Bicycle accidents can cause serious injuries or result in fatalities. Lawsuits to recover damages for injuries in bicycle accidents with motor vehicles involve many of the same issues as any auto accident lawsuit. Liability for bike accident injuries often comes down to who was at fault. Was the cyclist or the motor vehicle driver negligent? After answering this, the court can decide who is entitled to what in a bicycle accident case.
This article discusses bicycle accidents. It also discusses how the at-fault party is determined in a negligence case.
Bicycle Accident Liability Basics
Cyclists and motorists are obligated to obey the rules of the road. They must share the road. Cyclists and motorists must abide by traffic laws. They also owe a duty to exercise ordinary care concerning their highway safety and that of others on the roadways.
Following all traffic laws, however, doesn't prevent all bicycle accident injuries. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), some of the most common causes of bicycle accidents include:
- Being hit by a car
- Collisions with fixed objects
- Interference by an animal
Fatal bicycle accidents happen, unfortunately. Bicyclists and motor vehicle drivers must do their part to prevent fatal accidents. You and your family member may be eligible for a wrongful death suit in these situations. The settlement amounts in these cases cover the monetary damages. They also cover noneconomic damages. These include the mental anguish and emotional distress you suffered after losing a loved one in a bicycle accident.
Negligence and Bicycle Accidents
When a cyclist sues to recover damages for injuries suffered in a bicycle collision with a motor vehicle, the outcome of the lawsuit often depends on a few questions:
- Was the injury permanent or serious, such as significant scarring, loss of bodily function, or disfigurement?
- Did negligence (or recklessness) on the driver's part cause the accident and resulting injuries to the bicycle accident victim?
- Did any negligence on the part of the bicyclist cause or contribute to the bike accident case?
The answers to these questions play a crucial role in determining the outcome of a lawsuit after a bicycle accident. The severity and permanence of the injury impact the compensation.
If it can be proven that the at-fault driver's negligence or recklessness caused the accident, it bolsters the cyclist's case. This could lead to a favorable judgment or settlement.
Compensation could decrease if the injured cyclist was negligent and contributed to the accident. It could even lead to the dismissal of the lawsuit. This principle is called contributory or comparative negligence under personal injury law.
Driver Negligence or Recklessness
Negligence by a vehicle driver can take many forms. For example, speeding, running a stop sign or red light, and drifting into a bike lane constitute vehicle driver negligence. Some acts may even be reckless if done with knowing disregard for the safety of others.
In a bicycle accident claim alleging negligence by another person, bicycle riders must prove that the defendant violated a duty owed to the plaintiff. This duty refers to the standard of care expected of any person in a similar situation. In the case of vehicle drivers, this includes adherence to safety standards set by the NHTSA.
Negligence Per Se
In car accident cases, behaviors that constitute traffic violations can constitute "negligence per se." If a driver was cited for a violation, such as speeding at the time of the accident, evidence of the speeding violation counts as evidence of negligence. The burden then shifts to the defendant. They must prove that they didn't cause the bicyclist's damages.
Whether a cyclist sues a driver or a cyclist is sued for causing someone else's injury, cyclist negligence can determine the lawsuit's outcome. Examples of biker negligence include:
- Riding the wrong way on a one-way street
- Running a stop sign or red light
- Turning into traffic
Negligent cyclists may be unable to recover damages for injuries they suffer in accidents involving cars. Such negligence is called contributory or comparative negligence. This means that the cyclist's negligence, at least in part, caused the accident to happen and thus caused at least some of the cyclist's injuries. If a cyclist rode negligently, and that negligence caused injury to someone else, the cyclist may be held liable for that person's injuries.
The concept of comparative or contributory negligence relates to this situation. If a cyclist's negligent behavior contributed to their injury or someone else's, they could bear partial responsibility for the resulting damages.
In jurisdictions that follow comparative negligence rules, any compensation that the cyclist might be entitled to could be reduced according to their degree of fault. For instance, if they were found to be 30% at fault for an accident, any damages awarded to them could be reduced by 30%.
