For environmentally-conscious, health-sensitive professionals, riding to and from work on a bike is becoming a common alternative to driving alone or carpooling. Students as well use bikes to reliably get to school or to simply get around their neighborhoods. However, bicyclists are at greater risk of personal injury in the event of an accident due to the lack of protection offered by their bikes. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reported the deaths of nearly 800 cyclists nationwide in 2017 alone, and with the increasing usage of cycling as an alternative to driving, that number is likely to increase in coming years.
With these numbers in mind, bicyclists should know what risks they may face when biking for work or pleasure. When those risks become reality, bicyclists need to be prepared for the fallout to ensure that they receive just compensation for their personal injuries.
Common Bicycle Accidents and Injuries
There are numerous types of accidents that can occur while cycling on roadways. However, the most common and dangerous forms are those which involve a motor vehicle or truck of some kind. This is due to the simple difference in size and protection between these modes of transportation, and the numerous vehicles that a cyclist will encounter on any particular ride.
Usually, a bicycle accident involving a motor vehicle will fall into one of the following categories.
- Dooring Accidents: This is when a driver or automobile passenger doesn’t check for approaching cyclists before opening their door. This causes the cyclist to either have to swerve away and hit a passing vehicle or crash into the door itself, which may launch them into the air.
- Left-Cross Accidents: Drivers who are not used to sharing the road with cyclists will focus on oncoming traffic as they make a left-hand turn, forgetting to check for cyclists. This results in collisions where a vehicle traveling in the opposite direction of the cyclist makes a left-hand turn in front of them, causing the cyclist to crash into the vehicle.
- Right-Hand Accidents: Once again, drivers will often forget to check for cyclists or simply misjudge their position as they make right-hand turns, resulting in them blocking cyclists who proceed to crash into their vehicles. However, the risk of injury is heightened when compared to left-cross accidents because cyclists are expected to keep as far to the right side of traffic as possible.
- Right-Cross Accidents: These accidents occur when a driver does not take the time to check for cyclists before pulling out of a driveway or alley, resulting in a collision at a right angle with a cyclist. Either the vehicle drives into or backs into the cyclist, or the cyclist crashes into the driver who has pulled out in front of them.
- Rear-End Accidents: Just like cars can rear end another one, so too can a motor vehicle rear end a cyclist. Of course, the injuries are often more severe for a cyclist because of the difference in size and protection offered by a car versus a bike.
- Hit-and-Run Accidents: This is perhaps the broadest category of accidents, as it can cover so many collision types and results in the same outcome: a driver fleeing the scene of an accident they caused. Negligence on the part of the motorist is usually the primary cause for this accident, but things such as the influence of alcohol and drugs or a mistaken sense of the cyclist’s position can also be to blame. Regardless, these accidents see motorists flee the scene to avoid the consequences of it, not understanding that this will only worsen the situation, as a cyclist will be left seriously injured by their actions.
Other accidents can occur without a motor vehicle in which another party is liable for a cyclist’s personal injuries. Perhaps someone obstructed a bike path which caused a cyclist to swerve and crash into a tree or fence. This article is focused primarily on cases of bicycle accidents involving motor vehicles, but the principles of bringing a suit against another for your personal injuries will hold true in those cases as well.
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The personal harm that can occur in bicycle accidents are wide ranging, from somewhat minor to catastrophic (including death). Common injuries which are usually apparent after an accident may include any of the following:
- Hand and wrist injuries
- Broken arms and legs
- Elbow fracture
- Joint dislocation
- Spinal cord injury
- Dental and jaw damage
- Spinal cord injury
- Nerve damage
- Traumatic brain injury
- Skin abrasions
Of course, any number of medical conditions can arise from these sorts of accidents, and some are less obvious than others. After every accident you’re in, including bicycle accidents, seek out a medical professional for an examination as soon as possible. It’s important that you are treated properly for any external and internal injuries you might have suffered as a result of your collision.
When considering whether your injuries warrant a lawsuit, remember that a legal professional can assist you in the process. An attorney experienced in personal injury lawsuits will be able to analyze your case and understand which parties in your case are liable for your injuries, and they will help to ensure that you receive proper compensation through negotiations and litigation.
What to Do After a Bicycle Accident
As with any accident, there are some general steps and procedures that you should take in the event of a collision. Knowing these actions and applying them in your case will help to ensure that if you make an insurance claim or must sue a liable party, you will have access to the necessary evidence and information for your case. If you’re ever unsure of how to go about collecting a police report for a lawsuit, don’t hesitate to speak with a legal professional. A lawyer will be able to walk you through the legal process and ensure that you have every resource and opportunity to gain the compensation that you are entitled to.
What Will Insurance Cover in Bicycle Accidents?
