Riding to and from work on a bike is becoming a common and environmentally-friendly alternative to driving alone or carpooling. Students as well use bikes to reliably get to school or to simply get around their local 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.
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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 that 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 bicycle accidents can occur without involving a motor vehicle, and in which another party is liable for a cyclist’s personal injuries. Perhaps someone obstructed a bike path which caused a bike rider 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 these cases as well.
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
- 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, do not be afraid 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, under Article 51 of New York law, the state requires that PIP benefits cover the insured in any auto accident even if they are not operating a vehicle at the time. Additionally, PIP benefits will cover the personal injuries of any pedestrians injured by the insured in an accident, and cyclists are generally considered pedestrians.
Do I Have the Right to Sue?
New York 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. Exceptions are provided in the case of an accident passing what is known as the serious injury threshold.
In general, serious injuries include things such as significant disfigurement, compound fractures, significant or permanent limitations of bodily functions or organs, or full disability for 90 days. These are considered as carrying significant non-economic losses, which are not covered by PIP benefits and, therefore, can’t be compensated by them. For this reason, exceptions are allowed for pursuing lawsuits against at-fault parties to recover compensation for them.
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 available to cover your medical expenses regardless of fault, and as such, you 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.
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
Under NY CPLR § 1411, the New York court system uses a pure comparative fault model to judge liability and determine compensation. 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. Even if a plaintiff is 99% responsible for an accident, they can still receive 1% of the compensation for their medical expenses and non-economic losses.
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 York 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 if 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 York 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 the 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 matter of a bicycle accident which involves liability on the part of the state and local governments. Under the Court of Claims Act, New York has given up its right as a state to sovereign immunity, allowing personal injury suits to be brought against it as if it were an individual or corporation. However, the state and local governments may argue qualified immunity to liability when government entities and public employees are engaged in government functions, and a court will be required to make a decision on the matter.
Take, for instance, the case of Turturro v. City of New York. The plaintiff was injured by a driver on a Brooklyn roadway that the city had received numerous, repeated complaints of speeding on. The lower court apportioned 40% of the blame to the city government, as they had failed to take adequate measures to curtail the issue of speeding on that roadway. The city government asked for a dismissal of the verdict based on the argument that they were acting in a governmental capacity when their failure occurred and thus were entitled to qualified immunity.
The Court of Appeals denied this motion, stating that the acts were within the field of roadway design and safety, and the city was acting in a proprietary capacity. Such a capacity would not grant qualified immunity. Additionally, it further ruled that, even if it was an act within governmental capacity, there was a rational process through which the jury could have concluded that the city’s negligence was the proximate cause of the accident, invalidating the doctrine of qualified immunity. Therefore, the city was liable for the injuries of the plaintiff.
Wittorf v. City of New York is another case of interest, in which a plaintiff was injured when riding his bike on a roadway closed to vehicular traffic for repairs. The plaintiff received permission to use the roadway from a Department of Transportation supervisor and filed a personal injury suit against the City of New York based on the negligence of that supervisor in allowing him to enter. The city argued that the supervisor was engaged in a governmental function when he closed the roadway, and therefore, the city was immune from liability.
The Court of Appeals, after considering the matter, held that the jury was not prevented from finding the supervisor negligent in carrying out the proprietary function of road maintenance. Even if the failure to repair the defect itself was not a liable offense for the city, the courts could still judge that the supervisor’s neglect was the proximate cause and find in favor of awarding damages to the plaintiff.
Of course, an experienced attorney would be able to assist you with the various legal considerations associated with a bicycle accident. He/she 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?
Generally speaking, cycling regulations are covered under Section 7 of New York’s Vehicle and Traffic (VAT) law, with Article 34 setting specific guidelines and principles to be followed by cyclists. NY Veh & Traf L § 1231 states that all traffic laws, rights, and duties shall apply to cyclists as they apply to motorists with the exception of special provisions in Article 34 and of any provision which has no application to cyclists.
Beyond that statement of general principles, there are many particular requirements set by New York for motorists and cyclists alike in order to maintain the safety of state roadways. These are spread across the VAT law, and it can be difficult to find what laws apply to your particular situation for determining liability. The following list is a consolidation and summary of those requirements and their statutes.
- NY Veh & Traf L § 102-A and NY Veh & Traf L § 102-B: These laws define what bicycle paths and lanes are, highlighting that they are intended for cyclist use. These terms come up in later statutes on where a cyclist should and shouldn’t be.
- NY Veh & Traf L § 375 24-a: No cyclist may wear more than one earphone at a time while on a public highway.
- NY Veh & Traf L § 1120 and NY Veh & Traf L § 1122: These laws normally require that all motorists drive on the right of the road unless they attempt to pass a cyclist. When passing cyclists on the right half of the roadway, motorists should cross to the left half when it is safe and accelerate to pass the cyclist. This is meant to put space between the cyclist and motorist to ensure the safety of both.
- NY Veh & Traf L § 1123: This law provides certain exceptions to the requirement that a motorist passes on the left of a cyclist. These are primarily when the passed cyclist is making a left turn or when the cyclist and motorist are on a one-way street where the path is wide enough for more than one line of moving vehicles. Of course, a motorist must be certain that they are able to have sufficient space for concerns of safety.
