Bicycle accidents can cause serious injuries or result in fatalities. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), nearly 1,000 bicyclists die and over 130,000 are injured in crashes on American roads every year. Most of these bicycle crashes happen in urban areas. Regardless of where or when you ride, it is extremely important to follow all bicycle safety rules and abide by standards to minimize the risk of harm.
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. Were either the cyclist or the motor vehicle driver negligent? After answering these questions, the court can come to a decision on who is entitled to what in a negligence suit.
This article discusses bicycle accidents and how fault 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 with one another. Cyclists and motorists must abide by traffic laws. They must also exercise a duty to exercise ordinary care in regard to one's own highway safety and that of others on the roadways. Like other vehicle accident lawsuits, bicycle accident lawsuits are governed by state law, and often informed by state and local traffic laws.
Following all traffic laws, however, doesn't prevent all traffic crashes. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), some of the most common causes of bicycle accidents include being hit by a car, falling, faulty road conditions, rider error, collisions with fixed objects, and interference by an animal (such as a dog running into the bike path).
Fatal bicycle accidents happen, unfortunately, every day. Bicyclists and motor vehicle drivers must do their part to prevent or mitigate such fatal accidents from happening.
Negligence and Bicycle Accidents
When a cyclist sues to recover damages for injuries suffered in a bicycle collision with a motor vehicle, the outcome often depends on a few questions:
- Was the injury permanent or serious, such as significant scarring, loss of bodily function, disfigurement, or damages exceeding the $10,000.00 personal injury protection (also referred to as "PIP coverage") under the cyclist's policy?
- Did negligence (or recklessness) on the part of the driver cause the accident and resulting injuries to the bicyclist?
- Did any negligence of the bicyclist cause or contribute to the accident?
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 all constitute vehicle driver negligence. Some acts may even be considered reckless if done with knowing disregard for the safety of others.
In a lawsuit alleging negligence by another person, plaintiffs typically must prove that the defendant acted in a way that violated a duty owed to the plaintiff. All vehicle drivers must abide by the safety standards set forth by the NHTSA.
Accident lawsuits come down to facts specific to the individual case. The plaintiff is able to prove negligence or fault through eyewitness testimony or other evidence. In car accident cases, however, behaviors that constitute traffic violations can constitute "negligence per se." This means that 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 to prove that he or she didn't cause the bicyclist's personal injury or damages.
Whether a cyclist sues a driver, or a cyclist is sued for causing someone else injury, cyclist negligence can determine the outcome of the lawsuit. Examples of biker negligence include riding the wrong way on a one-way street, running a stop sign or red light, turning abruptly into traffic, failing to follow traffic rules at intersections, and disregarding helmet use.
Depending on state laws, negligent cyclists may be unable to recover damages for injuries they suffer in accidents involving cars. Their negligence may bar or reduce recovery, depending on the percentage of fault attributed by the jury to the cyclist.
Negligent cyclists may be unable to recover damages for injuries they suffer in accidents involving cars. Such negligence is called contributory or comparative negligence, meaning 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.
For example, failing to wear a bicycle helmet may be considered negligent on the part of the cyclist. If the cyclist suffered harm in the form of a head injury, brain injury, or trauma during or after the bicycle accident, they may be deemed contributorily or comparatively negligent. This declaration may bar them from recovering some or all of their damages from the driver of the car.
In accident cases involving children on bicycles, courts hold drivers to a higher standard. See specifics on child bicycle accident liability for more details. Regardless of age group, it is important that all cyclists follow the proper bicycle safety rules to prevent harm or even fatalities while riding.
Get Your Legal Claim Evaluated
Accidents involving automobiles and bicycles can involve serious injuries and large liabilities. Bicycle accident lawsuits often come down to whether the driver or the cyclist negligently caused or contributed to the accident. This negligence determination can be complex and require in-depth analysis.
If you or a loved one has been in a bike accident, you should consult with an attorney to best protect your rights. You can have an experienced law firm evaluate the merits of your claim.