When discussing insurance coverage for personal injuries in bicycle accidents, the primary ones considered are health insurance and auto insurance policies, whether those policies belong to the victim, the liable party, or a relative who lives with the victim. These policies will cover the medical expenses and lost wages suffered as a result of a bicycle accident, though they may be subject to limitations and exceptions as listed in the contract. If both a health insurance policy and an auto insurance policy are found to be applicable, then one of them will be the primary payer and the other will cover additional costs beyond the primary payer’s limits.
It may seem strange to consider that an auto insurance policy’s personal injury protection (PIP) benefits would cover a bicycle accident. However, New Jersey courts have frequently interpreted PIP benefits, which can cover the insured in any car accident and are required in all New Jersey auto insurance policies, to be payable even when the insured is not in their vehicle and is simply a pedestrian or utilizing another form of transportation. Pedestrians, as defined in NJ Rev Stat § 39:6A-2, includes cyclists as their bikes are powered by muscle, and this classification has been unquestioned in several personal injury cases.
One such case was Darel v. Pennsylvania Mfrs. Ass’n Ins. Co. The plaintiff cyclist had been injured as a result of swerving to avoid a liable party and had brought a lawsuit against the at-fault party and their insurer, who is the defendant in this case. Darel asked for PIP benefits to be paid to him as a pedestrian injured by the defendant’s client, and the defendant and court both accepted that a cyclist could have PIP benefits paid to them in the event of an auto accident. Martin v. Home Insurance Company v. Unsatisfied Claim and Judgment Fund also recognized that PIP benefits were payable to a cyclist for their medical expenses, whether the funds come from an insurer or the Unsatisfied Claim and Judgment Fund (a government fund which, among other things, reimburses insurers for paying PIP benefits in excess of $75,000).
Do I Have the Right to Sue?
New Jersey is one of a few states which has passed no-fault laws, limiting the right to sue after an auto accident in exchange for PIP benefits, which are payable to the insured regardless of fault or negligence. Normally, these laws would prevent you from suing for non-economic losses unless certain thresholds are met for the injuries you sustain. However, New Jersey uniquely requires that standard auto insurance policies include the right to purchase an unlimited right to sue, which allows you to sue for non-economic losses without limitation.
If you do not have an auto insurance policy that can cover you, whether it belongs to you or a relative in your household, then you generally have the right to sue. This is because you do not have PIP benefits to cover medical expenses regardless of fault, and as such, must seek compensation from liable parties in a bicycle accident. In these cases, the liable party’s PIP benefits will be used to pay for your losses, as seen in Darel v. Pennsylvania Mfrs. Ass’n Ins. Co where the plaintiff sought compensation for injuries they sustained in a bicycle accident from the liable party’s insurance company.
When considering if you are able to sue, take the time to speak with a legal professional. They will be able to review your insurance policies and help you to understand if you have the right to sue, and for what you may sue. This will also allow them a greater insight into your particular case if you choose to hire them as a legal representative during negotiations and litigations.
Determining Liability in a Bicycle Accident
When a personal injury case is brought before a New Jersey court, the court uses what is known as the modified comparative fault model to determine liability. This means that the judge and jury will analyze the actions of the plaintiff and defendant and determine proportional liability between them, with the plaintiff’s compensation reduced by the extent of their liability for the accident. Additionally, the model limits a plaintiff from receiving compensation if they are more than 50% responsible for an accident as determined by the court.
There are several factors that will be considered by a court in determining liability for an accident. Primarily, these relate to the driver’s and cyclist’s negligence and reckless behavior considered as causes for an accident and the injuries sustained. Among those considerations are the following.
–Was either the driver or cyclist negligent in their duties to one another?
Every driver in New Jersey is expected to give cyclists reasonable room to maneuver and react to their actions while on a roadway. This means that a driver must give cyclists in the far right of the roadway a wide berth when passing them, and drivers must also give cyclists ample warning when they plan to make a right hand turn. Negligence in these matters is enhanced if a driver is found to have been texting or otherwise distracted for an improper reason.
By the same principle, cyclists are required to give proper signal of their presence to drivers. A cyclist that was hit by a car after abruptly cycling onto a roadway from an obscured path, for instance, might be found to have not given required warning of their intent and presence. A cyclist who suffered a head injury may also be found liable if they chose to not wear a helmet when cycling at the time of the accident.
–Was the accident a result of human error?
Rather than being necessarily negligent, one or both parties may have made mistaken choices based purely on human error. For instance, a driver may not realize that an obscured biker to their back and right has picked up speed, which will cause the biker to collide with the driver’s car when they make a right turn.
–Was either the driver or cyclist under the influence of alcohol or drugs?
A driver charged with DWI when an accident occurs in the state of New Jersey will face a difficult legal battle, both in criminal court and civil court. However, be aware that the intoxication of a cyclist, while not illegal, will affect the proportional liability of that individual during litigation. Intoxication, whether one is a driver or a cyclist, will weaken one’s ability to operate their chosen transportation effectively, thus increasing the risk of accident and injury for all involved.