- NY Veh & Traf L § 1146: This law requires that drivers exercise due care to prevent collisions with cyclists and to use their horn when necessary to announce their presence. This generally means that it is more appropriate to give right of way to a cyclist to avoid a collision. Anyone found to cause physical injury to a cyclist by failure to exercise due care shall be guilty of a traffic infraction which may be punished with a fine, imprisonment, mandatory accident prevention course, or license revocation. In addition, the lack of due care will be considered the proximate cause of injury for determining liability.
- NY Veh & Traf L § 1214: This statute is the formal regulation regarding dooring accidents, stating that no motorist or passenger should open their door until they have checked for cyclists and pedestrians and made sure they will not harm them by opening the door.
- NY Veh & Traf L § 1232: Cyclists must ride on a permanent seat, with both feet on the pedals, and cannot have more passengers than what their bike was designed and equipped to handle.
- NY Veh & Traf L § 1234: This law mandates that cyclists must use provided bicycle lanes when on roadways, and if no such lane is provided, they must stay as close to a right-hand curb as reasonably possible or on top of it if possible. However, in New York City, this law is replaced by 34 RCNY 4-02 (e), and you will need to refer to the New York City regulations further down for its particular guidelines.
- NY Veh & Traf L § 1234(b): When cycling on roadways, cyclists are not allowed to ride more than two abreast to maintain sufficient space. (Note: The term “two abreast” refers to two bike riders traveling side by side.) When on shoulders, bicycle lanes, and bicycle paths, cyclists may ride more than two abreast if there is sufficient space. In all situations, when being overtaken by a vehicle, cyclists must move to a single file to give sufficient space.
- NY Veh & Traf L § 1234(c): All cyclists must come to a full stop before entering a roadway from a private road, driveway, alley, or over a curb.
- NY Veh & Traf L § 1235: Cyclists cannot carry any items which will prevent them keeping one hand on the handlebars at all times.
- NY Veh & Traf L § 1236(a) and (b): These statutes require that every bicycle operated one-half hour after sunset and one-half hour before sunrise have two lamps on them, one with white light on the front and one with red or amber light on the back, which can be seen from 500 feet in front or behind and 200 feet to the sides. Additionally, they must be equipped with some form of audible signal device, such as a bell, which can be heard from one hundred feet away, though cyclists are restricted from using sirens or whistles.
- NY Veh & Traf L § 1236(c), (d), and (e): All bikes must have brakes which allow the operator to make the braked wheels skid sufficiently. All bikes must also have either reflective tires or reflex reflectors, the latter being colorless or amber on the front wheel and colorless or red on the back wheel.
- NY Veh & Traf L § 1238: Children under age one are not allowed to ride bicycles, those under the age of five must wear an approved helmet and be carried in a child carrier, and those under fourteen must wear an approved helmet.
Additionally, local governments in New York are allowed to regulate cycling with their own measures. New York City is a good example of this practice as the New York City Administrative Code and the Rules of the City of N.Y. (RCNY) have several statutes superseding state laws or applying specialized regulations for cycling in the city. 34 RCNY 4-01 states that all provisions and rules set by the city’s Department of Traffic shall apply to cyclists as well as motorists. The most applicable can be summarized as follows.
- N.Y.C. Admin. Code §§ 19-176: No bike shall be ridden on sidewalks, unless there is a sign permitting it or that bike has solid tires and is intended to be used only by children who are under 14. A cyclist who violates this rule may have their bicycle confiscated and face legal sanction, the severity of which increases if the violation endangered others or property.
- N.Y.C. Admin. Code §§ 19-190: This statute establishes the civil penalties that a motorist may face for failing to yield to a cyclist who has the right of way, and these penalties may be in addition to the penalties imposed by a traffic violation or misdemeanor.
- 34 RCNY 4-07 (c) (3): Cyclists are not allowed to bike on sidewalks, unless a sign allows it, or the rider is age 12 or younger with wheels less than 26 inches in diameter.
- 34 RCNY 4-11 (c): Taxis may not pick up or discharge passengers within a bicycle lane.
- 34 RCNY 4-12 (c): No person shall exit a vehicle from the road-facing side in a way that interferes with the rights of a cyclist.
- 34 RCNY 4-12 (p)(1-3): Unless preparing for a turn or avoiding a hazard, cyclists are expected to use provided bicycle lanes, and motorists are not to drive on or across them unless necessary. On one-way roads that are at least 40 feet apart, cyclists may ride as near as is reasonable to either the left or right curb or edge of the road as long as bicycles are not prohibited from using said roadway.
- 34 RCNY 4-13 (e): Cyclists must have one hand on their handlebars at all times while cycling.
- 34 RCNY 4-14 (c): Bikes are not to be ridden in parks except in areas designated for riding, and cyclists may push bikes in single file to and from such places unless they are on a beach or boardwalk.
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.
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 an attorney and provide them with 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 under 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 set by New York 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.