Research shows that cyclist-motor vehicle accidents are common during springtime. Litigating such cases involves considering many factors to determine the faulting party–like in other road accidents.
Accidents involving a bicycle and a car differ from a vehicle-vehicle accident, according to law. Cyclist-car accidents involve aspects that do not feature in accidents involving 2 vehicles.
Having said that, it’s important to consult a Bakersfield bicycle accident attorney if you’ve been involved in a cyclist-motor vehicle accident. So, what factors come into play when analyzing liability in bicycle-motor vehicle accidents?
Factors to Consider When Analyzing Liability in Bicycle-Motor vehicle Accidents
1. Reverse Onus
A reverse onus is a provision or clause within a law that requires an accused person (plaintiff) to disprove the facts presented by the plaintiff. In other words, the provision shifts the burden of proof to the defendant in civil law.
Reverse Onus was imposed by the Highway Traffic Act (HTA) section 193(1) and it’s typically the starting point of litigating bicycle-motor vehicle accidents
The provision of the reverse onus states that “When loss or damage is sustained by any person because of a motor vehicle on a highway, the onus of proof that the loss or damage did not arise through the negligence or improper conduct of the owner, driver, lessee or operator of the motor vehicle is upon the owner, driver, lessee or operator of the motor vehicle”.
In simple terms, the onus (burden) is on the defendant to prove that the accident did not result from their negligence or misconduct. Consequently, it means that a rebuttable presumption is imposed by the Reverse Onus.
According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) motorists are not guilty in all cases. Bicyclists and motorists have equal rights and responsibilities – both are expected to obey all traffic rules.
The provision of reverse onus provisions does not apply to private roadways, parking lots, and private property. Also, the provisions do not apply to car-car accidents.
2. Bicycle Laws and Lanes
Cycling Laws and the side-of-the-road rules, require bicyclists to observe the following rules when cycling on highways:
- Cyclists must ride on the right-hand side of the highway or road;
- Never ride against the traffic flow;
- Occupy the same space as other riders or motorists;
- Share lanes with other road users if it’s wide enough to share;
- Ride to the far left on one-way roads;
- Use the bicycle lane if it’s provided.
The side-of-the-road rules can be ignored in certain circumstances, including:
- If the cyclist can keep up with flowing traffic;
- If a lane is too narrow and can’t be shared with other road users;
- When making a left turn, or
- When avoiding road hazards, such as debris.
Cycling laws and rules require bicycles to be ridden near parked cars hence, motorists are held liable for open door accidents involving bicycles. However, a cyclist can be guilty if there was no traffic– meaning there was no need of riding on the far right.
3. Police Records
The accident report recorded by the police impacts cyclist-motor vehicle accidents. Police reports typically record “why and how” an accident occurred and the specific details can include:
- Actions of the parties involved in the accident;
- Traffic violations;
- Detailed descriptions of the accident scene, such as street or lane measurements, the traffic signs and lights, crosswalks, and others;
- Landing distance of the bicycle;
- Damaged personal items;
- Diagrams and pictures of the accident scene;
- Estimated driving and riding speed of the parties of an accident;
- Condition of the road–is it wet, dry, pot-holed, and more;
- Weather condition and its role in the accident;
- Adjustments made by the driver/ rider to enhance road visibility
- Road lighting status, particularly if the accident happened at night;
- Bicyclist’s clothing– were they wearing protective riding gear?
- Distractions, such as cell phones, being inattentive, and more;
- Intoxication status of the driver and rider;
- Witness accounts and statements;
- The police officer’s opinion on the accident.
Both parties (driver and cyclist) should review the accident report to find out what is recorded and what is not recorded. Minor details, such as recording the wrong date or name of the parties involved in an accident can negatively impact a case during trial. Also, the defendant can use wrong information as a legal defense in personal injury law.
It’s important to review the accident report before filing an injury claim. Besides, your lawyer will require a copy of the accident report to develop a recovery strategy. Motorists should drive cautiously in areas that are prone to bicycle-motor vehicle accidents, such as residential areas, office areas, shopping plazas, and schools.
Other factors that can be considered when analyzing a car-bicycle accident for purposes of apportioning responsibility can include the opinion of accident reconstruction experts, witness accounts, and more. However, the existence of negligence, or lack thereof, significantly influences liability apportionment in car-bicycle cases.