Proving Liability When Motorists are at Fault for Bicycle Accidents

Winning a bicycle-car accident claim depends on proving the vehicle driver’s fault for your injuries. Here’s how to build a strong insurance claim.

While the number of bicycle accidents has gone down overall, there are still almost 800 fatal bike accidents in the United States each year.¹

An average of 15 bicyclists are killed each week by traffic collisions with motor vehicles.²

Many vehicle drivers don’t realize that cyclists have just as much of a right to be on the road as they do. Some motorists can be downright antagonistic towards cyclists.

If you’re a bicyclist who’s been injured in a traffic accident, you have the right to seek compensation for your damages from the negligent driver. Most of the time that means filing a claim with the at-fault driver’s auto insurance company.

Rules of the Road for Cars and Bicycles

All vehicles traveling on public roadways are subject to the same traffic laws. In general, operators of cars and bicycles must:

  • Travel in the same direction as the flow of traffic
  • Obey all traffic signals and signs
  • Signal before turning or changing lanes
  • Yield to pedestrians
  • Yield to vehicles already on the road before pulling into traffic

Every state has laws prohibiting the operation of a vehicle or bicycle while under the influence of alcohol or drugs.

Most states have additional traffic laws relating to bicycles on public roads. Depending on your state, common bicycle laws include:

  • Helmet requirements
  • Bicyclists must use hand signals before turning
  • Bicycle light and reflector requirements for riding on public roadways after dark
  • Bicycles should travel in the far-right side of the lane unless there’s not enough room for a bike and car to share the lane
  • Safe passing laws require a certain distance (usually at least three feet) between the car and bicycle when a vehicle driver is passing a bicyclist
  • Two bicycles can travel side-by-side in the same lane of traffic

Despite what many motorists believe, bicycle riders are not always required to use bike lanes or get out of the way of faster vehicles. The cyclist can legally travel in the middle of the lane, and other drivers may not pass until it is safe to move around the bicycle.

Finding Fault for Bicycle-Car Accidents

Driver negligence is a common cause of serious vehicle and bicycle collisions.

Not surprisingly, most car and bicycle accidents happen in urban areas. Busy city streets set the stage for bicyclist injuries caused by:

  • Hitting the open door of a parked car
  • Being sideswiped by a passing motor vehicle
  • Colliding with a motor vehicle turning right
  • A driver turning left into the path of an oncoming bicycle
  • Motorists rear-ending a bicycle

Bicyclists are also injured in accidents caused by:

Example: Hazardous Road Conditions

Larry was riding his bicycle in the bike lane on a state highway. As he rounded a curve in the road, he suddenly came upon a construction site. State workers had been re-paving that section of the road, which included the bicycle lane.

The workers were supposed to clean up loose rocks and mark the area before they quit for the day, but they didn’t. Larry’s bicycle abruptly slid on the rocks, throwing him violently to the ground. Larry suffered significant injuries to his face and hands.

Larry filed an injury claim against the state agency responsible for road repairs, demanding compensation for his injuries and resulting damages. He alleged the state workers were negligent by allowing a dangerous condition to exist in the road.

Larry’s claim was successful, and he received a fair settlement from the government.

Sometimes Cyclists Are at Fault for Bicycle Accidents

Bicycle riders have the same duty to obey traffic laws as any other vehicle operator. Just like car drivers, cyclists can violate traffic laws or fail to do what any reasonable cyclist would do.

Accidents may be the fault of the bicycle rider when they:

  • Fail to stop at stop signs or red lights
  • Travel on the wrong side of the street
  • Ride against traffic
  • Fail to yield
  • Turn or change lanes without signaling

Tender Years Doctrine

More than one out of ten cyclists injured in traffic accidents are under the age of 15.³

Even when the child might have caused the accident, most states have a version of the “tender years doctrine” that presume a child is unable to be found liable for negligence. In some cases involving underage cyclists, the motorist involved in the crash may share some liability.

What to Do After a Bicycle Accident

Cyclists enjoy the same legal rights as those who drive passenger and commercial vehicles. Getting fair compensation from an at-fault driver’s auto insurance carrier works the same way when you’re a bicycle rider injured in a crash.

Before the insurance company pays your claim, it’s up to you to convince the adjuster that the car driver is at fault for your accident.

Building a Strong Claim

Gathering evidence needed for a successful injury claim begins at the scene of the crash.

Always call 911 when you’re involved in a traffic accident. Tell the dispatcher you were hit by a car while riding your bicycle.

If you’re obviously injured, tell the dispatcher you need an ambulance. Never say you’re “okay” or “just shaken up” and never refuse medical attention at the scene.

With your adrenaline still running high, you might have potentially life-threatening brain trauma or internal injuries that are masked by the shock of the crash.

Delayed medical treatment can sink your claim. The insurance company will jump at the excuse to deny your injury claim, arguing that your injuries aren’t related to the accident.

If you are physically able, begin to gather evidence while waiting for police. Evidence that can make or break your injury claim includes:

  • Photographs: Use your cell phone to take photos and video. Take as many pictures, from as many angles as you safely can. Take close-ups and wide shots to include the position of the car, damage to the car, your mangled bicycle, dented helmet, and torn or bloody clothing.
  • Witness Statements: Get the names and contact information of anyone who saw the accident. If you find willing witnesses, have them write down everything they saw and heard. If the witness doesn’t want to write a statement, ask to record their statement using your phone. Have them give their name and contact information on the recording.
  • Detailed Notes: As soon as possible after the accident, make detailed notes about what happened, your injuries, and everything the at-fault driver said and did. Statements like “I’m so sorry,” or “I didn’t see you,” are admissions against interest that can help you prove the car driver was at fault for the accident.
  • Police Report: The responding police officer will investigate the accident and prepare an official police accident report. Be sure to tell the responding officer your side of the story. The report will indicate the officer’s opinion of fault and list any citations issued for traffic law violations.
  • Medical Records: Your medical bills and records are crucial evidence of the injuries you suffered in the accident. Be sure to tell every medical provider who treats you that you were hit by a car while riding your bicycle.

When You Need an Attorney for a Bike Accident Claim

If you are lucky enough to walk away from a bicycle accident with only minor injuries, you can probably settle your insurance claim without an attorney.

If you’ve fully recovered and only missed a few weeks of work, you can calculate your claim value by adding up your medical bills, out-of-pocket medical expenses, and lost wages, then adding one or two times that amount for pain and suffering.

Also ask to be compensated for your damaged or destroyed personal items, such as your bicycle, helmet, cell phone, glasses, and clothing.

Sometimes insurance adjusters need to be reminded that motorists are just as liable for causing an accident with a bicycle as with any other vehicle on the road. When the adjuster tries to blame you for the crash, or won’t come off a low-ball settlement offer, you need an attorney.

When bicycles are hit by cars or trucks, the unprotected cyclist all too often suffers severe, potentially permanent injuries. Severe injuries lead to high-dollar insurance claims.

Don’t trust the insurance company to treat you fairly when you’ve been seriously injured in a bicycle accident. You’ll need a skilled personal injury attorney to get anywhere near the amount of compensation you deserve.

Get the help you need to get a fair insurance settlement. Most attorneys don’t charge injury victims for an initial consultation. There’s no obligation, and it costs you nothing to find out what an experienced injury attorney can do for you.

Bicycle Accident Claim Questions & Answers

Charles R. Gueli, Esq. is a personal injury attorney with over 20 years of legal experience. He’s admitted to the NY State Bar, and been named a Super Lawyer for the NY Metro area, an exclusive honor awarded to the top five percent of attorneys. Charles has worked extensively in the areas of auto accidents,... Read More >>