Cyclists face a unique risk compared to other vehicles on the road. They are almost invisible to drivers of motor vehicles. Most drivers are not used to sharing the road with bicycles. In fact, some think they belong on the sidewalk and not in their way.
Without the protection of 3,000 pounds of metal, seatbelts and air bags, cyclists face huge injuries when they collide with a car or truck. There almost 4 million car accidents requiring medical attention a year. ((http://www.nsc.org/Pages/National-Safety-Council-Estimates-First-National-Increase-in-Traffic-Deaths-Since-2005-.aspx)) Why? Because one driver (or both drivers) didn’t see the other car. Now imagine a single rider on a bike in place of the car. How is that driver going to see you?
Why are bicycle accidents different?
Bicyclists are completely unprotected. There is no cabin, seatbelt restraint systems, front airbags, side airbags, bumpers, or headrests to protect you. So if you are struck while riding a bike, chances are you will suffer severe injuries. Bicyclists face greater risks of injury and death than occupants of motor vehicles. ((Beck LF, Dellinger AM, O’Neil ME. Motor vehicle crash injury rates by mode of travel, United States: using exposure-based methods to quantify differences. Am J Epi 2007;166:212-8.))
Most at risk
Adolescents and young adults aged 15-24, and adults older than 45 are most at risk of dying in a bicycle accident. Children, adolescents and young adults endure the majority of all bicycle crash related injuries. ((http://www.cdc.gov/HomeandRecreationalSafety/Bicycle/)) Men are more likely to be killed or injured in a bike crash, and most crashes occur in urban areas, but not in intersections.
Common Auto vs. Bicycle Accidents
The Left Hand Turn: This is actually a frequent occurrence with auto vs bicycle as well as auto vs motorcycle accidents. Vehicle Code Section 21801(a) ((http://apps.dmv.ca.gov/pubs/vctop/d11/vc21801.htm)) requires all drivers turning left or making a u-turn, to yield the right of way to oncoming vehicles and not to make that left or u-turn until it is safe to do so. But a lot of drivers miss the oncoming bicycle rider and make a left turn anyway, colliding with the bike.
Colliding With An Open Door: You’ve seen it on TV. But it happens in real life. Also known as a Door Prize, a bicyclist is riding his bike along the road, closer to parked vehicles to avoid and not impede regular motor vehicle traffic. All of a sudden a car door opens and the rider crashes right into it. Vehicle Code 22517 ((http://apps.dmv.ca.gov/pubs/vctop/d11/vc22517.htm)) states “No person shall open the door of a vehicle on the side available to moving traffic unless it is reasonably safe to do so and can be done without interfering with the movement of such traffic,” but reality is there are many who carelessly open their door even when there is traffic. Even when there are clearly marked bike lanes where the vehicle is parked.
The Right Cross Intersection Crash: In some areas, this is the most frequent car vs. bike accident. ((http://www.bicyclinglife.com/Library/TaleOfThree.htm)) A car is pulling out from side street, parking lot, or driveway on your right. There are actually two ways to crash here. The car pulls out far enough and you run into the car’s side. Or the car hits you when you ride in front of it.
Unexpected reversing: A car reverses quickly without checking all around to make sure it’s clear. You’re hard enough to see already when people are looking for you. Imagine the risks when the driver is not even looking!
Intersections are dangerous for bicycle riders
Only 11% of bicycle accidents involve cars. However, 45% of all car vs. bicycle accidents occur at intersections. ((http://www.nolo.com/legal-encyclopedia/bike-accidents-collisions-with-cars-29549.html)). So how do you reduce this risk?
To reduce the risk of intersection accidents with cars, bicyclists need to make sure they are as visible as possible to motorists, follow the rules of the road, and learn to recognize a dangerous intersection. The utmost care is needed when approaching an intersection on a bike.
General Bicycle Accident Rules in California
The general rules containing state laws governing how bicycles are to be ridden is the California Vehicle Code.
Rights and Responsibilities
Bicyclists have the same rights and responsibilities as motor vehicle drivers. CVC 21200
A person riding a bicycle or operating a pedicab upon a highway has all the rights and is subject to all the provisions applicable to the driver of a vehicle by this division, including, but not limited to, provisions concerning driving under the influence of alcoholic beverages or drugs,
Where You Can Ride
Roadway: If you ride on a roadway, and are riding at speeds less than normal, you must ride as close to the right side of the road as safely practical. Exceptions to this rule include when passing, making a left turn, avoiding hazards in the road. ((California Vehicle Code 21202))
Bicycle lanes: If there is a bike lane, and you are traveling slower than traffic, bicyclists must use the bike lane except when passing, making a left turn, avoiding hazards in the road, or approaching a turn where right turns are authorized. ((CVC 21208))
Sidewalks: Local regulations and ordinances control whether bicyclists may ride on sidewalks. ((CVC 21206))
Pedestrians at Crosswalks: Bicyclists must yield the right-of-way to pedestrians within marked crosswalks or within unmarked crosswalks at intersections, and exercise due care when when approaching pedestrians within those marked crosswalks or unmarked crosswalks at intersections. ((CVC 21950))
What to do after a bicycle accident
After a car accident these are the steps you need to take:
- Call the police. In the off chance you are reading this immediately after an accident, call the police and wait for them to arrive. Be sure to report any injuries. Even minor injuries may turn into major ones. So that pinch in your neck? Report it.
