How Bicycle Helmet Laws Impact Fault for Accident Injuries

Learn how insurance companies find fault with bicycle accident victims for not wearing a helmet, and how to fight for fair injury compensation.

Wearing a bicycle helmet can protect you from traumatic brain injury, facial fractures, and even save your life. Getting in a bicycle accident without a helmet nearly doubles your chance of brain damage or death.¹

Unlike rules requiring helmet use with motorcycles, many states don’t have bicycle helmet laws, or only require children to wear bicycle helmets.

Despite the lack of bicycle helmet laws in most states, insurance companies latch on to helmet use as an excuse to reduce or deny bicycle accident claims.

Here’s what you need to know to get fair injury compensation from the insurance company after a serious bicycle accident.

Finding Fault for Bicycle-Car Accidents

When you or a loved one has been injured in a bicycle accident caused by a negligent motorist, you will usually be dealing with the at-fault driver’s insurance company.

When you make an insurance claim, the burden will be on you to prove the driver was at fault for the crash, and liable for the resulting injuries.

Whether or not you were wearing a helmet, most bicycle-car accident claims involve proving the motorist was negligent.

There are four necessary elements to negligence like there are four legs of a chair. Without all four elements, your claim is weak, just like a chair missing one or two legs might not hold a person’s weight.

The four elements of liability are:

  1. Duty of Care: The at-fault driver had a duty of care to avoid causing harm to others
  2. Breach of Duty: The at-fault driver breached their duty by doing something wrong, or failing to do what any reasonable person would do in the same situation
  3. Cause: The at-fault driver’s breach of duty is the proximate cause of your injuries
  4. Damages: You have verified injuries and losses, supported by medical records and other proof of damages

Wearing a bicycle helmet might not be an issue in your injury claim, depending on the type of injuries you suffered.

If your injuries weren’t to your head or neck, whether you were wearing a helmet doesn’t matter. Helmets are only designed to protect bike riders from head and neck injuries.

If your injuries were to your head, face, or neck, helmet use would be an important factor in settlement negotiations with the insurance company, particularly if you were violating your state’s bicycle helmet laws.

Does No Bike Helmet Mean Shared Fault for Injuries?

If you were not wearing a helmet in a state, county, or city where helmets are required for your age group, your insurance negotiations will be more difficult. The claims adjuster will say your violation of the helmet law contributed to your injuries.

Even in areas without helmet laws, the adjuster will still try to reduce or deny your injury compensation if you weren’t wearing a helmet. Adjusters are trained to shift some or all of the blame to the accident victim, to save money for the insurance company.

Understanding Comparative Negligence

There are only five states that allow an insurance company to flatly deny your claim if you are as little as one percent at fault for the circumstances of your injuries, using Pure Contributory Fault rules.

On the other hand, there are a few states that allow you to recover compensation for your injuries even when you were 99 percent at fault, under Pure Comparative Fault rules.

Most states use Modified Comparative Fault rules, meaning your claim can’t be denied unless you are equally to blame, or less to blame for the circumstances of your injuries:

Under modified comparative fault rules, if your claim isn’t denied, your compensation is reduced according to your portion of fault. For example, if your claim is worth $10,000 and you were 25 percent to blame for your injuries, you would only get $7,500.

Don’t settle for less. Contact an experienced personal injury attorney if the negligent driver’s insurance company is blaming you for your bicycle accident.

State and Local Bicycle Helmet Laws

There is currently no federal law governing the use of bicycle helmets. Individual states have the right to decide if they want to create bike helmet legislation.

Some states have enacted limited bicycle laws, but most have not. Moreover, each county or municipality has the power to enact helmet laws as they see fit. The result is a big mix of different laws across the United States.

It’s important to know your state and local bicycle helmet law. Laws are always subject to change, so you should frequently check your area’s traffic code to be sure you comply.

Check your location on this table of State, County and City Helmet Laws.

Be wary of the insurance adjuster who tries to convince you that bicycle riders who don’t wear helmets always share fault because “everyone knows it’s not safe to ride without a helmet.”

Bicycle Helmets and Injury Lawsuits

The claims adjuster might tell you that if your case can’t be settled and goes to trial, failing to wear a bicycle helmet can be used against you in court. Even if you were injured in a jurisdiction without a helmet law, the judge might allow evidence of your not wearing a helmet as proof of your negligence.

Or the adjuster may be bluffing.

