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Sunday, June 24, 2012


I settled my lawsuit over this a couple months back. I can't complain, really, despite permanent disfigurement and disability in one of my fingers, and some recurring pain. I met my soul mate the day I ate the grate, and my settlement was sufficient to pay off my medical bills, replace my broken bike frame, and take care of a few other things to boot.

I'm not saying I'd go have that crash again for another check the same size. You'd have to put a zero or two onto the end of it. Especially when you factor in how easily I could have broken by neck landing cheek-first like I did.

My initial complaint, trying to solve the problem on my own, was met with a response to the effect that I had a duty to look where I was going. It turned out I wasn't even complaining to the right government agency, but neither they nor I knew it. Their response was so callous and dismissive, it basically said, "so sue me." After weeks of agonizing over it, I did.

I was never a fan of personal injury law. Coffee is hot, ice is slippery, these things are just true — nobody's fault. Eating that grate, I learned that for one thing, it feels a lot different when the personal injuries are to your person. I also learned that whatever its faults, litigation is a legitimate tool for getting necessary things done.
There's at least one other piece of litigation in the works, that I know of, relating to this exact same grate. My own lawsuit and the settlement of it, wasn't apparently enough to really get things moving. That second lawsuit seems to have been a trigger. I was trying to tell them before I ever hired a lawyer: this was a hazard to navigation and that it could be easily, cheaply fixed. Far more cheaply fixed than broken fingers and broken jaws. If my suit didn't make the point, the woman with the broken jaw may have.
The first fix was the rebar you see in the first pictures here. What does it cost for three pieces of re-bar and a crew with a torch to waffle a grate like this? Welders don't work for free, but they're cheaper than lawyers. Still didn't make this grate a peach to ride over, but it wasn't going to swallow a bike up to the axle. This simple fix transformed the grate from mortally dangerous to annoyingly so.

Then when I rode by tonight, I noticed they'd gone one step further. They replaced the whole grate with one that is altogether less hazardous to cyclists. If I read the markings right, they installed it backwards as far as how the manufacturer meant it to relate to 'flow' but it's at least something you can ride a bike over safely. As far as the flow, if they mean water, I'm pretty sure it always obeys the law of gravity, so Delware shouldn't get flooded out anytime soon.

Wouldn't it be nice if people could just fix shit because it needs fixing without having to unleash hellhounds and lawyers on them first? I know where there are a dozen or more grates just like this one used to be scattered around the city.

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