As a bicycle rider, there are many dangers and risks when sharing the road with unaware and negligent motor vehicle drivers. However, there is one particular situation that is difficult to foresee or avoid once it is happening. Dooring bicycle accidents are sudden and can result in serious, if not fatal, injuries to a cyclist that is the victim of one. While insurance companies and the party at fault may try to deflect liability in any way possible, the reality is that these accidents are most often the fault of the party opening the door into the street.
Dooring is a severe threat to bicyclists, and many drivers, as well as vehicle occupants, are unaware that such a simple action can end in tragedy and have significant ramifications for the victim. Although a door-related accident can happen anywhere, it is most common in city and suburban environments where vehicles are likely to parallel park on the roadways and adjacent to sidewalks.
While aware of the threat of dooring when traveling near parked cars, it is not always possible for bicyclists to anticipate when the risk is present or avoid a collision once they identify a high-risk situation ahead. In most of these circumstances, the cause of a dooring bicycle accident is the driver or occupant of the parked vehicle.
The Duty of Care Lies on the Party Opening the Door
Opening the door and getting out of the vehicle for many drivers and vehicle occupants is instinctual and automatic. Few people take the time to properly observe their surroundings and potential problems before they walk out of their car. When parked on a busy, traffic-filled street, it is more likely a party will take a moment to make sure it is safe, but looking for a bicyclist is not always on their radar.
Conversely, when vehicle occupants open their doors onto a sidewalk, they are more likely to do so recklessly. From this position, car occupants tend to feel more at ease as they know there is little chance that a vehicle can strike them. Once again, they are not commonly concerned with what problems or risks their actions can cause but whether they are in danger.
When it comes to dooring accidents, just as many other accidents leading to injury, the law that applies is that of personal injury. The decision of fault and liability in bike accident cases lies in the definition of negligence and whether the actions of the party causing the injuries amount to negligence, making them liable for the damages of the victim.
To establish negligence in a dooring bicycle accident, a victim must prove:
- A defendant owed you a duty of care. It may not be something most drivers think about, but how you enter and exit your vehicle can create dangers for those around you. Drivers and other vehicle occupants must ensure that no bicyclists, pedestrians, or other vehicles are in the right of way.
- A defendant breached the duty of care. All vehicle occupants have a duty of care to exit a vehicle safely. Any party, whether the driver, an underage occupant, or another passenger that opens a door into the road must do so with care for others. Any action of any party opening a door into a right of way that does not account for the safety of others can breach the duty of care when exiting the car. Dooring a bicyclist is evidence of that breach of the duty of care.
- A victim suffers injuries. If you sustain any injuries, however minor, you may think they might not meet the element when establishing negligence. There is no requirement for the severity of an injury, only that you, as the bicycle victim, have suffered some harm.
- Your injuries are because the other party violates their duty of care. To establish the final element of proving negligence in a dooring accident, you must show the causation of your injuries. For the facts of the case to amount to negligence, it must be the violation of the defendant’s duty of care in opening their door that ultimately leads to your injuries and subsequent damages in the case.
Avoiding the Door Zone Is Not Always Possible
You may wonder how insurance companies and at-fault parties might try to reduce their liability in dooring cases. The answer is the door zone. Bicyclists understand the dangers that a door can present while traveling on their bicycles, and they try their best to avoid it, except that is not always possible. The door zone is the space a door might impose onto a sidewalk or roadway. Unfortunately, not every car is the same, and engineers did not design most roads and sidewalks with bicycle safety in mind.
While avoiding the door zone might sound easy when insurance companies and negligent drivers try to avoid liability, the reality is that door zones are complex, and, in most instances, avoiding them is impossible.
For example, narrow sidewalks, bike paths that run adjacent to parked vehicles, and heavy traffic can make it unreasonable to think that a bicycle rider can hop over whenever they see a parked vehicle ahead. Trying to get out of the door zone can further endanger bicyclists if they creep into the next lane with cars present or the path of unsuspecting pedestrians on a sidewalk. It is the burden and duty of a driver and vehicle occupants to take the time to check for a clear opening before exiting their vehicle.
The Potential Deadly Consequences of a Dooring Accident
Bicycling is a popular mode of transportation and recreation that can get you around much faster than walking. Most average commuter bicyclists will move at a speed of 10 to 15 miles per hour.