- Get driver and witness information.
- Write everything down. As soon as possible after the accident, write everything down. What happened, how it happened, the weather, the traffic conditions, the road conditions, everything you can remember.
- Seek medical treatment. As soon as possible, go see a doctor if you’re not taken to Emergency Room via ambulance. See your primary care physician/family doctor.
- Preserve as much evidence as possible.
- Don’t talk to the insurance adjusters if they call you. It serves you no purpose, only theirs.
- Document your injuries, and your daily struggles with them. Be as specific as possible. Hurt your shoulder when brushing your teeth? Right it down. These will be very important later in your case.
Who is at fault – the bike or the car?
Proving liability in a bicycle vs car accident is the same as proving liability in a car vs. car accident. The same rules apply. Remember, bicyclists are subject to the same rules and regulations as motor vehicles, in addition to the bicycle specific laws.
If you don’t follow the laws you may be found at fault for the accident. The question of liability (determining who is at fault for an accident) is a question of fact. Who did what, and when. Sometimes one side is found 100% at fault. Sometimes its split. To prove your case, it is best to hire an attorney as soon as you think you need one. That way a proper investigation can begin with crucial evidence preserved if necessary.
Bicycle accident insurance claims
Hopefully the driver of the vehicle that hit you, is insured. But even if they were insured, it does not mean you will have an easy time filing and settling an insurance claim. The insurance companies are in business to make money. There is nothing wrong with that. However, the best way for them to make money is to take premiums from their insureds, and to not pay out any money for claims. So they will try to pay you as little as possible.
Their dirty little tricks
They will pretend to cooperative and nice with you at the beginning. I see this all the time. They’ll call you, and pretend they are genuinely interested in your health and well being. They’ll accept liability as a gesture of goodwill. They promise to pay your medical bills, and give you a little “extra” for your inconvenience (they’ll usually avoid the term “pain and suffering” here).
Anything, to keep you from hiring an attorney
Then the tricks start. They’ll claim this or that can’t be paid for whatever bogus reason. They’ll avoid your calls. Ignore your settlement demands. The insurance companies know, as a result of their own studies, they pay out much more money on cases involving an attorney. Even after the attorney’s fees are taken out, injured victims make much more on cases with attorneys involved.
The insurance company knows this, and will do everything they can to keep you away from professional representation and counsel.
How long does a bicycle accident case take?
A typical bicycle accident case in California can take a few months to several years. The answer isn’t easy. Simple cases where there are injuries which are treated quickly can be settled in a short amount of time.
The most important requirement is the medical treatment being completed or mostly before settlement. You might not be 100% healed, but you’ve reached a stable condition and settlement talks can begin.
If there are significant injuries, such as fractures, or other injuries requiring surgery, then the case may take longer. If the insurance companies are being unreasonable, expect much further delays. We’re talking a year or up to three. A lawsuit will be filed, but settlement talks can still continue after the lawsuit has been filed.
How long do I have, to file a bicycle accident claim?
The general rule is, you have two years from the date of the accident to file a lawsuit. ((California Code of Civil Procedure 335.1))
This is called the statute of limitations. If the person who caused the accident happens to work for the government, then you have 6 months from the date of the accident to file a claim against the responsible government agency.
Maximizing the value of your bicycle accident case
If someone injures through their own careless acts or behavior, they owe you monetary compensation for those injuries. ((California Civil Code 3281)), ((California Civil Code 3282)) So if it’s their fault and they caused the crash, you are entitled to money if they caused you harm.
This is because they were “negligent.” They are responsible for any injuries they caused by their lack of ordinary care and skill. ((California Civil Code 1714(a))
So injured bicyclists can recover money for many categories:
- past and future medical bills
- past and future physical pain
- past/future emotional suffering
- past/future wage loss,
- loss of future earning power
- loss of enjoyment of life
- property damage,
- and other categories.
To maximize the value of these categories, the case must be handled correctly or you risk losing value in your case. Mishandling of cases happens all the time, with the victims losing money right before their eyes. The faster you get a professional in your case, the better for your recovery.
Why you should talk to an attorney right away
Consultations are free. The longer you wait to see an attorney, the more risk you face in losing value of your case. An attorney can advise you of your rights, help preserve evidence, ensure you are receiving the required medical treatment on time, and prepare your case. It is free to hire a bicycle accident attorney, because the consultation is free, and the fee is contingent. We don’t get paid unless you win.