The trash hauling company responsible for the truck that struck and killed 24-year-old cyclist Emily Fredricks last November has settled with the Fredricks family for $6 million. In addition to the payout to the family, the company, Gold Medal Environmental, has also promised $125,000 over five years to organizations dedicated to making Philadelphia streets safer. The first $25,000 payment will go to the Bicycle Coalition of Greater Philadelphia.
Wearing buttons adorned with a photo of Fredricks kayaking and the dates of her birth and death, “7/7/93 – 11/28/2017,” her parents and brother struggled to hold back tears as the attorneys detailed the terms of the settlement.
Fredrick’s mother, Laura, spoke on behalf of the family, her voice cracking with emotion.
“Emily is missed by her family, friends and coworkers — everyone that she met and touched in some way during her life, which was so tragically cut short,” she said. “We will never know the wonderful things that could have happened in her life, in her career, in her personal life — perhaps as a mother. And in our lives, we have been living under a shroud of sadness through each day and each night.”
The pastry chef was killed while biking to work through Center City on Nov. 28, 2017. The collision occurred when a Gold Medal garbage hauler made a right turn off Spruce Street, onto 11th Street. The driver failed to see Fredericks pedaling in the bike lane. Despite her efforts to stay safe — riding in the bike lane and wearing a helmet — Fredricks was caught under the truck’s wheels. The truck driver operating the Gold Medal vehicle has not been criminally charged.
Fredrick’s death ignited protests from advocates calling on the city to move forward with bike lane improvements promised as part of Mayor Jim Kenney’s Vision Zero action plan to reduce traffic deaths to zero by 2030. Three cyclists have been killed in Philadelphia since Fredricks’ death, according to the Bicycle Coalition. The bike lane where she was killed is still waiting on safety upgrades originally slated for this fall, according to city officials. The work is now scheduled for the spring of 2019, about three years after the city won federal grant money to “protect” its bike lanes with plastic delineator posts, two years after public meetings on improving the routes first took place, and a year and a half after Fredricks’ death.
Grief into action
Since Emily’s death, the Fredricks family has channeled their grief into campaigning for safer streets in Philadelphia, speaking at the Bicycle Coalition’s Vision Zero conference in March and the Ride of Silence in May. The family also started scholarships and athletic awards in Emily’s name at her high school, East Brunswick High School in New Jersey.
Gold Medal and the Fredricks family will jointly pick the street safety organizations supported by the settlement, according to Larry Bendesky of Saltz Mongeluzzi Barrett & Bendesky, which represented the family along with the Stuart Leon Bicycle Crash Law firm.
As part of the settlement, Gold Medal pledged to enact a number of safety initiatives, the family’s lawyers said. The N.J.-based business is retaining a safety consultant to hold ongoing safety audits and implementing 26 new safety policies aimed at preventing distracted driving. Gold Medal is also adopting a policy forbidding its drivers from stopping in bike lanes in Philadelphia and creating a new regional training facility for driver safety training, lawyers said. They said the company has several hundred trucks operating on Philadelphia’s streets.
The new programs will come with an emotional pull. Fredricks’ parents will speak with Gold Medal’s management and drivers about safe driving, lawyers said.
Laura Fredricks said the family also plans to start a foundation in Emily’s name with part of the settlement award.
During the announcement, Fredricks’ lawyers struck a conciliatory tone toward the trash hauling company. “This settlement could not have happened without the cooperation of Gold Medal Environmental and its lawyers to change the safety culture within its company and to effectuate change so the streets are safer,” said Bendesky.
The lawyers also noted that Gold Medal was sold in the year since the crash and said that the new management committed to the safety initiatives sought by the family.
Gold Medal did not respond to a request for comment.
The family’s lawyers said they hope the considerable size of the award, plus the additional remedial measures, would inspire other companies to improve their driver safety efforts before a similar tragedy struck another family.
“The hope is that the safety changes of Gold Medal will set a new safety standard for all trash companies in the city of Philadelphia,” said Bob Zimmerman, a lawyer with Saltz Mongeluzzi Barrett & Bendesky. “We are throwing down the gauntlet to other companies to improve their safety, to make sure that they have policies in place to prevent distracted drivers, making sure the drivers understand the rules of the road, [and] understand that their drivers have to adhere to their policies, so that the streets are safer.”