California now leads the nation in bicycle traffic fatalities despite efforts to increase awareness for cyclists among drivers. In the vast majority of these accidents, there is usually negligence involved when determining who was at fault for the accident. Depending on the circumstances, it may be the driver, the cyclist, or both found at fault. While vehicles are heavier, larger, and more powerful than bicycles and are sometimes at a disadvantage for spotting cyclists, the truth is drivers aren’t necessarily more likely than bicyclists to cause an accident.
Proving who was at fault in a bicycle accident is the same as in an accident involving two vehicles: which party violated through duty of care and behaved negligently in a way that contributed to the accident? Bicyclists are subject to the same rules on the road as cars as well as additional bicycle-specific laws. Drivers can be found at fault for a bicycle accident if they violated traffic laws, but bicyclists can also be found completely or partially at fault for an accident. Under California law, failing to wear a helmet is not considered evidence of a bicyclists negligence, but a cyclist can be negligent in other ways:
- Failing to follow traffic rules like riding on the wrong side of the road
- Failing to signal before turning
- Using a phone while cycling
- Failing to wear front and rear deflectors at night
- Failing to stop at a stop sign
It’s important to remember that bicyclists must follow the same traffic rules as drivers, including stopping at traffic lights and stop signs, signaling turns, and riding on the right side of the road.
Bicyclists can be found liable for an accident if they were under the influence of alcohol, just as with drivers. According to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, 23% of bicyclists killed in traffic accidents in 2015 had blood alcohol concentrations (BACs) of at least 0.08 percent, the legal limit.
A driver may be liable for the accident by:
- Failing to yield to a cyclist turning left or right
- Driving in or obstructing a bike lane
- Passing a bicyclist with less than three feet of clearance
Drivers aren’t assumed at fault in bicycle accidents. According to a study of more than 2,500 accident reports on bicycle accidents in San Diego County between 2011 and 2014, the cyclist was found at fault 56% of the time. Many of these cases involved riding on the wrong side of the road, and violations of right of way involving a bicyclist who cut in front of a vehicle or just rode right through a red light or stop sign.
When drivers were at fault in these accidents, the most common reasons were violations of right of way and improper turns.
Drivers and bicyclists can also share liability in an accident under comparative negligence laws. If a bicyclist is found 100% at fault for an accident, he or she is unable to recover damages for injuries suffered in an accident. If both parties share negligence, any award the bicyclist will receive will reflect this “comparative negligence.” As an example, if a bicyclist suffers $100,000 in damages in an accident but is found 30% liable, the award will be reduced to $70,000.
If you are partially at fault for a bicycle accident, you still have the right to seek compensation. In these cases, it’s especially important to investigate the accident and build your case with the help of an experienced injury lawyer as your settlement or verdict will be reduced based on your comparative negligence.
Contact a Los Angeles Bicycle Accident Lawyer
Bicycle accidents can lead to very severe injuries, many of which can be life-changing. If you have been involved in a bicycle accident, don’t assume that the driver is automatically liable. Liability in these cases must be proved just as with car accidents. An experienced bicycle accident injury lawyer can help you build your case and protect your rights to seek the compensation you deserve.