Bicycle Accidents and Your Rights
When and automobile and bicycle collide on a roadway, it is nearly certain the bike rider will be the most seriously injured party. Motor vehicles weighing thousands of pounds are going to "win" every time there is an impact with a bicycle. Safety precautions can prevent some accidents and lessen the severity of some of the injuries sustained, however, collisions and serious injuries will occur when a driver and rider meet on a roadway. Using a helmet and wearing high visibility clothing can help, but bicycle accidents will occur. When they do occur, the rider may need compensation for their injuries and damages in order to get back on their feet.
Even if the police determine the rider was largely at fault, the car driver may share some of the responsibility. It is not uncommon for investigating police agencies to assign all of the fault to a bike rider after an accident. After all, the rider will likely be described by the driver (and perhaps even witnesses) as difficult to see or "coming out of nowhere." This historic bias has been well documented for years, but it is something that can often be overcome.
What Causes Bicycle Accidents
A number of factors can play a role in the happening of a bike accident, and looking at some examples can help us all better understand why they occur. Just last week, a bicyclist was killed in Huntington Beach when he was struck by a driver suspected of driving while under the influence of drugs. According to a news report, the Orange County collision occurred in Huntington Beach on May 27th at about 1:35 p.m. The police at least initially determined the bicyclist may have failed to yield to a traffic signal while crossing Pacific Coast Highway, causing or contributing to the happening of the accident. However, it should be remembered such a determination does not relieve the driver from their obligation to keep a lookout for pedestrians, bicyclists and other motorists. In the above case, the collision occurred during daylight hours (so the bicyclist could likely be seen by those paying attention), and other factors need to be examined. The speed and distance traveled also effect whether the car's driver shares some of the fault.
According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, alcohol was involved in 37% of all fatal bicyclist crashes in 2017. Additionally, most bicyclist deaths occur during the evening/night hours, between 6:00 p.m. and 9:00 p.m. In the Orange County case, could this tragedy have been avoided if the driver was not impaired? Was there enough time for the driver to see the rider and take evasive action before the collision? These are questions that must be answered before making a final determination of fault in any personal injury case.
Can Both the Driver and Rider Be at Fault?
The short answer is "yes". California is a pure comparative state so there is no cap on the amount of fault assigned to one party versus the other. Some states preclude an injured party from recovering any damages if they were more than 50% at fault and other states preclude recovery if the injured person is even 1% responsible. Under California rules, by way of example, if the bike rider is 60% at fault then they can recover 40% of their damages. In a case in which catastrophic injuries were sustained or the rider died, this can prove to be a substantial recovery.
It is not uncommon for a Traffic Collision Report to describe the bicyclist's negligence as the "primary collision factor", but that does not mean the driver's neglect did not contribute to the accident. If the motor vehicle driver was operating their car under the influence or they failed to keep an adequate lookout, their negligence may well be the most important cause. This sometimes comes to light only after the driver gives deposition testimony in a lawsuit. It is often difficult for a driver to explain why they did not see a bicyclist ahead of them if they were paying attention.
What to Do After a Bicycle Accident
After a bicycle collision with a vehicle, there is not often a chance for the rider to take accident scene photographs or gather witness information because of the injuries they sustained. However, reaching out to an injury attorney who can investigate the accident, its cause and the injuries sustained can help. Mr. Ralph has 30 years of experience as a personal injury attorney handling bicycle accident cases. His City of Orange office is conveniently located near three freeways for easy access. Mr. Ralph can also be reached anytime by email or simply calling his office at the number above. All consultations are absolutely free.