Ride a bicycle long enough, and you will come close to an accident with a motor vehicle. If you’re lucky, that’s all it will be, a close call. But for tens of thousands of cyclists in the United States every year, there’s no near miss. An accident happens, and they get injured seriously, and some fatally injured.
One way to avoid becoming a bicycle accident statistic is to learn how those accidents happen so that you can spot and (hopefully) avoid dangerous situations while riding. Here’s a review of the most common types of bicycle accidents and of how an experienced bicycle accident injury lawyer can help you if, despite your best efforts, you end up injured in a crash.
Bicycle Accidents Involving Vehicle Collisions
Many injury-causing and fatal bicycle accidents involve collisions between bikes and motor vehicles. According to the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA), recent crashes between bicycles and motor vehicles took the lives of 846 cyclists and injured an estimated 49,000. Let’s take a look at how those crashes commonly occur.
Vehicle Turns or Merges Into Bicycle’s Path
Many bicycle accidents happen when a car, truck, or bus turns or merges into the lane occupied by a motorcycle, resulting in a head-on or angular collision. Often, the motor vehicle driver never saw a bicyclist directly in their line of sight.
According to psychologists, that might be so—a quirk of how the brain works that they call inattentional blindness can result in a driver failing to recognize and register a bicycle in plain sight. The resulting collision will often be incredibly violent because the rider had little or no warning of the need to slow down before the vehicle turned into the bike’s path.
Vehicle Traveling Straight Hits or Clips Bicycle
Bike crashes frequently occur when a motor vehicle traveling in a straight line sideswipes a bicycle in the same or opposite direction. Even when the vehicle barely clips the bicycle, this can be a catastrophic accident for the cyclist because a vehicle usually travels at a relatively high speed. The bicyclist either loses control or gets completely thrown off the saddle, suffering severe injuries.
Invariably, car, truck, and bus drivers bear most blame for these accidents. The road rules require them to leave plenty of room between their vehicles and bicycles when passing and to pass at responsible speeds so as not to put the cyclist in danger. On most roads (excluding limited access highways), bicyclists also have the right to occupy a full lane, just as any other vehicle might. Still, drivers too often try to overtake them in the same lane, leading to a crash.
Bicycle Collides With Open Vehicle Door
Bicyclists who ride in urban areas or anywhere else where cars park parallel to a curb also face extreme danger from so-called dooring accidents. Dooring happens when a vehicle driver or passenger on the street-side of the vehicle opens a door directly into the path of a bicyclist (most often, a bicyclist approaching from behind the vehicle). The bicyclist has no warning or chance to stop and collides at full speed with the open door. It’s an accident that routinely results in catastrophic injuries.
Doorings are 100 percent avoidable. Most can be prevented by teaching vehicle occupants to open doors using the Dutch Reach (so-named because it’s the law in the Netherlands, an avid bicycling nation). By reaching across their bodies to open a car door with their far hand, occupants turn their heads and shoulders enough to make it easy to spot a bicycle coming up from behind the car and avoid opening the door at the wrong moment.
Not all bicycle accidents involve a collision with a vehicle. But just because a bicycle crashes without hitting a vehicle first does not mean the bicyclist is to blame. Here are some ways that single-bike accidents commonly occur.
Near Misses With Vehicles Can Cause Crashes
Drivers of cars, trucks, buses, and other motor vehicles can cause a bicycle accident without colliding with a bicycle. A near miss, alone, can trigger the bicycle to crash.
For example, passing a bicycle too close or at high speed, even without striking it, can easily lead to a bicycle crash by startling the rider or buffeting the bike with the wind. Similarly, turning or pulling out in front of a bicycle, or opening a door into a bike’s path, will frequently cause the rider to lose control by braking too hard or swerving into traffic or off the road. No collision happens, but the bike crash is still the driver’s fault.
Bicycle Crashes Because of Hazardous Roads
As we mentioned above, except for riding on limited-access highways, bicyclists have the same rights to use public roads as anyone else. But that doesn’t mean that all roads are safe for bicycling. Sometimes, that’s obvious, such as visible potholes. But often, the design of the road itself or someone’s failure to warn riders about a new road hazard will put a rider in danger.
For example, a study by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) found that poorly designed bike lanes, such as those with too many junctions or too few barriers between riders and vehicle traffic, can increase bicycle accident injury risks. Likewise, the failure to maintain clear bike lanes free of gravel, debris, or surface defects like potholes and large cracks in the pavement, can and do lead to cyclists getting into serious accidents.
Defective Bike Equipment Triggers a Crash
The quality of bicycles and bicycle equipment varies widely. The bike you buy at a big box store and assemble on your own won’t give you the precise ride and smooth gear shifting of a $5,000 brand-name ride sold at a high-end bicycle retailer. But that doesn’t mean one bike is necessarily safer than the other or that the amount of money you spend on a bike will predict the likelihood of getting into an accident.
