Wrongful Death Lawsuit Filed By Family Of Bicyclist Fatally Struck By Trucker

May 20, 2019 17:30 pm · 41 comments

The adult children of a Pleasant Hill man fatally struck by a big-rig’s trailer last August in Lafayette have filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the driver for failure to follow California’s “Three Feet for Safety” act.

Martin Nelis, 54, was cycling in the 1800 block of Reliez Valley Road during his lunch break around 12:30 p.m. on Aug. 2, 2018, when he was passed by a big-rig hauling a trailer.

The cab of the big rig passed Nelis safely, but he was struck by the trailer. He was treated at the scene by emergency crews responding to a hit-and-run, but was later pronounced dead at a hospital.

Attorneys for the Nelis family allege that the vehicle dragged his bicycle for roughly a mile and the driver, Jagmeet Singh Hundal of Hundal G. Trans Inc. in Madera, continued on unaware of the fatal crash.

According to a lawsuit filed in Alameda County Superior Court, Nelis’ death deprived his family of a kind and loving father, as well as undetermined monetary losses in the form of financial support, gifts and other benefits he would have provided if still alive.

The state’s Three Feet for Safety Act, also known as Vehicle Code 21760, requires drivers to pass bicyclists at a minimum distance of 3 feet — and attorneys say Hundal failed to follow that requirement.

They also allege that Hundal was leaving the Hylands Collection residential build site where he had dropped off construction materials, and that as such he was operating under the terms of Hawk Builders’ permit, which required commercial traffic to use other points of entry and exit. Hundal’s presence on Reliez Valley Road violated the requirements of that permit, according to the lawsuit.

Hawk Builders, as the organization employing Hundal that day, is named in the lawsuit. They did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the matter.

Nelis is survived by three adult children — Aidan Maguire and Diedre and Fiona Nelis.

“Our aim with this lawsuit is not only to hold those who broke the law responsible for our father’s death, but to raise awareness about how drivers can ensure the safety of cyclists sharing the road,” Maguire said in a statement.

“Adhering to the Three Feet for Safety Act is one important way,” Maguire said. “We hope no other family will ever have to experience what we have been through.”

Nelis was employed as a public information officer for the city of Pleasant Hill at the time of his death, which Mayor Tim Flaherty called a “huge loss for the city.”

Kentucky Derby May 20, 2019 at 6:08 PM

Reliez Valley is a very dangerous road. I agree with sharing the road, but is it really worth risking your life? We need to raise awareness to cyclists. The vehicle will always win. And we don’t want to. We happen to be bigger than you, and there are safer places to ride.

Get Off My Lawn May 20, 2019 at 6:35 PM

My thoughts exactly. I used to live down Reliez Valley Road and there is no bike lane and many blind turns on hills that make crossing into the other lane to pass a cyclist very dangerous.

My heart goes out to the family of this cyclist. I’m sure they are devastated but hopefully others can learn from this tragedy. If you’re driving slow down and don’t pass until you can do so safely, if you’re recreationally cycling find a better location. I recommend the Lafayette Moraga trail for cyclists. Beautiful ride and exponentially safer than Reliez Valley Rd.

MIchael May 21, 2019 at 6:26 AM

I agree it is a dangerous road but it is the “dangerous road” that needs to be changed not rider or driver habits. Creating safer roads with barriers for cyclists and pedestrians allows everyone to “choose” the way they wish to travel within the city.

Anon May 20, 2019 at 6:10 PM

The video only HELPS the Defendant. It’s obvious that the truck Could Not yield three feet due to oncoming traffic.

It looks like an accident, Sadly.

Bubba May 21, 2019 at 5:21 AM

Then he should not have passed the cyclist. It was unsafe. His fault.

Cyclist May 21, 2019 at 9:42 AM

I have ridden Reliez Valley Road 100 times, I have even ridden it with Martin. Cyclists are legal users of the road and have every right to be there. If its obvious that the truck could not yield three feet THEN IT SHOULD BE DAMN WELL OBVIOUS THAT IT SHOULD NOT HAVE TRIED TO PASS HIM! you can’t run a human being over and kill him because he is slowing you down. Every road user MUST yield to traffic it is seeking to pass until such time as it is safe to do so.

