UI medical student seriously injured in bike accident advocates for change

Guillermo Romano Ibarra was hit by a car while biking in 2019 and now wants to see insurance company accountability.

Contributed+by+Guillermo+Romano+Ibarra.

Contributed by Guillermo Romano Ibarra.

Isabelle Foland, News Reporter


After experiencing a life-changing biking accident in 2019, University of Iowa medical student Guillermo Romano Ibarra is advocating for safer biking conditions on Iowa highways and for insurance companies to take more accountability for their clients.

According to the Iowa Crash Analysis Tool, there were a total of 278 bicycle-involved accidents in the state in 2021. This is down from 2019, when there were 346 accidents — one of which was Romano Ibarra’s.

On Aug. 28, 2019, Romano Ibarra went for an evening bike ride near Iowa City. That night, the route he took required him to bike on Highway 22 for about a half-mile.

Romano Ibarra said there is no shoulder or bike lane on the highway, which makes for an uncomfortable ride for bikers.

“You have to ride basically on the white line, and cars have to pass you,” Romano Ibarra said. “I remember seeing the lights, and so I remember I was about to get passed, and I heard [the car], and then that was all I remember,” he said.

Romano Ibarra said he does not remember most of the accident and only recalls brief snippets of his ride to the UI Hospitals and Clinics. Romano Ibarra underwent surgery on his pelvis and spinal cord, both of which were fractured.

He spent two weeks in UIHC until he was transferred to Saint Luke’s Hospital in Cedar Rapids for inpatient rehabilitation for another two weeks, Romano Ibarra said.

On Oct. 6, Romano Ibarra was awarded a $15 million verdict against the woman who struck him with her car in 2019. However, Romano Ibarra does not want a single penny from the woman.

Benjamin Novotny was Romano Ibarra’s lawyer for the trial and now represents both Romano Ibarra and the woman who struck him in litigation against the woman’s insurance company, which will occur at the end of the year.

Novotny said the woman’s insurance company refused to pay $100,000 to Romano Ibarra for his injuries, stating that his injuries were only worth $80,000. Given the severity of Romano Ibarra’s injuries, Novotny said both he and Romano Ibarra felt this was not right.

“So, I talked to him about it, and we decided we need to go to trial to expose this is what happens because otherwise things like this happen, and they get swept under the rug,” Novotny said.

RELATED: Iowa City City Council cracks down on parking in bike lanes

The $15 million trial intended to show the insurance company that Romano Ibarra’s injuries were worth more than the $80,000 settlement they offered, not to money from the woman herself, Novotny said.

Since his accident, he has made significant progress in recovery and can walk on his own with the assistance of a cane.

“If I’m super thankful for anybody, it would be my surgeons who kept the damage from being much worse than it could have been and my physical therapists,” Romano Ibarra said. “I was seeing them multiple times a week in the beginning, and they taught me how to move through everything.”

After his initial recovery from his injuries, Romano Ibarra said he was inspired to advocate for changes in biking infrastructure and policies.

Currently, Iowa law states that no matter how serious the injury is, steering too close to a biker and hitting them results in only a traffic ticket.

Ibarra said he does not think increasing this penalty will decrease biking accidents because many bike crashes are simply accidental — including his. Instead, Romano Ibarra is advocating for more shoulders and rumble strips on highways.

“If you had a road with rumble strips and a shoulder, you could ride on the other side of the rumble strips,” Romano Ibarra said. “And then even if a driver was getting distracted and had drifted, those rumble strips are there.”

To make these changes happen, Romano Ibarra contacted the Iowa Bicycle Coalition, an advocacy organization that works with the Iowa Legislature and the Iowa Department of Transportation to create better biking policies and infrastructure.

The coalition’s Executive Director Mark Wyatt worked with Romano Ibarra to try making changes on the legislative level.

“We talked to him about potentially coming to testify at some of the subcommittee hearings on his story because I think it’s a powerful way to talk about the human impacts of what can happen with bicycle crashes and why traffic safety should be a higher priority,” Wyatt said.

Romano Ibarra said he feels lucky to have good health insurance covering his medical bills and had the opportunity to hold the insurance company accountable while advocating for the woman who struck him rather than being forced to settle.

“Things don’t change because insurance companies generally don’t have to go through this process. They can usually get people to settle out,” Ibarra said. “And so that’s part of why I was motivated to carry through.”

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