Any bicycle can put you at risk of getting into an accident if its frame, connections, or components contain dangerous defects. If a weld fails, a chain slips, an inner tube blows, or a brake cable snaps under normal riding conditions, chances rise exponentially that the bicyclist will crash and get hurt. Often, those failures are the fault of a shoddy design and production process that the manufacturer could have, and should have, avoided.
What do these bicycle accidents have in common?
Reading through the descriptions of accidents above, you may have noticed a common theme. Many—we’d even venture to say most—bicycle accidents have a contributing cause linked to the dangerous decisions and actions of someone other than the bicyclist. That’s because, once you get the hang of it, riding a bicycle is pretty easy and safe. It becomes dangerous when others fail to treat bicyclists with the same respect and care as any other road user.
This brings us to the second point of commonality among the accidents listed above. Bicyclists who get into these accidents frequently have substantial legal rights to demand financial compensation for the injuries the driver or other at-fault party caused. And to obtain that compensation, those cyclists can benefit from hiring an experienced bicycle accident injury attorney.
How Bicycle Accident Injury Attorneys Help Injured Cyclists
A bicycle accident injury attorney’s primary job is to handle all aspects of the process of securing financial compensation for a bicyclist who got injured in an accident. Of course, money can’t take away the trauma, pain, and inconvenience of a bike accident injury. But it can help the cyclist pay for care, avoid financial ruin, and achieve a measure of justice for the harm done by someone else’s wrongful conduct.
The steps an attorney takes for an injured bicyclist will vary depending on the circumstances of the crash and the bicyclist’s individual needs and priorities.d
For that reason, a skilled bicycle accident injury lawyer will have the familiarity with bicycling and bike accident law necessary to provide a wide range of legal services, such as:
- Investigating the root cause of a bicycle accident by locating and gathering evidence, interviewing witnesses, and (when necessary) working with experts who can delve deep into the details to determine what happened.
- Identifying the party or parties whose wrongful actions and legal duties make them liable to the injured bicyclist for money damages.
- Answering questions the injured bicyclist has about their rights and options and advising the bicyclist on how to make essential decisions in the wake of an injury-causing accident.
- Preparing and pursuing insurance claims, lawsuits, and other legal actions demanding financial compensation for the bicyclist’s injuries.
- Representingand protecting the bicyclist’s interests in interactions with insurance adjusters, official investigators, media, and others who inquire about the accident.
- If possible, negotiate with insurance companies and defense lawyers to achieve a favorable settlement of an injured bicyclist’s claims.
- Arguing the bicyclist’s case in courts before judges and juries.
- Collecting money due to the injured bicyclist under insurance agreements or through settlements, judgments, or jury awards.
Most bicycle accident attorneys will take these steps for an injured cyclist client without charging a penny in up-front fees. Instead, they typically represent their clients on a contingent fee basis, a fee arrangement in which the injured cyclist only pays for the attorney’s legal services if the attorney’s efforts result in financial compensation for the cyclist’s injuries and losses. The lawyer only gets paid, in other words, if the cyclist gets paid.
Protect Your Rights After a Bicycle Accident
The steps bicyclists take after getting into an accident can affect their legal and financial rights. Following the tips below can strengthen the chances that an injured cyclist will receive fair compensation for the harm done to them in a crash.
Seek Medical Care
A bike accident is a sudden, traumatic event. It sets hearts racing and adrenaline surging. Bicyclist victims may not always feel or comprehend the severity of their injuries immediately. But that does not mean they haven’t gotten seriously hurt.
That’s why it’s critical always to seek medical care after any bicycle accident, even if you initially felt “ok” or think you escaped the crash with minor bumps and scrapes. Some potentially life-threatening injuries do not exhibit symptoms right away but will worsen if not treated promptly by a qualified medical professional.
So, if you recently got into a bike accident and haven’t seen a doctor, consider dropping what you’re doing and getting a checkup immediately. This protects your health and safeguards your legal rights by creating a clear record of your injuries and how they happened.
Do Not Agree to a Formal or Informal Settlement Without First Getting Legal Advice
It’s not uncommon for the parties at-fault for bicycle accidents (especially drivers) and their insurance companies to try to minimize their liability to an injured bicyclist by offering a quick financial settlement.
Drivers might offer cash on-the-spot to injured cyclists to avoid involving insurance companies or law enforcement. And auto liability insurance companies have been known to reach out directly to cyclist victims with formal settlement offers that, at first blush, can seem very generous.
Never agree to any of these offers without consulting with an experienced bicycle accident attorney. Doing so could jeopardize your legal rights (and, in the case of a cash offer from a driver, may even be illegal). An attorney can quickly evaluate your rights and options and advise whether an offer is fair and safe to accept. Often, a lawyer can negotiate on your behalf and get you far more than what’s the other side already offered.
Contact a Bicycle Accident Attorney Today
Bicycle accidents happen in many ways but usually share the common feature of being caused by someone other than the injured cyclist. If you got hurt in a bicycle accident, you might have valuable legal rights to receive financial compensation.
Contact an experienced bicycle accident lawyer today for a free claim evaluation.