Jojo Potato May 20, 2019 at 7:00 PM

If the truck did not have room to pass with the required clearance then it shouldn’t have attempted the pass. From the CA vehicle code: “ the driver shall slow to a speed that is reasonable and prudent, and may pass only when doing so would not endanger the safety of the operator of the bicycle, taking into account the size and speed of the motor vehicle and bicycle, traffic conditions, weather, visibility, and surface and width of the highway.”

The truck was not supposed to be on that road based on their permit. For good reason obviously.

Tip for cyclists involved in an accident. Don’t post video or discuss the incident in any public forum. You can see right here how that can lead to unneccesary complications from opinions that are expressed.

Good advice here: https://www.bikeforums.net/advocacy-safety/784360-if-you-ve-been-hit-motor-vehicle-all-members-read.html

concord ygnacio May 20, 2019 at 7:20 PM

What’s going on? I clicked on the video above and it was a bad link.

Anon May 20, 2019 at 8:40 PM

That video could easily be 3 feet between the truck and bicyclist, very hard to tell without going to the site and measuring the driveway patch of concrete.
The defense will argue that the Cyclist veered into the path of the trailer.

Mary Fouts May 20, 2019 at 9:11 PM

@concord ygnacio- It would appear that the plaintiff attorneys, who supplied the video, realized what a gift they had given to the defense by posting the video, and deleted it.

That video will be defense exhibit #1 if this goes to trial.

Also so disrespectful to Martin and his friends and loved ones to spread a video of the last seconds of his life online, in a general social media forums. Headshaking the decisions of his adult childrens’ attorneys. Plain stupid.

concord ygnacio May 20, 2019 at 10:12 PM

Thanks Mary!

WC Resident May 21, 2019 at 4:15 PM

The video is working. I suspect there was a temporary glitch with the hosting site.

Kathy May 20, 2019 at 9:44 PM

I’m so sorry their family lost their person. So very sad.

That being said I’m so tired of cyclists being in the way. It’s the most annoying thing. What are cars supposed to do? Can’t cross the divide…so we just go your pace? I always attempt to give cyclists the most room possible because I don’t want to hurt anyone….but your putting yourself in danger and drivers who have to pass you!!

A very important person in my life was a cyclist. He was hit by a car. Why? Because he didn’t ride safe. His fault completely. He acknowledged that. He learned real quick what happens when you block cars with your body.

JazzMan May 20, 2019 at 10:31 PM

Why all the hate. “being in the way” Seriously?! Cyclists have every right to use the roads. We pay taxes just like everyone else. Most follow the vehicle code and ride safely. Car drivers need to watch out, put that phone down, and slow down.

Bubba May 21, 2019 at 5:19 AM

Cyclists are the most annoying thing? Seriously Kathy, what’s more annoying? Waiting a few minutes for a cyclist to get to a safe spot so you can pass or killing a man and spending the next two years of your life wrapped up in litigation? Not to mention the psychological damage that comes with realizing your actions ended someone’s life. Dumbest comment of all. I am a cyclist. I’ve been on that road and seen uninformed ignorant workman in trucks drive recklessly around cyclists. A couple of my friends were forced into a fence by one last year about a month before this particular man was killed. I was almost taken out the same day by a guy hauling golf carts. He was an experienced cyclist. Most experienced cyclists know the law and follow it. Not surprised someone in your life was the one not riding safe.

Anon May 21, 2019 at 9:56 AM

I wasn’t aware that you had to pay yearly registration fees to the DMV for your Bicycle.
Apples to Oranges. Just because you pay registration for Your Automobile does not mean you get to block traffic and disobey the rules on your bicycle.

Slambo May 20, 2019 at 10:12 PM

I’m so tired of 3,000 Lb plus death machines killing people on self propelled vehicles that have EQUAL RIGHTS to be on these roads as those in Cars have. Plan your trip accordingly with enough time to get to your destination; Be Patient; Support measures to improve bicycle commute infrastructure in your local elections. For now, give 3 feet and do no harm.

Retired LEO May 21, 2019 at 8:16 AM

I have seen VERY FEW bicyclists obey the vehicle code – nearly always running stop signs/red lights/not stopping for pedestrians in crosswalks, etc…. thinking that they don’t have to obey the law.

While it’s unfortunate that a cyclist was killed – how about the rest of you cyclists adhering to the vehicle code? You don’t get a free pass.

