As a Los Angeles bicycle accident lawyer and bike injury attorney having represented hundreds of cyclists throughout California for over two decades, I know how many people along the Pacific Coast choose to ride bicycles because of the culture, environmental concerns, and the comfortable climate. California law clearly states that persons riding bikes have the same rights to use the roadway as any other “vehicle” (California Vehicle Code “CVC” section 21200). In areas of Southern California in and around Los Angeles and Orange County including Venice Beach, Santa Monica, the South Bay, Malibu, Huntington Beach and the City of Angels itself, bicyclists and motorists do not always share the road well. This can result in bicycle accidents more frequently than they should happen. Many bicycle accidents involving motorists happen because the drivers simply fail to see the cyclists while they are traveling through intersections or in the lanes of traffic.
If you are hit by a motor vehicle while you are riding your bicycle, the likelihood of your sustaining severe injuries is high. Bicyclists simply do not have much protection in accidents. Unlike car occupants, who are protected by the metal frame of the cars, bicyclists do not have anything between them, motor vehicles and the road other than maybe a safety helmet. If they are struck, they often have to get medical help, and they may suffer a number of very serious injuries. If you are injured in a bicycle collision, there are several steps that you should take in order to better protect your ability to pursue a legal claim.Bicycle Accident Statistics
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration releases data about bicycle crashes each year. For 2014, which is the latest year for which information is available, the NHTSA reported the following:
- 726 Americans were killed in bicycle accidents during 2014.
- The average age of bicyclists who were killed in motor vehicle collisions was 45.
- California had the second-highest number of fatalities during the year at 128 with only Florida having more with 139.
- Seventy-one percent of those who were killed were in urban areas, and 88 percent of them were males.
- Nineteen percent of those who were killed had blood alcohol concentrations of 0.08 or higher, and 35 percent of the fatal bicycle accidents involved a motorist or a cyclist with BACs at 0.08 percent or higher.
- Twenty percent of the fatal bicycle accidents happened between 6 p.m. and 8:59 p.m.
- Bicycle collisions with cars accounted for one-third of all reported bicycle accident injuries.
- Left-Hand Turn Accidents
In both bicycle and motorcycle accidents, a motorist who is turning left may hit oncoming cyclists. California Vehicle Code (“CVC”) section 21801(a) mandates that drivers who are turning left yield the right of way to all vehicles that are oncoming, which includes bicyclists and motorcyclists. Often, left-turning drivers fail to see the bicyclists and pull out, causing the accidents.
- Open-Door Accidents
Under CVC 22517, Motorists are not supposed to open the car door that is on the side next to moving traffic unless it is reasonably safe to open it. Many people still open their car or truck doors without looking for cyclists, including those in and near bicycle lanes. This may cause cyclists to crash into the door and be injured.
- Unexpected Reversals
Motorists sometimes abruptly back their vehicles out of driveways or side streets onto the road without looking for cyclists. This could be deemed to be a violation of laws that prohibit entering onto a roadway without properly exercising caution.
- Merging and Lane Changes
Vehicles that are attempting to change lanes or the direction of travel may fail to spot cyclists with their side or rear-view mirrors.
- Motorists that pass bicyclists without providing enough distance
Bicyclists are allowed to ride their bikes along some highways and most major surface streets in California. Cyclists are encouraged to ride along the right-hand edge, moving along with the flow of traffic. The issue is that the drivers of trucks, SUVs and cars sometimes get impatient and attempt to pass without giving sufficient room for the cyclists that they are passing. This can result in crashes or bicyclists being forced off of the road. Under current California law, motor vehicles are advised to provide a minimum of three feet between their automobile and the bike when overtaking (CVC 21760)
- Intersection Collisions
A number of bicycle accidents happen near or in intersections when the bicyclists attempt to move through the crossway. These accidents happen because drivers aren’t watching out for bicycles or are engaging in other dangerous driving behaviors like running red lights, not slowing down for a yellow caution signal or making an abrupt right hand turn without coming to a complete stop at a red light and looking before they turn.
- Unsafe Roadway Conditions
Conditions of the roadway, including debris, projecting objects and potholes can all cause injury accidents for bicyclists. If these conditions are present on private property, the landowner may be liable if they know or should know that it presents a hazard to persons using the property in a reasonable manner. If the conditions exist on public roadways, they can be deemed “dangerous conditions of public property” and the governmental organization that controls the area may be civilly liable for money damages. Consulting with a lawyer quickly is imperative in these cases as time deadlines for filing claims can be as short as 6 months from the date of the incident.