If a judge permits the jury to consider evidence of comparative negligence, such as not wearing a helmet, it might or might not affect their decision. You never know what a jury will decide. The jury can find the bicyclist shared no blame for their injuries, shared a portion of blame, or was the only one at fault for the accident.

If you file a lawsuit against the at-fault driver to seek compensation for your injuries from a bicycle accident, your failure to use a helmet might not have a negative effect on your case. Discuss the strengths of your case with an experienced local attorney before deciding to sue.

Some states specifically prohibit insurance companies from arguing comparative negligence because a rider wasn’t wearing a helmet. Here are a few:

West Virginia laws state:

“A violation of [state helmet law] is not admissible as evidence of negligence or contributory negligence or comparative negligence in any civil action or proceeding for damages, and shall not be admissible in mitigation of damages.”

Florida helmet laws include:

“The failure of a person to wear a bicycle helmet or the failure of a parent or guardian to prevent a child from riding a bicycle without a bicycle helmet may not be considered evidence of negligence or contributory negligence.”

New York traffic laws don’t allow a reduction based on helmet use:

“The failure of any person to comply with [any helmet] law or ordinance shall not constitute contributory negligence or assumption of risk, and shall not in any way bar, preclude or foreclose an action for personal injury or wrongful death by or on behalf of such person, nor in any way diminish or reduce the damages recoverable in any such action.” 

Pennsylvania bicycle helmet laws specify:

“In no event shall a violation or alleged violation of [bicycle helmet laws] be used as evidence in a trial of any civil action; nor shall any jury in a civil action be instructed that any conduct did constitute or could be interpreted by them to constitute a violation of subsection (a); nor shall failure to use a pedalcycle helmet be considered as contributory negligence nor shall failure to use a pedalcycle helmet be admissible as evidence in the trial of any civil action.”

Georgia helmet laws state, in part:

“Violation of [Georgia helmet laws] shall not constitute negligence per se nor contributory negligence per se or be considered evidence of negligence or liability.”

What to Do After a Bicycle-Car Accident

Whether or not you wore a helmet, proving the vehicle driver was at fault for your accident and injuries starts at the scene of the crash.

Getting fair compensation from an at-fault driver’s auto insurance carrier can depend on evidence gathered at the scene and after the collision.

  • Call 911: Immediately call 911 for help when you’re involved in a traffic accident. Tell the dispatcher you were hit by a car while riding your bicycle. The police report can be critical evidence of fault for the accident.
  • Hit and Run: In most states, failing to stop and render aid after a collision is a felony. If the driver fails to stop, take down or memorize as much of the license plate number as possible. Try to remember the make, model, and color of the car. Ask someone to help if you’re injured.
  • Medical Care: Don’t refuse on-scene medical care or transport to the hospital. The pain of serious injuries can be masked by shock or adrenaline after a collision. Delaying medical care can sink your claim. The insurance company will jump at the chance to deny your injury claim, arguing that your injuries aren’t related to the accident.
  • Driver Information: Get the driver’s address, telephone number, email, and the information from their insurance card. Also make notes about the make, model, and color of the car that hit you.
  • Talk to Witnesses: Witness statements can be invaluable tools in establishing liability. Find anyone who’s willing to give a statement. Ask them to write down what they saw, and to sign and date their statement.
  • Photographic Evidence: Take photos of the accident scene, including any skid marks, broken bicycle or car parts, guardrails, and traffic signs or signals. Have someone photograph you wearing your helmet, if you were wearing one.
  • Write a Summary: Write down important information immediately after the accident. Note any admissions the driver makes, such as, “I’m so sorry,” or “I didn’t see you.” In most states, these statements can be used as “Admissions Against Interest” to help prove fault.

Why You Should Talk to an Attorney

Insurance companies don’t care about you or your family, even if their insured motorist violated traffic laws when they hit you or your loved one. They won’t hesitate to deny a grieving parent’s wrongful death claim because their child wasn’t wearing a helmet.

When a negligent driver crashes their car or truck into a bicycle, the resulting injuries to the cyclist can be serious or fatal. Don’t let the insurance adjuster convince you that you don’t deserve full compensation for a bicycle accident claim.

Even in states with strong helmet laws, you owe it to yourself to talk to a skilled personal injury attorney.

Most injury attorneys don’t charge for their initial consultation. It costs nothing to find out what a good attorney can do for you and your family.

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 >>