It didn't take long after the news was posted on the Getting There blog Wednesday that 20-year-old Nathan Krasnopoler had died for the first ghoul to post a comment welcoming his death because he had committed the unpardonable crime of riding a bicycle.
Now we operate a freewheeling blog here, and normally we'll post just about any opinion that is expressed in terms that avoid profanity and libel. But this one was so far beyond the pale that The Baltimore Sun decided to take a pass. That person is welcome to travel to a hotter place than Baltimore to express such views.
Few veteran bicyclists will be surprised to learn that there are trolls coming out from under their bridges to flaunt their belief that motor vehicles have a supreme right to use the roads. Many have encountered homicidal sentiments in the form of a deliberate near-miss or an ill-timed horn blast.
It came as a bit of a disappointment to me, however, that so many otherwise well-meaning commenters were second-guessing the settlement the Krasnopoler family reached with the driver of the vehicle that collided with the Johns Hopkins sophomore as he rode his bicycle on University Parkway last February.
On the day Krasnopoler died, the family's lawyer disclosed that a settlement had been reached several weeks before in the $10 million personal injury lawsuit his family brought against the 83-year-old driver who was found to have been at fault in the crash. Attorney Andrew Slutkin said he could not reveal the amount of the settlement, but said that it was sufficient to recognize what a special person the young man was and that the judgment was paid both by the defendant, Jeanette Marie Walke, and her insurance company.
Furthermore, Slutkin said, Walke had agreed to give up her driver's license permanently, a condition the Krasnopoler family insisted upon.
It didn't take long for people to jump to the conclusion that the Krasnopoler family had benefited from a windfall that would let them move to Easy Street at the expense of their dead relative. Many people, it seems, have bought into the notion that all tort claims are scams perpetrated by greedy shysters — a proposition that's easy to accept if one has never been the victim of another's negligence.
What's been lost here is the fact that without a civil penalty, the only sanction the defendant would have faced for a deadly negligence while driving would have been a $220 fine, plus points on her driving record.
There was nothing about this case that suggested criminal prosecution was warranted. We don't put people in jail for making simple driving errors, even when they have fatal consequences.
But it's a good thing that families have civil remedies to turn to when the traffic courts can dole out little more than a slap on the wrist. A monetary judgment is an imperfect form of justice, but it's all we have in such cases. Whatever the Krasnopolers collected, it came at a terrible cost. I don't begrudge them a penny.
While the amount of the settlement was kept confidential, more than a few folks seemed willing to jump to the conclusion that it was in the neighborhood of the full $10 million the lawsuit sought. Several expressed shock that the family would seek so much — as if it were coming directly out of their pockets.
First, it's not at all unusual for lawyers to file lawsuits seeking far more than they ever expect to collect. You've got to start the bargaining for a settlement somewhere. Also, when the suit was filed, the family had no idea how long Krasnopoler would require expensive care. Bills in the millions weren't out of the question.
Now that the young man has succumbed to massive brain injuries, some folks are suggesting the family's grief has been tainted by money. One blog commenter wondered whether the family "will give the balance of the award to worthy causes ... or pay off the house mortgage and have many spectacular vacations."
If Krasnopoler's survivors want to tell the world how they plan to use the money, I'll be happy to pass that information along. But they are under no moral obligation to make an accounting to the public. Whether they decide to cruise around the world or donate to the cause of bicycle safety — or a little bit of both — is entirely up to them. Whatever they think will ease the pain is fine.
Even if they collected the full $10 million, I wouldn't want to be in their shoes.
But if we're going to do this four more times, as the city now plans, can we please at least delay putting up that ugly fence that's lining the race course?
Sometime after the race, city officials and Grand Prix honchos can be expected to sit down and do an after-action review of how things went. When they do, at the top of their agenda should be finding a way to keep that blight off the streets until the last few days before the event.
Either that or move the race to the correctional complex in Jessup.