Bicycle Accidents and California Laws – Know Your Rights

If you have been injured in a bicycle accident, see our California bicycle accident lawyers information page for free tips on what to do next.

Millions of Americans ride billions of miles each year on bicycles of every type and description. Some commute to and from work on a bicycle; others ride street bikes for exercise or competitively; while still others love the thrill of off-road riding. Approximately 540,000 bicyclists make visits to the emergency room each year.

The leading cause of bicycle accidents is that the automobile driver “did not see” the bicyclist due to some type of distraction or inattention.

The California Vehicle Code requires that all drivers owe a duty to others sharing the roads with bicycles just as if the bicyclist was another car.  The same laws and rules apply.

FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS

Q. I was injured in a race when I fell because another bike rider ran into me. I want to sue the sponsors of the race, but I signed a release of liability before the race started. Does this mean I can’t sue?

A. If the release was valid and effective, you can’t sue the sponsors of the race for your injuries. To be effective, a release must be a clear and unequivocal waiver of harm or death with specific reference to the defendant’s negligence. A contract of release from negligence must be in clear, explicit, and comprehensible language, free of ambiguity or obscurity. It must clearly inform the releaser, as an ordinary person untrained in the law, that he or she is releasing the other party from liability for the releasor’s personal injuries caused by the releasee’s negligence. The words releasing the defendant from liability must not be disguised in complicated legalese, but must be written in simple, clear, and unambiguous language understandable to the ordinary lay person. The release must be drafted so as to clearly notify the releaser of the effect of signing the agreement. The release must not be contrary to “public policy,” which generally prohibits the defendant from releasing himself or herself for conduct that constitutes aggravated, or “gross,” negligence or intentional wrongful conduct. Suppose that, instead of being injured, the person who signed the release is killed in the bike race. Does the release bar the rider’s heirs from recovering for their damages? Probably. When a person signs a valid release that would have barred a lawsuit against the wrongdoer had the person lived, the person’s survivors are similarly barred from bringing a wrongful death action if the risk that took the person’s life was encompassed by a legally viable release.

Q. What type of damages am I entitled to do if I have been injured in a bicycle accident by a negligent driver?

A. As you can imagine, when a bicyclist has been struck by a vehicle driven by a careless (“negligent”) driver, the injuries are frequently catastrophic, even fatal. A 150-pound person is no match for a moving vehicle weighing several thousand pounds or more. If you survive such an accident, you may suffer broken bones, such as your arms, legs, pelvis, or ribs, or severe internal injuries. You may even break your neck (quadriplegia) or your back (paraplegia). You may also suffer a traumatic brain injury (TBI) when your head hits the pavement or other surface, even if you were wearing a helmet at the time of the accident. You may also receive severe friction burns to your body by being dragged by the car. You may also suffer from significant scarring or disfigurement. More information on the types of damages you can recover when you or a loved one has been struck by a motorist are available at the Damages You Can Receive Information Center and, in the case of a bicyclist who has been killed, at the Wrongful Death Information Center.

Q. I was partly to blame for the accident. Does this mean that I can’t sue the driver of the car that hit me for my damages?

A. In a lawsuit arising from the collision between a motor vehicle and a bicycle in which the vehicle driver was primarily to blame (“at fault”) for the incident, the driver is nevertheless entitled to bring up any fault on the part of the bicyclist to reduce or nullify the bicyclist’s right to recover completely. For instance, if the bicyclist had been riding on the wrong side of the road and a driver entering the road on a right turn from an intersection or driveway did not see the bicyclist approaching, the driver may assert the bicyclist’s act of riding the wrong way as a complete or partial block to the bicyclist’s recovery. When a person has been injured by another party’s negligence but is partly at fault for the accident himself or herself, in legal terms he or she is guilty of “comparative negligence.” The doctrine of comparative fault reduces the amount of money (“damages”) the injured bicyclist is entitled to recover. So if a jury determined that the bicyclist’s riding the wrong way was 50 percent at fault for the injuries, then the bicyclist’s damages are cut in half. In fact, where the bicyclist was riding on the wrong side of the road, a jury may well determine that he or she was the prime, or sole cause of the accident, in which case the motorist might be relieved from all liability for the accident. However, a driver making a right turn onto a road from an intersection or driveway generally has a duty to look both ways before proceeding onto the road. Other factors that could be used to reduce or defeat the bicyclist’s recovery are the failure to wear a helmet, the failure to have lights on the front and rear of the bicycle while riding it at night or wearing a reflective vest

Q. My child, spouse, or parent was seriously injured or killed when he or she was struck by a car while out riding his or her bicycle. Should I hire a lawyer and how soon after the accident should I do so?

A. If you or a loved one have been injured or a loved one killed by a negligent driver while riding a bicycle, it is important that you promptly retain an experienced personal injury lawyer. The lawyer can often help arrange for proper medical care for the injured bicyclist, and will often want to visit the scene of the accident or send an investigator to the scene to inspect it and take pictures while it is in the same or a similar condition as when the bicyclist was injured. The lawyer will also want to interview witnesses to the accident while the event is still fresh in their minds. The lawyer may want to hire an expert in accident reconstruction to recreate the scene as it was at the time of the accident to prove that the driver of the car was at fault. Do not throw away or otherwise dispose of the bike, as it may be a crucial piece of evidence, especially when it is claimed that the bike was defective.

It is important that you immediately speak with a bicycle accident lawyer if you have been involved in an accident.   Either fill out the form above for a free and immediate case review or call toll free 888.222.8286.


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