–Were both the car and the bicycle properly maintained?
It is the responsibility of every driver and cyclist to ensure that their mode of transportation is properly maintained. If an accident occurs due to a vehicle or bike defect that could have been resolved with preemptive action on the part of the operator, then the court will judge an increased amount of liability for that operator. For example, a broken right turn signal on a car or a lack of lighting on a bike is judged as the fault of the operator due to being a sign of poor maintenance and safety precautions.
–Were there any defects in the car or bike which could not be known to their operator?
At times, a particular defect in an automobile or bike cannot be predicted or discovered by the operator through regular maintenance on their part. These defects may be judged to be the fault of the designers and manufacturers which allowed such defects to remain in the finished product that they created. This means liability for the accident falls to the designers, rather than to the cyclist or driver.
All of this can be an extremely complicated matter for you to consider after an accident, especially if your injuries were severe and you were rushed to receive medical treatment. You will have to rely upon police reports, eyewitness testimony, official depositions, and visual and audio recordings such as street cameras to determine the answers to these questions. Furthermore, multiple parties might be at fault for what has occurred, and you will have to collect information for each of them and negotiate with each liable party for compensation.
Of special note is the possible liability of the government and its employees. Under Title 59, also known as the New Jersey Tort Claims Act, the state and its employees are generally not held to be liable for an injury, whether that injury arises from an act or omission of the state, a state employee, or any other person. This is stated clearly in NJ Rev Stat § 59:2-1.
Exceptions do exist for this general rule. For instance, NJ Rev Stat § 59:4-2 will allow liability of a public employee or entity for injury caused by the condition of public property if a plaintiff can prove four key facts.
- The property was in a dangerous condition.
- The dangerous condition was the proximate cause for injury.
- The dangerous condition created a reasonably foreseeable risk of the injury incurred.
- Either a negligent or wrongful act or omission by a public employee within the scope of their job created the dangerous condition, or the public entity had actual or constructive notice of the dangerous condition with sufficient time before the injury to have taken measures to protect against the dangerous condition.
All of these details must be satisfied in order for liability to be established. This was key in the case of Polzo v. County of Essex, in which the plaintiff’s loved one rode over a depression in a roadway and suffered head injuries that led to her death, despite wearing a helmet. While the depression was proven to be a dangerous condition with a reasonably foreseeable risk that acted as proximate cause for the injury, the plaintiff was unable to prove that the county had sufficient time to have taken measures to protect against it before the injury. As such, the court had to rule against the plaintiff’s claim.
Of course, a legal professional would be able to assist you during this process. An attorney will be able to collect and analyze the necessary information for your case while you are recovering from your injury. Once they do so, they will be able to present your case with the strongest arguments possible for your right to compensation from liable parties.
What Laws Cover Cyclists and Bicycle Accidents?
For the most part, New Jersey covers cyclists under the same laws and regulations as a motor vehicle operator in Title 39. Laws applying specifically to cyclists are covered in Section 4 of Title 39, and for the purposes of personal injury and liability in accidents, the following subsections are most important.
- NJ Rev Stat § 39:4-10: This statute requires that all bicycles be equipped with white front lamps and red rear lamps which are visible up to 500 feet away when operated at night, and it also allows a rider to mount a red reflector to the rear of their bicycle in addition to the red rear lamp. This is meant to give motorists visual signs of the cyclist’s presence with ample opportunity to account for them while driving.
- NJ Rev Stat § 39:4-10.1: This statute requires that anyone under the age of seventeen who rides a bicycle, whether as the primary operator or a passenger, must wear a helmet for their safety. Additionally, in areas where helmets are not required by local ordinances, riders must dismount and walk when crossing a street. Of course, the desire to protect a rider’s head from injury should be extended to all ages, and a rider’s liability for injuries will increase regardless of age if they do not wear a bike.
- NJ Rev Stat § 39:4-11: This statute requires that all bicycles used in the state are equipped with a signal device that is audible up to 100 feet away, but bans the use of a siren or whistle for this purpose. This means the common choice is a bell of some kind, and it is meant to provide an audible warning to other cyclists, drivers, and pedestrians of the cyclist’s presence.
- NJ Rev Stat § 39:4-11.1: This statute requires that all bikes are equipped with a brake that will cause the braked wheels to skid on dry, level, clean pavement. This is meant to ensure that cyclists can stop in a reasonable fashion when necessary.
- NJ Rev Stat § 39:4-12: This statute effectively says that a cyclist must keep their feet and at least one hand on the pedals and handlebars, respectively, at all times. Additionally, it requires that any rider sit upon a regular seat attached to the vehicle with no bike being used for carrying more than its designed and equipped purposes. All of this is to ensure that the cyclist is able to maintain control and balance of their bicycle at all times, while also not putting themselves and others at risk by having multiple individuals riding upon a bike incapable of transporting them correctly.
