I still remember my first bicycle, my parents gave it to me when I was 4 or 5. I remember pedaling around with my trusty training wheels. I eventually was able to take off the training wheels and cruise around the neighborhood. As a kid, the sense of freedom that a bicycle gave me was immeasurable. However, after my training wheels were removed, I was only formally taught a few basic things about riding my bike, wear a helmet and watch out for cars. Because many people on bikes are never taught the rules of the road, there is a lot of misinformation, especially who is responsible when a car and bike collide.
Assumptions That Cause Injuries
A common question we receive at our law office is, “I was riding on the sidewalk when I was hit a car, can I sue for medical expenses?” Before we can answer the question, let’s create a scenario to understand how a bike on a sidewalk could collide with a car. Let’s say a vehicle unexpectedly exits a driveway causing a person riding their bike on the sidewalk to t-bone the car.
Drivers are trained to check for slow moving people walking on the sidewalk, and faster-moving motor vehicles traveling on the roadway before exiting a driveway. Because a bicycle travels much faster than a person walking, a driver may: not see the bicyclist, underestimate the speed of the cyclist, or believes the cyclist sees the car and will give the vehicle exiting the driveway the right-of-way. The person riding their bike on the sidewalk may not be able to see the car exiting the driveway, or they believe the driver will give the person using the sidewalk the right-of-way.
In this scenario, both parties may assume they had the right-of-way which leads to the dispute about who was at fault for the injury. The driver of the vehicle may accuse the cyclist because they were riding on the sidewalk. Likewise, the bicyclist may blame the driver for pulling out in front of them, cutting off their path.
Collisions And Comparative Negligence
In New York State we have a concept called “comparative negligence.” A person’s negligence, no matter how great, will not
prohibit them from seeking monetary compensation. However, the damages (money) they can receive will be reduced in proportion to their own negligence.
So, if a jury (or judge) decides that a bicycle rider on the sidewalk who is hit by a car and injured is 50% at fault (and the driver is also 50% at fault), the bicycle rider would only receive 50% of the value of their injuries and losses in a lawsuit.
Here is a real-world example: In a recent decision from the Supreme Court of New York County, A.V. v. City of New York, the court held that the driver of a car that struck a child riding the wrong way on a one-way street could be found liable by a jury. The court stated that a driver of a vehicle has a duty: “to see what should be seen and to exercise reasonable care under the circumstances to avoid an accident.” It also stated that under Vehicle & Traffic Law § 1146: “Every driver of a vehicle shall exercise due care to avoid colliding with any bicycle, pedestrian, or domestic animal upon any roadway and shall give a warning by sounding the horn when necessary.”
The driver of the car stated that he did not see the child on the bicycle before colliding with him. The court denied the driver’s request to dismiss the claim because the child broke the law by riding the wrong way on the one-way street. The court held that a jury would have to decide on the amount of negligence of the driver as well as that amount of negligence of the child.
Stay Safe: Act Like A Car
New York Bicycling Coalition, a bicycle advocacy organization, states that people on bikes fare best when they act like motor vehicles.
Cyclists should follow a few basic rules:
Follow The Law– Riding in the correct direction, obeying all traffic signals.
Be Predictable– Ride in a straight line, do not swerve between the parked cars and the traffic lane, stay out of the “door zone”, look and signal before changing lanes or making a turn.
Be Visible- Wear bright reflective clothing, use white and red lights and reflectors (especially if traveling at dusk or at night)
Check Your Surroundings- Ride without headphones, scan for debris or broken road, be aware of and anticipate the behavior of pedestrians and vehicles around you
As for drivers of motor vehicles:
Eyes and attention on the Road- When driving turn down your radio, put your phones and technology away.
Check Before Opening Your Door– If a cyclist is riding in the bike lane and you could inadvertently “door” the cyclist.
Give 3ft Passing Distance- Passing too close cause a cyclist to crash. If necessary wait to pass a cyclist until you have at least 3ft to pass.
Be Patient- Bicycles are slower than cars, however they do have the right to ride on most roads with cars.
Mark Schneider and Drew Palcsik are the lawyers at Schneider & Palcsik, Injury Lawyers. For more information, (518) 566-6666 and Northcountrylaw.com