Negligence of Bicyclists

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 What Are the Rights of a Bicyclist on the Road?

With the increasing popularity of bicycling across the United States, the frequency of cycling accidents has increased. Can a bicyclist ever be held legally responsible for an accident between a biker and another motorist? The answer is yes. This article explores that possibility.

Bicyclists generally have the same rights and responsibilities as other motorists to use public highways and streets. A bicyclist must observe all of the rules of the road and traffic regulations. A motor vehicle, such as a car, truck, or motorcycle, is not entitled to the right of way over a bicycle. The driver of a motor vehicle must exercise due care to avoid injury to a bicyclist. The bicyclist owes the same exercise of care toward other road users.

Can Bicyclists Be Negligent?

Bicyclists can be negligent when operating their bicycles on the road. If there is an accident between a car and a bicycle, the negligence of a bicyclist may be used by a motorist as a defense to liability.

For example, an adult bicyclist may be guilty of negligence if they make a turn without first checking for approaching vehicles and then wind up turning in front of a car. Another example is when a bicyclist fails to follow the speed limits of the road, resulting in an accident with a car or truck.

What is Negligence?

Negligence is the legal theory that allows injured persons to recover for the carelessness or recklessness of others. There are four requirements to prove a negligence case:

  • Duty: This refers to the level of care owed to one person by another. As mentioned, bicyclists must ride safely and not pose a danger to other road users.
  • Breach: The person or company failed to act with reasonable care. This standard is based on how an average, reasonable person would responsibly act in a similar situation.
  • Causation: The defendant’s behavior must be what caused the injury, both in terms of “cause in fact”(was the failure to ride on the side of the road the real cause of the injury? And “proximate cause” (given the bicyclist’s behavior, was the injury foreseeable?) In some cases, both parties may have had part of the fault of causing the accident. That does not mean the lawsuit cannot be won, but only that the plaintiff’s damages will be reduced by whatever part the judge or jury finds was their part.
  • Damages: There must have been some damage that occurred. That could include medical bills, lost days of work, or more. Sometimes, money may be awarded for the plaintiff’s pain and suffering. This is most common when the defendant was not just careless but was reckless.

Common examples of bicyclist negligence include:

  • Not bicycling in the proper lane
  • Failing to use proper turn indicators or hand signals
  • Bicycling while intoxicated

What is Comparative Negligence?

It is possible, of course, that both the bicyclist and the motorist contributed to the action. If a motorist sues a bicyclist for injuries, the court has to decide how to factor each party’s mistakes into calculating the damages that should be awarded.

Some states handle this through a comparative negligence defense. In this case, the court will assign a percentage of fault to all parties involved in an accident. The percentage assigned to each party will then be used to dictate the amount the injured parties can recover in monetary damages.

For instance, a comparative negligence defense may be used to reduce the bicyclist’s liability or to prevent a motorist from recovering a large portion of the damages for the injuries they received in an accident. In some cases, a comparative negligence defense may even be used to bar the motorist from recovering anything.

For example, in an accident between a bicyclist and a car, comparative negligence arises when the defendant was negligent, but so was the victim. This can happen when the victim did something unsafe to cause or aggravate their injuries or did not use reasonable care. Let’s say the car owner was distracted by a phone call and wasn’t paying enough attention to what was happening in front of him. The bicyclist swerved into the driver’s path, and they hit each other.
When the court determines that both people were negligent, the court assigns a percentage of liability for each party. The court then applies that percentage to the damages that arose from the accident.

The three primary approaches to comparative negligence are:

  1. Pure Comparative Negligence: The theory of pure comparative negligence will not prevent an injured person from recovering damages, even if a judge or jury finds that they are ninety-nine percent at fault for the accident. The amount they can receive will be reduced by the percent at which they were at fault. For instance, if a plaintiff sues someone for $100,000 but is found to be sixty percent at fault, they are allowed to recover $40,000 in damages, even though they were more at fault than the defendant was.
  2. Modified Comparative Negligence: The modified comparative negligence approach bars a plaintiff from recovering damages if they are found to be fifty percent or more at fault for the incident. Similar to pure comparative negligence, the amount that a plaintiff can recover will be reduced by the percentage that they are found to be at fault for the incident. In some states, the cut-off percentage is fifty-one percent. While the difference between the fifty and fifty-one percent approaches may seem small, the rationale behind the fifty percent rule is that when a plaintiff and defendant are equally to blame for the plaintiff’s injuries, then the plaintiff should still be allowed to seek relief, even if the amount they receive will be reduced. On the other hand, if the plaintiff was 51% at fault, they should not recover anything since they had the greater fault.
  3. Pure Contributory Negligence: The third approach is referred to as the doctrine of pure contributory negligence. This doctrine provides that if an injured party is even the slightest bit responsible for causing the accident and the resulting injuries, they will be fully barred from recovering any damages.

What Do Damages Cover in a Bicycle Accident Claim?

Damages in a bicycle accident claim serve to reimburse the injured party for the economic losses caused by the accident. This can cover costs such as medical expenses, hospital bills, and lost wages due to inability to work because of the severity of the injuries. In some states, damages from an accident might cover other losses, such as an award for the pain and suffering the accident caused, loss of the plaintiff’s future earning capacity, and other considerations. Some states place caps or limits on the total damages a plaintiff can recover.

What If the Bicyclist is a Child?

When a child is riding a bicycle, their negligence is measured by different standards than adults. A child bicyclist may be too young to commit negligence. When the bicyclist is a minor, that bicyclist is chargeable only with such care as would be exercised by a prudent person of age and experience.

Under certain circumstances, it can sometimes even be possible to hold the parents of a child bicyclist liable for injuries they cause (perhaps they allowed the child to ride a bicycle with no brakes, and the plaintiff suffered damages when they had to swerve to avoid the bike).

Should I Consult an Attorney for a Bicycle Accident?

Determining liability in accidents is complex, and often, both parties are partially to blame. It is a good idea to contact a local personal injury attorney right after the accident. Your lawyer can help explain the law and protect your rights so that you can recover damages for your injury or protect yourself from liability.

The attorney can represent your interests in any negotiations with the other party and can often obtain a better result than you could on your own. And if the matter goes to trial, it will be very helpful to have an attorney at your side, someone who is already familiar with the case.

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