humor during his entire visit. ;)

Andrew's bright pink DORA the EXPLORER backpack, which he wore on our ride and carried with him everywhere we went (for his notebook, recorder, etc) was a source of laughs and humor during his entire visit. ;)

His article was titled “Bikes v Cars, the War No One is Winning,” and when it hit the press in 2015, I was overwhelmed with emails and calls - mostly positive. Bryant Gumbel’s team at HBO Real Sports reached out, indicating they wanted to include me in a bike wars episode they were compiling.    

As you might imagine, the call from HBO was a game-changer for me and I immediately contacted Andrew and thanked him (for about the 100th time) for choosing me as the subject of his article.  I regularly expressed my gratitude to Andrew for the way his article opened up new doors for me - we stayed in touch on bike issues as well as personal life developments.  He was a cyclist and a writer I respected.  I considered him a friend and enjoyed our conversations.  

{Off-topic but I want to say this right now: is there someone who did something for you and it really made a difference in your life?  And you haven’t thanked them for it?  Go -do it now.  Seriously.  I’ll wait… I can’t tell you how glad I am that I made the time to tell Andrew -thank you - as often as I did. People who do meaningful things for us deserve to hear from us.  Make the time}. 

Today, I learned he was hit by a car while he was on the side of the road changing a flat tire on his ride yesterday.  It really affected me- as all cycling deaths do - but perhaps more so because I considered Andrew “one of us,” as in, one of the cycling advocates trying to make cycling better- and safer- and more well-known and well-understood. I also knew Andrew to be a very safe and skilled rider -a dad -who wouldn’t take needless risks on rides.  But of course as is often the case, rider skill wasn’t the issue here. 

Alongside the seeming randomness of the collision that took his life (a car skidding in fog into another car which struck him as he changed his tire on the side of the road) - I was consoled by the fact that Andrew went out doing what he loved to do: ride his bike.  

Allow me to back up here for a moment before going forward with the true grit of this article and the reason for writing it. 

May of 2017- I was on a charity ride, when a rider ahead of me rode over a stick which randomly shot under my front wheel.  I crashed instantaneously, and 2 riders behind me then crashed into me/landed on me.  Result: bike broken in 8 places, fractured sacrum (pelvis), torn labrum (hip), concussion (brain) and left side thoroughly road-rashed.  While I’ve crashed before, and broken bones before, this one was different.  Whereas my previous injuries all stemmed from racing, this one felt random -out of my control entirely-and it made me feel very vulnerable.  

It was during this timeframe that I was hired by a woman whose husband left for a morning bike ride and never made it home - he was hit and killed by a car on his training ride.  CSP released his bike and helmet to me and there it sat in our office.

As I was struggling with the concussion and pain I was personally experiencing -I saw his bike every single day.  (I'd think about how he left for his ride that morning fully intending to come back home, walk through the door, drop his cycling stuff and get on with his day).  And although I’ve been handling hard cycling cases for awhile now- this one, perhaps because of what I was dealing with in my own life-  it changed me.  I began to question cycling.  I began to question my work as an advocate, constantly trying to get MORE people out there riding their bikes.  I began to question why we do this - why do we ride our bikes on roads, and then act surprised when bad things happen?  What makes me different?  Why do I perceive my bike rides, and my riding behavior as safe, when clearly things can change in a split second - as a fluke, or as a result of negligence, or a myriad of other reasons?  

I found myself for the first time ever, afraid on my rides. My concussed mindset wasn’t helping me- but I also realized I was at a crossroads I couldn’t avoid anymore- I needed to decide what was what for myself when it came to cycling. 

And then the most amazing, wonderful thing happened: I made a choice.  (And now to the point of this article -thanks for bearing with me in getting here): 

I acknowledged that riding bikes is my most favorite thing in the entire world, for so many reasons (exercise, health, mental happiness, sunshine, seeing the scenery, using my body to get places, social aspects, and more).  I acknowledged that it makes me happy -and it makes most people I know who also ride - happy.  It makes me healthy.  It plugs me into my surroundings.  We don’t contribute to pollution or road wear-and-tear.  We DO contribute to our bodies’ health and our mental well-being.  I did acknowledge that riding carries with it some risks.  And then I recognized that most things we do involve risk. 