However, more avid cyclists and those training for sport and racing can frequently reach speeds above 20 miles per hour. In some instances, particularly in city traffic, bicyclists are moving with traffic at similar rates. When an unexpected obstacle jumps into their path, it can be difficult for a bicyclist to avoid. Doors that fling open into a bicyclist’s path and right of way can wreak destruction on the bicycle and the rider.
The speed at which bicycle riders move leaves them little wiggle room to maneuver out of the way of danger from an open door. Most dooring accidents transpire in a matter of seconds. When bicyclists collide with an open door, they meet a static object with the full force of the speed at which they are traveling.
In most cases, the cyclist will get thrown from the bicycle into the pavement, oncoming vehicles, or solid structures nearby. The momentum behind the accident can throw the bicycle riders many feet into the air and far down the road. The bicyclist may suffer injuries from the initial impact of their bicycle into the door and then risk life-threatening injuries as they hit the asphalt or become involved in a secondary collision with another vehicle that cannot stop in time.
Most Common Injuries in a Dooring Accident
The force of a bicycle dooring accident is significant and likely to cause multiple injuries rather than an isolated injury. Bicycle dooring accident injuries can result in hospitalization, surgery, rehabilitation or, in some cases, may have fatal consequences. The injuries from a bicycle accident can leave a victim with permanent damage and potentially lifelong disabilities.
This can affect how you function, meet your daily responsibilities and enjoy your life and relationships. While bicycle safety gear can help reduce the severity of injuries in certain accidents, the reality is that when a high-force collision occurs, even those safety measures such as helmets can fail, and life-threatening injuries can still happen.
Studies show the most common injuries to a bicycle accident victim can include:
- Traumatic brain injuries
- Spinal cord injuries
- Bone fractures, including the skull, spine, and ribs
- Internal injuries to the chest and abdomen
- Injuries to the extremities, including the arms and legs
- Facial injuries
- Road rash
Who is Responsible for Your Injuries After a Dooring Crash?
The cause of most dooring accidents is the party opening the vehicle door into a bicyclist’s path. However, liability for the accident and your damages can go beyond just that individual. Unlike a collision between a bicyclist and a moving vehicle where the driver often bears liability, in a dooring accident, anyone in the car could cause the accident and injuries.
It could even be a child that opens a door causing an accident with a bicyclist. This can create unique liability scenarios for a bicycle accident dooring victim seeking compensation for their losses. For example, a bicycle accident attorney can help you navigate the aftermath of a dooring accident to identify who may be liable for your losses.
Can You File an Insurance Claim for a Dooring Accident as a Bicyclist?
The primary path for you as a dooring victim likely is to seek compensation through the vehicle’s insurance coverage. Vehicle liability insurance applies to the motor vehicle involved in the accident, not necessarily the party at fault.
While the party that caused the accident may be personally liable for your damages, the most likely approach to fighting for the compensation you need will be through the insurance company when coverage is available. Additionally, if the driver uses the vehicle for commercial activity such as a rideshare or delivery service, then you may pursue compensation through commercial liability coverage.
Will You Need a Lawyer to Help You With Your Dooring Accident Claim or Case?
As a victim of a dooring accident, you might be facing overwhelming medical costs and extended recovery from your injuries. Taking care of your living expenses, medical bills, and any family you may support is likely at the top of your concerns following a bicycle accident. An insurance company might try to offer you a settlement early on, but you should not take it without first consulting with and hiring a bicycle accident attorney.
A bicycle dooring accident can cause extensive damage, and knowing what your case is worth and what losses you can seek as part of an insurance claim are vital to getting the compensation you deserve. A bicycle accident lawyer will represent your interests, negotiate your claim, and manage your case while navigating insurance companies and the parties at fault. They will fight on your behalf for the best possible solution that favors you and compensates you for as much of your losses as possible.
When Might I Need to File a Lawsuit in a Dooring Accident Against the Party Responsible?
Most dooring accident cases will result in successful negotiations and resolution through a settlement. However, in some cases, a successful settlement is not possible or is not in your best interest. If an insurance company refuses to accept liability for a dooring accident, does not offer a reasonable settlement, or disputes vital facts of the accident or your injuries, you may need to file a lawsuit in court.
Lawsuits are possible in any personal injury case, but it is often in all parties’ interest to avoid a trial when they can. However, there are situations when a trial is unavoidable, and it may be to your benefit and interest for the court to decide the outcome of your case. Contact a bicycle accident attorney who can help advise you throughout the insurance claims process and inform you if and when a lawsuit is the next possible step in your case.