Cycling Accidents: Who's liable?

March 27, 2013

Forcing cyclists and drivers to coexist on the roads without incident has long been a societal struggle. We have a hard enough time not crashing into each other, bringing cyclists into the mix creates yet another obstacle to safely avoid on the road. Of the biking accidents that occur annually,approximately 11% of those involve another vehicle. While this might not be alarming, maybe the pattern of where accidents occur will be. Of the 11% of bicycle and vehicle accidents that occur, 45% occur at intersections. These accidents can result from the biker or driver not paying attention, not knowing the rules of the road, or simply not seeing each other. Whatever the case may be, someone has to cover the medical expenses. If you are found to be responsible for the accident, you could be footing the bill.

Sometimes taking the extra precautions isn't enough. Wearing bright clothing, being vigilant of your surroundings, and riding defensively can drastically alter your chances of being involved in an accident. Yet, they're called accidents for a reason. Regardless of who is at fault, you need the assurance that your medical expenses will be covered if necessary.

Bicycles, from a legal perspective, are considered vehicle in nearly every state, hence they must abide by the locale's traffic laws. This means coming to complete stops at stop signs, following traffic signals, acknowledging right of way, among others. While a significant portion of bicycle vs. car accidents come at intersections with stop signs, some do occur because rider and drivers alike refuse to acknowledge right of way. If you are involved in an accident and you interfere with another vehicles right of way, you will most likely be held liable.

Intersections with stop signs account for nearly 20% of accidents occurring at intersections. Accounting for nearly half of that 20% are accidents where the cyclist has a stop sign and the car does not. If you misjudge the distance or speed, or both, of an oncoming car you could end up rocketing through their windshield. Give yourself plenty of time to get up to speed after stopping, there is no need to rush out in front of oncoming traffic. More often than not, you will be held liable for your own medical expenses if you speed out in front of traffic. The other half of these accidents are scenarios where the car has a stop sign and you have the right of way. The driver might not recognize the you, or may misjudge speed and distance, and pull out in front of the you. Provided that you're traveling with traffic an not against it, the driver's insurance company is going to foot the bill for your injuries. If you're riding against traffic (which is against the law) you or the driver may be held liable for the accident.

From an insurance perspective, there are ways to shield yourself from the burden on medical expenses and lost wages in the result of an accident. First and foremost, you should look to the at fault party's auto policy. ThePersonal Injury Protection provision of your or the driver's auto policy provides injury protection of up to $8,000 regardless of who is at fault for the accident. The provision will also cover up to 75% of gross weekly wages if you can't work as a result of your injuries. Another place to look for coverage would be the Bodily Injury to others provision. Compulsory in Massachusetts, this provisions provides covers for injuries to others through the use of you vehicle up to a $20,000 limit. If you own a car, you can also find coverage in the Uninsured-Underinsuredprovision of your policy. Though the policy is only applicable if the damages done to you exceed the other parties coverage limits, or if the party doesn't have insurance,there's no reason not to have the coverage considering its scope.

Never leave your fate in the hands of others on the road. As much as you might not want to hear it, you're not Lance Armstrong; so don't ride like it. Wear a helmet, be defensive, wear clothing that will allow drivers to distinguish easily between you and your surroundings, and always be on the lookout for obstacles. Basically, do everything short of strapping on shoulder pads and football helmet to ensure that you're safe on the road. Don't spend months laid up in a hospital bed because you didn't look both ways!