Determining Liability for Injuries in Bicycle Accident Claims

Many bicycle accidents occur as a result of a vehicle driver’s negligence. A lot of 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.

According to the U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, “pedalcyclist” deaths account for 2 percent of all motor vehicle fatalities, and make up 2 percent of all people injured in traffic crashes (1). When a cyclist is injured in a collision with a motor vehicle, they have the right to file a bike accident claim with the driver’s auto insurance company.

Causes of Bicycle Accidents

The majority of accidents occur at intersections, where drivers of passenger or commercial vehicles either fail to yield, or violate the cyclist’s right of way. Crashes also commonly occur when drivers fail to check their side view mirrors before changing lanes, then side-swipe the cyclist.

Bicycle car accidents mainly occur as a result of:

  • Driver negligence or violation of traffic law
  • Cyclist negligence or violation of traffic law
  • Hazardous road conditions
  • Defective or unsafe bicycle equipment

Unlike passenger cars, which have airbags and reinforced frames to protect their occupants, bicycles have no safety features to protect their riders from injury. As a result, the percentage of bike accident claims filed each year, relative to the number of collisions, is very high.

Liability in Bike Accident Claims

Cyclists enjoy basically the same legal rights as those who drive passenger and commercial vehicles. In turn, they must also obey the same rules of the road as motor vehicle drivers. Injured cyclists also have the same access to the insurance claims process and legal system as do vehicle drivers.

Reviewing a few bicycle accident scenarios will help you understand some of the liability issues present in these cases.

Example 1: Texting While Driving

John was on his bicycle, traveling northbound on the far right side of a two lane road. Suzy was traveling southbound in her car. The traffic lights were green for both John and Suzy. Suzy stopped at the light, waiting to make a left turn across the road.

Because Suzy was preoccupied texting her boyfriend, she failed to see John coming toward the intersection. Suzy made the turn directly in front of John, and he had no time to stop before crashing into her car. As a result of the collision, John suffered serious injuries.

The police ticketed Suzy for Failure To Yield and Entering an Intersection When It Was Unsafe To Do So.

John filed a bike accident claim with Suzy’s auto insurance company. Because Suzy’s actions in entering the intersection were clearly negligent, John received a substantial settlement for his property damage, medical costs, out-of pocket-expenses, lost wages, and for his pain and suffering.

Example 2: Hazardous Road Conditions

Larry was riding his bicycle within the assigned 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 gravel and rocks before they quit for the day, but they didn’t. As a result of the loose gravel, Larry’s bicycle went out from under him, and he was thrown violently to the ground, suffering hand and facial lacerations.

Larry filed a state tort claim, 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. His claim was successful, and he received a fair settlement from the government.

Example 3: Defective Bicycle Equipment

Anthony recently purchased a new bike from a local dealer. A month before the purchase, the dealer received a notice from the bike’s manufacturer. It informed him there was a possibility the front brake cables were defective, and might not work properly under normal braking conditions.

The manufacturer sent replacement cables to all their dealers, clearly stating the cables must be replaced before selling the bikes to the public. Although the dealer was aware of the notice, and had received the replacement cables, he failed to install them on the bike he sold to Anthony.

Two weeks later, while riding his bicycle to work, Anthony’s front brake cable failed, causing him to crash into a telephone pole. He was seriously injured.

Anthony sued the bicycle dealer and the manufacturer under the legal doctrine of strict product liability. Because the negligence of the dealer was so clear, Anthony was able to settle his case for a substantial amount.

Example 4: Cyclist Negligence

Stuart rode his bicycle to work each day, and liked to ride at a fast pace. On his bike, the maximum pounds per square inch (PSI) of air pressure was clearly marked on the tires, at 85 PSI. Stuart thought if he increased the tire pressure, the bike would move faster, so he inflated both tires to 135 PSI.

Several days later, as he was riding his bike at a very high speed, one of the tires blew. When it did, Stuart lost control of the bicycle and crashed into a car. Stuart suffered extensive facial injuries and a broken left clavicle.

Stuart claimed the passing car was driving too close to him. If the driver hadn’t been so close, he stated, he wouldn’t have crashed into it.

Stuart filed a bike accident claim against the driver of the car, stating the driver’s negligence was the direct and proximate cause of the crash.

The driver’s insurance company refused to pay, stating it was Stuart’s negligence which caused the crash. They said Stuart’s neglecting the manufacturer’s maximum recommended PSI caused the tire to explode, resulting in the crash.

Stuart still thought he had a case, so he filed a lawsuit. The court agreed with the driver’s insurance company. They found in favor of the driver, and against Stuart.

Wrapping Up

There are thousands of bicycle crashes each year on America’s roadways. If you’re a cyclist who’s been injured in a crash, it’s important to gather as much evidence of the cause of the crash as possible.

Realistically, however, if your own negligence was the direct and proximate cause of the accident, you may not have a case. If you can eliminate your own negligence as the cause, you can begin to build a solid claim.

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