Many of us that live and work in California enjoy the fitness, financial and/or environmental benefits of cycling. Bicycles are treated as motor vehicles under California law so those who bike have the same rights and responsibilities of those who drive cars, trucks, SUVs and other motor vehicles. When a bicycle enthusiast is involved in a collision with a passenger vehicle, the potential for catastrophic injuries and even wrongful death is extremely high. Bicycles do not have the speed and handling of a passenger vehicle so it can be challenging for a bicyclist to take effective evasive action to avoid a collision. This means that bicycles are both more vulnerable to being involved in motor vehicle collisions, and that when collisions involving cyclists happen, the injuries are typically significant because cyclists have no protection from the impact of a motor vehicle weighing several tons.
California a Particularly Dangerous State for Bicycle Accidents
There were over 53,000 bicyclists injured and 630 people who died in the U.S. during the most recent year that data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) is available. California is particularly dangerous for cyclists as our state accounted for 109 bicycle related fatalities and almost 12,000 injuries during the same year. In other words, California accounted for 17 percent of all bicycle accident related fatalities in the U.S. and 22 percent of all bicycle accident fatalities. The frequency of bicycle accidents continue to rise as the growing popularity of cycling in California outpaces bicycle safety improvements on California streets and roadways. The number of bicyclists injured in California bicycle accidents has increased by nearly 1,500 people per year during a recent five (5) year period.
Understanding Negligence and Liability in California Bicycle-Vehicle Collisions
Anyone that regularly cycles throughout Northern California or Southern California knows that many passenger vehicle drivers do not respect the rights of cyclists to equally share the roadways. Drivers often fail to pay adequate attention to their surroundings and view cyclists as an annoying nuisance that disrupts the flow of traffic rather than a motor vehicle that shares the same rights and privileges of passenger vehicles. Inattentive and inconsiderate motorists or other negligent parties typically engage in a range of unsafe practices that can result in catastrophic injury for California bicycle enthusiasts including:
- Failing to check blind spots when making lane changes
- Turning directly in front of a bicyclist and cutting off the rider’s path
- Potholes on roadways and bike lanes not repaired by a government entity
- Opening car doors without checking for bicyclists
- Defective bicycles or negligent bicycle repair
- Poorly maintained bike paths
- Dogs charging toward bicyclists
- Vehicles that sideswipes bikes when traveling too close to bike lanes or the shoulder
Insurance companies have a vast supply of resources and will often try to claim that an injured cyclist is responsible for his/her own injuries. Some common defense claims made by insurance companies in California bicycle accident cases to shift blame to a cyclists includes:
- Failure to keep to the far enough to the right: The insurance company may allege that you were not riding on the shoulder or in a provided bike lane. However, an experienced California bicycle accident lawyer may negate such a claim because of vehicles parked in the bike lane, potholes or other defects that made the bike lane unsafe for riders.
- Improper Lighting: An insurance carrier for a motorist that collides with a California bicycle enthusiast from behind may claim that the bike was not visible because it did not have proper lighting. Even if you did not have proper lighting on your bike that does not necessarily preclude recovery for your injuries though it may result in a reduction in the amount of the damages awarded. It is important to contact an experienced California bicycle accident lawyer promptly so that your right to financial recovery can be properly evaluated.
- Failure to Wear a Bicycle Helmet: The insurance company may claim that your compensation should be reduced if you are not wearing a bicycle helmet. While comparative negligence may result in a reduction in compensation based on a cyclist’s percentage of fault for the rider’s own injuries, California law does not provide that failure to wear a bicycle helmet constitutes comparative negligence.
Fighting Insurance Companies for the Full Value of California Bicycle Accident Claims
Many California bicycle accident victims believe that they can effectively handle their own personal injury claim without the assistance of an experienced California bicycle attorney. When an unrepresented California bicycle accident victim tries to settle directly with an insurance company, the insurance company has a distinct advantage. The insurance company may have dealt with hundreds of thousands of claims so the insurance provider has the resources, experience and skill to exploit a party that is not represented by a qualified California bike accident lawyer. The insurance provider knows that an unrepresented party will virtually never prevail when taking a case to court. Without the threat of protracted litigation and trial, the insurance company may stall settlement to increase the financial pressure on a bicycle accident victim. Most parties that do not have a California bicycle accident lawyer on their side end up settling their claims for less than the full compensation to which they are entitled.
If you are hit by a bicycle, you may suffer injuries that can vary from mild to life-threatening, which may include the following:
- Compound fractures and bone crush injuries of the arms, shoulder, legs or ribs
- Abrasions and lacerations
- Closed head injuries from minor concussions to traumatic brain injuries
- Spinal cord and slipped disc injuries
- Dislocation of joints
- Road rash
- Paralysis (quadriplegia/paraplegia)
- Dismemberment or amputation of limbs
Because California bicycle accidents tend to result in severe debilitating injuries for California bicycle collision victims, you should promptly seek the services of an experienced California bicycle accident law firm. A California bicycle accident lawyer may be able to seek both out-of-pocket and intangible forms of damages and loss, including expenses associated with medical care, past/present/future lost earnings, bicycle repair, emotional distress, pain and suffering, impairment of life experience, punitive (exemplary) damages and/or other forms of compensation based on the specific facts and circumstances of your California bicycle collision.
California bicycle accident lawyers understand the devastating toll of suffering a sudden debilitating injury. A bicycle accident lawyer can provide careful investigation of the facts, thorough analysis of the law, effective negotiation with insurance companies and persuasive courtroom advocacy. A California bicycle accident attorney also can answer your questions and advise you regarding your legal rights and remedies.