- NJ Rev Stat § 39:4-14: This statute prohibits a cyclist from hitching their bike or themselves to another vehicle, whether for the purpose of being pulled along or another. Obviously, neither the cyclist nor the driver of the other vehicle would be able to safely control themselves as the former sacrifices control to the driver and the latter cannot directly control the bicycle.
- NJ Rev Stat § 39:4-14.1: This statute states that cyclists are entitled to the same rights and are subject to the same duties as the operator of a motor vehicle.
- NJ Rev Stat § 39:4-14.2: This statute requires that cyclists stay as far to the right of the road as is practical, with certain exceptions for making turns and passing slower vehicles. Additionally, cyclists are expected to keep to a single file when riding except when on paths set aside for cyclists. All of this is meant to provide a structured flow of traffic which helps to ensure that drivers and cyclists alike understand their relative positions and what to expect from one another.
Statistics for Bicycle Accidents
The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety keeps track of fatality statistics for various forms of highway accidents nationwide, including bicyclists. Focusing on 2018 in particular, the data suggests some key facts for cyclists to consider when enjoying their hobby.
First, over 60% of the fatalities in 2018 were experienced while a cyclist was not wearing a helmet. Not all of these fatalities were necessarily due to head injuries. However, the difference is relatively obvious and points to the fact that, in most cases, you are simply safer wearing a helmet than riding without one.
Second, 20% of the fatalities in 2018 occurred when a cyclist was intoxicated, their BAC registering at or over 0.08%. Alcohol and drugs are well-known to have a negative effect on various motor functions and critical judgement, and therefore increase the risk of harm during an accident, even if a victim may only be riding a bicycle from a party back to their house.
Third and finally, bicycle fatalities occurred primarily during the time from 6 p.m. to 6 a.m. each day. More than half (54%) of accidents happened during these hours in which visibility is most likely reduced due to darkness, highlighting the need to maintain your bike’s lighting fixtures and reflectors. Otherwise, a driver may be unable to see you as they drive down a road, resulting in an accident.
Case Study: $1 million for the driver, $450,000 for the passenger
What makes this case unique: No witnesses to the accident; same attorneys represented both the driver and passenger.
Frequently Asked Questions
Unless you need emergency medical treatment, do not leave the scene of the accident until you contact the police and they arrive on the scene. File a report with them, collect information from the drivers and other cyclists involved in the accident, and identify any eyewitnesses to the event besides the parties involved. Once you are done, go to a hospital and have a doctor examine you.
Make sure to note the injuries you sustained, the medical expenses relating to those injuries, and the mental stress the accident has placed upon you.
All of this information will be useful for documenting your claims to both your health and auto insurance providers. If you do not have auto insurance coverage or chose an unlimited right to sue with your auto insurance policy, you will also want this information if you proceed to sue liable parties. Speak with a legal professional and provide them this information, so that they may track down further information for your case and analyze how much compensation you are due to recover in case of litigation.
Various factors come into play when considering the financial value of a bicycle accident. A good starting point is to consider what tangible medical expenses you have faced as a result of your injuries, both direct and indirectly. A hospital bill is an obvious cost of your injury, but what about the lost wages you suffer due to being unable to work? They can also be recovered under PIP benefits or through a personal injury case.
A more difficult value to understand is that of intangible losses, the pain and stress you experience as a result of the injuries. PIP benefits will generally not cover non-economic losses relating to the victim’s ease of mind and freedom from pain, but a jury may decide that these losses are substantial enough to require financial compensation. You should speak with an attorney about the continuing pain you are suffering as a result of your injury and keep a log of it, as it may strengthen the validity and financial resolution of your case.
Finally, your personal liability in an accident will generally reduce the final compensation amount proportionally. This is meant to represent the consequences of your own actions, and it is one of the key reasons that you need an attorney to help highlight how an accident was not truly your fault.
Both for avoiding personal injuries and for avoiding liability in an accident, it’s good to take certain precautions as a cyclist. NHTSA has provided a list of safety guidelines and tips to help cyclists to be safe on the roads. Many of these are simple practices such as wearing a helmet and ensuring that you are wearing a bike appropriate for your age and size. Others encourage you to follow the rules of the road as set by New Jersey’s government for the safe flow of traffic throughout the state.
What Should I Do if I’ve Been Injured in a Bicycle Accident?
If you or a loved one have been injured in a bicycle accident, contact Rosenblum Law for a free, no-obligation consultation today. Our experienced personal injury attorneys can analyze the situation and negotiate the best possible settlement for you. Call 888-815-3649 or email us today.