In 2014, Nako Nakatsuka was in an accident while riding her bike in Los Angeles. She had stopped in a left turn lane when a driver entered the lane and hit her, according to a report in Bicycling.com. The police arrived at the scene and recorded details of the incident, giving Nakatsuka a receipt for the report they filed, according to Bicycling.com.
Only later did Nakatsuka, a UCLA triathlete and graduate student, find out that no police report had been filed. She attempted to get reimbursement for her crash injuries from the driver’s insurance company. But there was no record that the incident even took place, she told Bicycling.com.
“The driver refused to acknowledge that they had hit me and their insurance company sued me for car damage claiming I backed into the car,” Nakatsuka said on her website.
In 2016, Nakatsuka started a GoFundMe page to cover the legal and medical fees she said resulted from the incident. She was left with bruising, permanent damage to her gluteus and a concussion. Her bike was totaled.
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According to the page, she met her $9,000 goal in less than a week. Along with the outpouring of financial assistance, she received tips on what bikers in her situation can do to reduce their legal liability. But it was already too late.
“I fought the driver and their insurance company for 2 years and ran out financially and emotionally to keep fighting and we settled for $2,000 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,” Nakatsuka wrote on GoFundMe.
But she was determined to use her experience to help others in similar situations in the future.
“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,” Nkatsuka said on GoFundme. “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.”
Nakatsuka is now channeling that knowledge into bikewoke.com, a website to help other cyclists that get involved in accidents. She started bikewoke.com, which provides tips for bikers on how they can keep themselves safe while using their bikes every day, as well as resources for what to do in the event of an accident. It also includes stories from other UCLA triathletes and coaches who have been involved in bike accidents.
Biking laws vary by state, so cyclists should be familiar with the regulations that apply in their area, the website recommends. Some states treat bikers as if they were drivers of any motor vehicle. Bikers are expected to follow all traffic laws while on the road in many states. Many state laws mandate drivers to pass bikers from a safe distance away and require bikers to wear helmets while on the road.
According to the Daily Bruin, Nakatsuka has done at least 11 triathlons since her accident.
“At every turn in the series of unfortunate events, I kept kicking myself for not knowing what to do at the scene of the crash,” Nakatsuka wrote on her website. “My hope is to save any future cyclists the two years of fighting lawsuits that had drained me not only physically but most of all psychologically.”