Slambo – with “equal rights” comes equal responsibilities. Follow the damn laws.

Jazzman – in my experience, most do NOT follow the vehicle code.

Reality May 20, 2019 at 10:24 PM

Bicyclist, I agree that cars need to give you room, but if you are so concerned for your safety then why are you always running STOP signs and RED lights. Those are laws designed for your safety also.

Leeland May 20, 2019 at 10:25 PM

I’m all for giving the 3′ required by law, however when the cyclist rides to the far left hand side of the bike lane this infuriates me. Riders have to give some too. Not saying that this is what happened here. Still a tragedy, and I feel for his family and loved ones.

concord ygnacio May 21, 2019 at 8:28 AM

You do realize the CVC states if there is a separate bike lane, a 3 foot buffer sone is not required when passing.

Gititogether May 20, 2019 at 10:33 PM

Very sorry for rider’s death. From one-sided details, it sounds like he was riding reasonably, wasn’t a jerk “pack” rider arrogantly taking up the whole street, and the trucker was in the wrong. However…that road is narrow with a lot of hills and…right or wrong you have to ride defensively.

Bob May 21, 2019 at 6:04 AM

@Leeland- you know that per the dmv code a cyclist can choose to ride in the middle of the road if they deem the bike lane not safe? He wasn’t doing anything wrong, has just as much right to the road as you. We all just need to slow down a little.

Leeland May 21, 2019 at 8:18 PM

I never said this guy was doing anything wrong. Just expressing my displeasure of those who choose to ride on the left even when the bike lane is safe. And you’re right if any rider wants to ride in the middle of the road because they “think” the bike lane is not safe, that’s great but get the hell outta the way asap. Don’t be an a-hole!

Chicken Little May 21, 2019 at 7:16 AM

If I were driving a car up a long hill at 2MPH with 20 vehicles backed up behind me, I would be expected to pull over and let them pass. But if a bicycle is doing the same thing, right in the middle of the road, I’m expected to just go their pace? Sorry, but equal rights to the road means equal responsibilities when using it.

anon May 21, 2019 at 7:30 AM

“there is no bike lane and many blind turns on hills that make crossing into the other lane to pass a cyclist very dangerous.” — VERY TRUE

look any weekend & see the court jester wearing groups travel outside of the bike lanes, run stop signs, no signal & flip you off when you almost kill them when they are at fault, never obey any laws & dismiss the fact that a cager (car) can hurt them — I see if all the time…deal with the reality of what you do – the morgue is open 24/7

ARY May 21, 2019 at 9:40 AM

That’s great proof as to why the road shouldn’t be shared with cyclists.
A bicycle is no comparison to a vehicle. There’s no reason why cyclists can’t be on sidewalks, side of the street. Granted, drivers should be cautious and careful as should cyclists.

Cyclist May 21, 2019 at 9:45 AM

I have ridden Reliez Valley Road 100 times, I have even ridden it with Martin. Cyclists are legal users of the road and have every right to be there. If its obvious that the truck could not yield three feet THEN IT SHOULD BE DAMN WELL OBVIOUS THAT IT SHOULD NOT HAVE TRIED TO PASS HIM! you can’t run a human being over and kill him because he is slowing you down. Every road user MUST yield to traffic it is seeking to pass until such time as it is safe to do so.

HappyPappy May 21, 2019 at 11:02 AM

Don’t place yourself in harms way and expect the world to protect you. Stupidity is not an excuse.

Cyclist May 21, 2019 at 11:16 AM

You live in one of the most active earthquake zones on the planet. Stupid person.

Ripley May 21, 2019 at 11:54 AM

@ Retired Leo-

I am a retired (26 yr.s) Leo and a life long cyclist. I’m a bit perplexed by your thinking. Lumping what you’ve seen other cyclists do on the road and applying it to this incident/person???? In this incident the cyclist was completely within the law and the trucker was not! I’m glad your retired as your thinking is what has been the problem with cyclist and vehicle accidents. Always the cyclists fault..

Retired LEO May 21, 2019 at 2:36 PM

Nowhere did I say that it was this individual’s fault and nowhere did I say it was “always the cyclists fault.”. Please re-read my comments .if you choose to interpret my comments in some other manner, that’s your business, but please don’t put words into my mouth. I did not “lump “ what he did in with any other comments.

