An automobile gets into an accident with a cyclist in New York City.

Auto v. Bicycle Collisions: Who is Liable?

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With gas prices high and cooler fall temperatures in the air, now is the prime season for cycling. Unfortunately, due to the huge number of bicyclists and motorists trying to share New York’s busy roads, auto v bicycle collisions are becoming more and more common.

The most common New York bike accidents are getting “doored” (being struck by a car door that was opened unexpectedly), getting in a collision with a taxi, bike lane collisions, and accidents caused by street defects. Many cyclists complain that they are getting doored because their bike lanes are in the door zone (the space in which automobiles open their doors when pulled over).

And there is contention between drivers and cyclists, isn’t there?

An automobile gets into an accident with a cyclist in New York City.

An automobile gets into an accident with a cyclist in New York City. (Photo source: Flickr)

Stories of a cyclist tapping on a driver’s window to deliver a scolding on driver-to-cyclist etiquette are common. There are even more incidents of drivers freely giving bikers rude hand gestures. Recently, an NYC Cab Driver jumped the curb, severing a woman’s leg after an altercation with a cyclist.

Most drivers and cyclists are conscientious despite the stories we hear. Drivers are often cautious and are doing their best to share the road. Bikers are quick to condemn reckless fellow bikers that speed through red lights, block crosswalks, or abuse sidewalks.

Still, in 2011 there were 677 bicyclist-motor vehicle deaths and 38,000 injuries according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

Bicyclists indeed face a lot of unique challenges when commuting. They do not enjoy the sidewalk and crosswalk safety protections of pedestrians nor do they have the size or power to contend with cars on the road. So, they must look out for pedestrians on foot and show extreme caution for motor vehicles. They are in an in-between state that doesn’t classify them as a motorist or a pedestrian.

It can be difficult to determine who is at fault when a bicycle/car accident occurs. Often, the first accusation is pointed towards the car because it’s bigger and more powerful than a bike. A car also has more blind spots in which bicyclists can unwittingly hide. Motorists tend to turn directly into or in front of cyclists or fail to stop at designated areas.

There are plenty of ways that liability can be determined from these accidents though, mainly through evidence and testimony. Often, physical evidence is collected by law enforcement from the scene of the accident or pictures are taken to show the exact positions and damages. So, for example, it will be obvious who is at fault if a picture shows that a bicyclist was rear-ended or doored. That would be a no-doubt liability accident.

In cities like New York, with its crowded streets, there are often neutral witnesses at the scene of the auto v. bicycle collision. These witnesses tend to carry more authority on what actually happened during an accident than a cyclist or driver because they don’t have any personal stake in the outcome of a case. So, be sure to get contact information for any witnesses of an accident; their testimony is invaluable.

If you are in a bicyclist/motorist crash, do not sign any sort of settlement agreement with the liable party’s insurance company without having spoken to a reputable personal injury lawyer in your area. There are plenty ins, outs, when tos and when not tos that they can help you navigate so that you can recover the losses you deserve.

A related video about the safety of bike lanes (PG13):

About the Author: This post is contributed by Robert Bohn, Jr., a San Jose, CA-based personal injury attorney.