While the use of helmets and other safety gear, including lights, flashers and proper clothing may reduce the risk of bicycle accident involvement, significant personal injuries are likely to happen when an accident occurs. The most common bicycle accident injuries include the following:
- Concussions and closed-head injuries
- Leg, arm and rib fractures
- Spinal injuries including herniated discs
- Internal bleeding
- Organ injuries
- Contusions and severe abrasions that are called ‘road rash’
Any one of these injury types might require extensive trauma intervention, including orthopedic surgery, treatment and diagnostic tests such as CT scans, MRIs and X-rays.How to Handle a Bicycle Accident
When an accident does happen, it is common to feel frightened and bewildered about what to do. By following the steps that are outlined below, you can better handle your accident and any resulting legal claim.
- Cooperate With the Police
Immediately after an accident, police officers may want to get a statement from you either at the accident scene or at the hospital. Make certain to cooperate with them as they try to investigate your case. Ask for copies of all investigative reports that are written by the police officers. You can obtain copies by going to the police station that investigated the accident.
- Get the Names and Contact Information of all Witnesses
Before you go to the hospital, it is important for you to try to get the names and contact information for all witnesses who saw what happened if you are able to do so. Write the information down, or ask someone else to do it for you if you can’t. This will make it much easier to find the people and get their statements later on during your case’s investigation. Your bicycle accident attorney will then be better able to locate the witnesses when he or she is building your case.
- Get Checked Out by a Medical Professional
Even if you do not initially believe that you were injured, it is important for you to get a thorough medical examination after a bicycle accident. Some serious injuries may not show symptoms for hours or even days. Getting immediate medical attention can allow you to discover hidden injuries such as internal bleeding, traumatic brain injuries and others about which you might not be immediately aware. This can help your prognosis while also establishing a clear link between the accident and your injury. Request copies of your medical records so that you can document your injuries. It is also important for you to complete all follow-up care that is recommended by your doctor.
- Do not Sign Medical Authorizations or Any Type of a “Release” of Claims
It is common for insurance companies to call bicycle accident victims and ask for medical authorizations. These are blanket authorizations that insurance companies use to dig through your entire medical history. They do this in order to try to blame your injuries on any earlier accidents or incidents you might have had in the past in order to limit the amount of your claim. It is likewise important not to agree to give a recorded statement to an insurance adjuster without your attorney. Another tactic is to try to make a quick and low offer and get you to release your claims by signing a settlement agreement. Simply tell the adjuster that you need to consult with your lawyer and cannot speak to him or her or sign any documentation until you do.
Trying to negotiate with an insurance company on your own is often not the best idea, especially when you have been injured. When you get help from an experienced bicycle accident attorney, it is much likelier that you will recover compensation in a much higher amount than what you might be able to get on your own. Insurance companies are motivated to dispute the liability of the people that they insure. This is because insurance companies are motivated to cut costs involved with settling claims. The companies will often try to either deny claims outright or reduce the amounts of them in order to minimize their losses. An attorney may be better-positioned to investigate your case, prove liability and negotiate with the insurance company on your behalf.
Over the past 20 years, our lawyers have had substantial success helping people who have been seriously injured in bicycle accidents. In a recent case, a person who was traveling along the right-hand side of a road in Griffith Park in Los Angeles collided with a vehicle. The motorist had slowed but had not turned on a turn signal to indicate that the vehicle was turning right onto a dirt path. The cyclist was unable to avoid the car and crashed into its passenger side. He was thrown onto the pavement and broke his hip. We had to take his case to trial and obtained a verdict on his behalf of nearly $300,000. His damages included his past and future medical expenses, pain and suffering and his lost earnings.* Results like this one are not common even among lawyers that claim to “specialize” in bicycle accidents as most of these attorneys have never gone to trial on a bike accident case or have tried very few. This is what makes our office stand out from the increasing number of attorneys claiming to be “bike accident specialists.”
Note: Not meant as a guarantee, warranty or prediction as to the outcome of future cases.
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Steven M. Sweat, Personal Injury Lawyers, APC is a proud supporter of various organizations in California that support bicycle advocacy and the rights of all cyclists in California including the California Bicycle Coalition and the Los Angeles County Bicycle Coalition.Other Resources:
- Bicycle Commuter
- Bicycle Hit and Run
- Bicycle Injuries
- Bicycle Lane Accidents
- Bicycle Pothole Accidents
- Bicycle v. Truck
- Child Bike Accidents
- Cyclist-to-Motorist Communication: A Way to Prevent Accidents
- Electric Bicycle Accidents
- Front Impact Bicycle Accidents
- No Stop or Yield Right Hand Turn
- Parked Cars
- Pelvic Fractures
- Rear End Bicycle Collisions
- Right Turn Bicycle Accidents
- Segway Accidents
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