Bicyclists are clearly much more vulnerable than car drivers when they share the road. If a car and a bike are in an accident, the bicyclist is, of course, more likely to get injured or die. In fact, over 1,000 bicyclists died in road accidents in 2015, and many thousands more were injured.
Most bike accidents happen in urban areas, and males account for a much higher proportion of bicycle accident deaths than females. The age range for bicyclist fatality victims is increasing. Accidents like these are very common at intersections. It is not uncommon for either the car driver or bicyclist to have an elevated Blood Alcohol Content (BAC).
Bicycles and cars are both considered to be vehicles according to the law, and both bicyclists and car drivers are obligated to follow all traffic laws. Accordingly, if there is a lawsuit over a bicycle-car accident, both vehicle operators will be examined as to what they were doing when the accident occurred, and whether each contributed in some way to the accident occurring. Even so, bicyclists should be aware that they might be able to recover damages from the car driver in the accident for their injuries.
Here, again, is the issue of both cars and bicycles being considered vehicles for purposes of the law. In an accident between two cars (two vehicles), a court will examine each party to the accident for their possible fault or negligence. So, in a lawsuit over an accident between a bike and a car (two vehicles), each party’s fault or negligence will also be examined.
So how do we determine whether either party’s negligence contributed to the accident? What constitutes negligence?
Both the bicyclist and car driver have a “duty of ordinary care” to watch out for others on the road, and both must follow all “rules of the road,” or traffic laws. One of the most common laws at issue in the bicycle-car collision is right of way laws.
Right-of-way refers to the order of procession at an intersection. Right-of-way in the absence of traffic signals belongs to the first person to arrive at an intersection. Where there are traffic signals, they should be followed, of course, although bicycles may have trouble triggering traffic sensors. Another common right-of-way issue is where the car driver makes a right turn and hits a bicyclist. This is referred to as right turn right-of-way, and creates negligence on the car driver’s part. This type of car-bicycle accident is very common.
Bicyclists are required to follow “side-of-road” laws. If they are not keeping up with the pace of traffic, they must move as far over to the right side of their lane as possible. They are also required to use bike lanes, where they are available. Failure to follow these rules may constitute negligence by the cyclist.
Of course, if the bicyclist keeps the pace of traffic, they may ride in the middle of the lane. Bicyclists should take car to improve their visibility, especially at night, by wearing light or reflective clothing and using lights and reflectors.
Conversely, car drivers are required to keep a safe distance between themselves and a bicycle while driving. Three feet is a distance commonly considered safe. Car drivers driving too close to bicyclists would be considered negligent. Cars drivers cannot pass bicycles unless it’s safe to do so, and they can maintain a safe distance between the car and the bicycle. Cars brushing bicycles as they pass is one of the most common types of car-bicycle accidents.
Car drivers can also be considered negligent for failure to obey any other traffic laws, such as laws against speeding, or laws against driving while intoxicated.
Bicyclists can be considered negligent for violating traffic laws as well. For instance, if they fail to heed traffic signals or stop signs, and are involved in an accident, their negligence will be take into account. They can also be held negligent for an elevated BAC at the time of the accident.
Establishing liability is important because it determines whether the bicyclist will be able to recover damages for any injuries, and how much. If the bicyclist takes the car driver to court, they may claim that the car driver’s negligence caused both the accident and their injuries.
The car driver will attempt to defend themselves, and may point out negligent behavior on the part of the bicyclist that contributed to the accident. This comparative negligence can limit the amount of damages the bicyclist can recover.
If you were involved in an accident while riding your bicycle, and sustained injuries, consider contacting a personal injury lawyer. The lawyer can discuss your case and your possibilities for recovering for damages, and can represent you in court if you decide to file a lawsuit. A local lawyer will know both the laws of your state, as well as any city ordinances that may affect the issue of negligence in your case.