I simply pointed out that, in my experience, MOST cyclists ignore the stop signs/red lights. That’s based on my personal observation. Again, interpret it how you want, but I’m not responsible for your interpretations.

Hope that clarifies things.

Ripley May 21, 2019 at 3:37 PM

@Retired Leo
Yes you are correct, you didn’t say it was the victims fault.
And I do agree there is a huge percentage of cyclists that do not follow the rules of the road.
Personally I no longer ride on the road for two reasons, too many distracted drivers and roads that were not designed for additional non motorized traffic.
I just found it interesting you’d comment about “your” issues with cyclists in general when nothing your talking about has anything to do with this incident…This is a story of a person following the law and losing his life because someone else decided not to!

Ripley May 21, 2019 at 5:11 PM

@Retired Leo

Yes you are right and I was wrong to imply you were blaming the victim in this incident

I just find it pretty twisted that you and others choose to use a man’s death to push your opinions about cyclists when in this case none of your observations are relevant. So why post it?

Just Sayin' May 21, 2019 at 5:28 PM

Please Note: Users who use multiple names will be deleted. Please choose a name so others can easily chat with you.

Kentucky Derby May 21, 2019 at 8:26 PM

Why post it? Because we live in Lamorinda, and cyclists on Reliez Valley ARE a concern. My opinion IS relevant. Cyclists on Reliez Valley are a death trap. Construction has been going on (luxury homes) for a long time in the area, and it’s dangerous enough for drivers, yet alone cyclists. The opinion of the locals – “it’s a recipe for disaster.”

I find it pretty twisted that you’re trying to push your opinion on others, and telling Lamorinda homeowners who drive this road that our opinion doesn’t matter. It matters DAILY.

At least you have enough common sense not to ride on roads that were not designed for additional non motorized traffic. That would include Reliez Valley. To all other cyclists – ride at your own risk.

WC Resident May 21, 2019 at 4:54 PM

@Retired LEO – Using whatever logic is behind “I have seen VERY FEW bicyclists obey the vehicle code” it can also be stated that very few, possibly zero, drivers of motor vehicles obey the vehicle code.

You then claim “nearly always running stop signs/red lights/not stopping for pedestrians in crosswalks, etc…” Really? Were you also prone to exaggeration and false statements when you worked as a LEO?

My observation is that people, both in motor vehicles and bicycles, drive legally well over 99% of the time. If you scrutinize someone’s driving for a great length of time you may see occasional minor violations. Society, and most LEO, tends to give those a pass.

anon May 21, 2019 at 7:07 PM

Whatever the case– in this type of situation – he biker always dies not the cager – pick a road where this may not happen. The road he picked is a disaster waiting to happen – like the art crowd going to the Ghost Ship to get high & not look at the death trap around them as the party was more important than their safety.

Pedalin' Pinhead May 21, 2019 at 5:45 PM

I hope I am not being disrespectful to the deceased with this idle speculation; I do not know the particulars of the accident, specifically whether Mr. Nelis was struck by the front trailer, or only by the the rear trailer.

Once when I was a young Pinhead, about forty years ago, I was almost struck by a rear trailer of a transfer truck. Had I been, it would have been my fault (these days I guess the truck would have been violating the 3 foot rule), but from a cyclist’s vantage point, it is easy to literally not see, or hear, the rear trailer until it is upon you.

I saw the truck coming up behind me and rode as far to the right as possible. I was passed by the tractor and the trailer, and saw the back of the trailer go several feet past me. As I drifted back out of the gutter and looked behind me, I saw the SECOND trailer that I was until this point completely unaware of. It may sound like a stupid error, but the linkage to the second trailer is low, skinny, and not the most noticeable thing in the visual equation, and the second trailer is a good distance behind the first. When being passed in close quarters on a bicycle, this configuration creates the misperception that there is a break in traffic.

Bitterman May 22, 2019 at 9:30 AM

$ue $ue $ue!!!

It’s become the American way.

whome May 23, 2019 at 3:22 PM

…it is unfortunate if folks insist on their right of way, only to jeopardize their safety…you may be correct, and it may often times cost you dearly.

What’s that ole saying? Do you want be right (and in danger or in harms way), or stay alive…?

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