But in jurisdictions with contributory negligence rules, even a small degree of fault on the cyclist's part could bar them from recovering any damages. So, the cyclist's behavior can affect the outcome of a claim or lawsuit.
In most states, the failure to wear a bike helmet isn't considered evidence of contributory negligence. This is like how not wearing a seatbelt in a car accident is inadmissible in many places. This means that even if you weren't wearing a helmet when injured, it wouldn't necessarily diminish your right to compensation for your injuries. The principle is that the negligent party causing the accident remains liable regardless of helmet usage.
However, some states, like Alabama, uphold a doctrine of contributory negligence. Here, if an injured party is found even 1% at fault, they may be barred from receiving any compensation. In such states, an insurance company might argue that you contributed to your injuries by not wearing a helmet. Still, the at-fault party might remain liable if you can demonstrate that your injuries would have occurred regardless of helmet use.
Courts hold drivers to a higher standard in accident cases involving children on bicycles. See specifics on child bicycle accident liability for more details.
The Insurance Claims Process Following a Bicycle Accident
Insurance companies play a crucial role in bicycle accidents. Assuming everyone is safe, the first step after a bicycle accident is to seek medical attention and report the accident to the insurance companies. The insurance company of the party at fault may be responsible for covering:
- The costs of damage
- Medical bills
- Other losses, depending on the insurance information of both parties
Insurance companies are businesses. They often aim to minimize their financial exposure. This is why having legal representation to advocate on your behalf can be extremely helpful.
Negotiation with the insurance company can involve:
- A detailed analysis of accident reports
- Medical records
- Potentially expert testimony to reach an agreement on the bicycle accident settlement
How Are Medical Bills Covered After a Bicycle Accident?
The costs associated with medical care following a bicycle accident can quickly become overwhelming. This is especially true in cases involving serious injuries.
Various sources may cover medical bills. If you carry health insurance, your policy may cover some of your treatment costs. Similarly, your auto insurance policy may include personal injury protection (PIP) or medical payments (MedPay) coverage. These can help cover the cost of your medical treatment.
It may sound counterintuitive, but your auto insurance may provide coverage even if you were injured on a bicycle, not in a car. This typically applies if the policy includes uninsured, underinsured, PIP or MedPay coverage. These types of coverages often extend to injuries you sustain as a cyclist in a traffic accident.
As you can see, several avenues exist for covering medical expenses after a bicycle accident. The at-fault party's auto insurance policy may also be responsible for covering your medical bills, particularly if they were at fault for the accident.
Lastly, if insurance coverage is insufficient, you may be forced to pay out of your pocket. This is another instance where a personal injury attorney can help you receive a fair settlement that considers the full extent of your medical costs.
What Can I Do if the Driver is Uninsured?
If the driver responsible for the accident is uninsured, your options for recovery might be more limited. Still, there are avenues available.
If you have uninsured/underinsured motorist coverage (UM/UIM) as part of your auto insurance policy, it may cover your damages. UM/UIM coverage compensates when an at-fault vehicle driver has insufficient insurance to cover your losses or property damage.
Or you could consider filing a personal injury lawsuit against the driver. This may be more difficult, particularly if the driver has limited assets. An experienced attorney can advise you on the best course of action in this scenario.
How Long Do I Have to File a Lawsuit After a Bicycle Accident? (Statute of Limitations)
The statute of limitations for filing a lawsuit after a bicycle accident varies from state to state. It generally ranges from one to three years from the date of the accident but can be longer depending on where you live. States like Minnesota and Maine allow for longer periods. This means you have a certain window of time to bring a legal claim against the at-fault party. If you fail to file your lawsuit within the statute of limitations, you may be barred from recovering any compensation for your injuries.
Seek Legal Advice From a Bicycle Accident Lawyer
Accidents involving automobiles and bicycles can involve serious injuries and significant damages. Personal injury lawsuits often come down to whether the driver or the cyclist negligently caused the accident.
Consult a personal injury lawyer if you or a loved one has been in a bike accident. You can have an experienced bicycle accident attorney test the merits of your personal injury claim. Some law firms even offer a free case evaluation for personal injury cases.