Here’s what this very specific, very purposeful decision did for me:

I don’t take my rides for granted anymore.  Every time I exit my garage door to leave my house, this image (taped to my door) reminds me that I am choosing to live my life- and that this ride could also be my last: 


And I celebrate that.  What a gift of clarity.  I am firmly dedicated to making every ride- and every day -amazing.  When I ride to work and roll the bike into my office, there’s a moment of gratitude- “whew, I made it, and that ride was glorious!”  The same happens when I return home from a ride.  I roll the bike into my garage and as I put my hand on the doorknob to walk into the house, there’s a pause, a “thank you for letting me come home today” whisper to the universe.  And a question: "now, what can I do next, to make this day amazing? Whose life can I touch? How can I make a difference?"  My intimate awareness of life's brevity motivates me to take action.

The clarity this has provided me cannot be overstated.  It prompted me to streamline my life, consolidate financial stuff, sell off vehicles and possessions that were not serving me (and worse- weighing me down), assess relationships in my life, and yes- I got my will/estate documents in order.  My neighbors know how to get into my house to take care of my dogs, should I ever fail to make it home. 

My family knows how I want to be celebrated at the end of my life :

  1. no funeral, just a big raging, insane party!  DJ!  Drinks! Bikes! Sunshine! No burial, just a cremation (after all organs are donated of course) and my ashes sprinkled somewhere incredible! 
  2. go spend my money on amazingly fun adventures!! 

The point is this: this recognition that each day -each ride - could be my last -has made me a really grateful, organized, simple, inspired human.  Little stuff doesn’t matter anymore.  I’m locking down things that I once said, “some day I’d like to…” and I’m doing them NOW.  Not later, not when I’m older, not when I retire.  NOW.  (Example: I’m not waiting for a 40th birthday or a mid-life crisis or retirement or ___(insert your impetus here)____to take an epic bike trip.  Nope.  I’m doing it NOW.  This year.  It’s happening). I've always wanted to become a keynote speaker. Boom- done.  

I’m also committing more of my resources to people and organizations I can help NOW -while I’m alive -so I can experience the impact we are making as individuals and organizations.  So we can inspire others to come alongside us. (For example: HERE). 

NOW NOW NOW.  (Are you hearing me on this?).  

So yes- I know there are risks, but I chose to continue cycling.  And not only that- I vow to continue asking others to ride their bikes - because I do truly believe that the more cyclists there are out there, the more normalized cycling becomes, the more accepted it becomes, and the safer it will be.  

If you, like me, believe in the environment and protecting it -by doing things like recycling, boycotting factory-farmed animal products, buying organic and sustainable and ethically-raised and sourced; if you, like me, use reusable shopping bags to avoid plastic, and you make the efforts you can make to preserve our air, resources, and land -well then, I think cycling has its logical place in your list of things you believe in, to save not just our environment but also our economy

If you, like me, believe that life is more fun, and more full, when your mind and heart and body feel good/are exercised/breathe fresh air/have sunshine on your face, then cycling has its logical place in your life and your daily activities.  

If you, like me, believe that standing up for issues that matter to us, no matter how challenging it is or how much opposition we face, then cycling on public roads and having more cycling infrastructure, has its place in your list of causes to fight for.  

And hey listen - if you feel that riding roads is just too risky for your liking, I get it.  I know a lot of people who’ve traded in their road bikes for gravel and mountain bikes and they are steering clear of roads and traffic and cars.  I honor that choice and I don’t fault it one bit.  Everyone must make decisions based on their beliefs and their family, legacy and perspectives.  

Cycling safety is making strides, but it takes time.  I will keep working tirelessly at it, just like the folks at People for Bikes and Bike Denver and all the other amazing advocacy groups do, to make it safer. To raise money for separate infrastructure and to work on new laws that protect us, or punish people who harm us.  My big push is- and always has been -on education.  Teaching cyclists, motorists, and law enforcement what our current laws say and mean.  We may never be the next Copenhagen but we can make changes which will have large and positive impact.  

I believe cycling can save lives.  I see people losing weight, ditching antidepressants, soaking up sunshine, riding, exercising, sleeping better, making better food choices, having better relationships…  I see them sitting less, moving more.  I see us as cyclists, generally interacting with others around us more.  I’m not anti-car, I’m just pro-bike and all the benefits that bikes provide us.  

So- Andrew Tilin- if you’re up there reading this, I hope you’ll approve. I know you were never one to mince words or choose the path most popular -but instead, you wrote what you believed, and you articulated your reasons and that’s what made you a wonderful writer and human. You inspired me to write this. Thank you. 

I believe in bikes.  And I know Andrew and many of our other fallen cycling friends did too.  And while we mourn the loss of their lives, let us respect the fact that they rode their bikes because they loved to ride.  So let’s keep riding -in their honor.