Riding a bicycle is a popular way to get places as well as a healthy method of exercise. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) reported that "[f]rom 2000 to 2012, the number of Americans traveling to work by bicycle increased from 488,000 to about 786,000." However, cycling is not without its perils. Cyclists usually ride on the street with cars and other motor vehicles that are many thousands of pounds heavier than the bicycle. When a car makes an error in judgement and is negligent and careless, cyclists can get seriously injured or even killed as cyclists have little to no protection in a collision with a motor vehicle.
Unfortunately, cars collide with cyclists too frequently. In 2015, according to the NHTSA preliminary crash report, there was a 13% increase in the number of pedalcyclists (a category that includes bicyclists) who were killed in traffic accidents. The Centers for Disease Control And Prevention (CDC) reported that there were nearly 500,000 people sent to the emergency room in 2013 for bicycle-related injuries.
Bicycle Accidents Across The Country
A quick check of the news can quickly verify the dangers that bicyclists face while on the roads. Here are just a few recent stories:
- In Kalamazoo, Michigan five bicyclists who were a part of a club called the Chain Gang were killed where a pickup truck "which was traveling in the same direction as the bikers, left the roadway for unknown reasons and drove onto the paved, four-foot-wide shoulder where the bikers were pedaling, striking the entire group from the rear." There were nine cyclists total in the group. The driver of the pickup truck is now facing second-degree murder charges.
- A teenager was hit and killed while riding his bike in early August 2016. He was hit by a truck. Police stated that "speed, alcohol, and cell phone use do not appear to be factors in the crash." The crash is still under investigation, but the driver had not yet been charged with anything.
- The accident may not necessarily always be the driver's fault, as is the case of the death of a woman in Denver. Michelle Walters was participating in the Ironman Boulder race in early August of 2016 when she veered out of the designated race lanes. According to the Colorado State Patrol trooper Nate Reid, Walters "hit the truck and fell off the bicycle and was hit by some portion of the rear tire or rear bumper."
According to the NHTSA, the states with the highest rates of bicyclist fatalities are California, Louisiana, Arizona, Florida, and Delaware. The states with the lowest rates of bicyclist fatalities are South Dakota, Nebraska, Missouri, West Virginia, and Vermont.
Why Do Accidents Happen?
The NHTSA stated that there are several mistakes that drivers and cyclists make that lead to crashes. Drivers can cause crashes when they turn in front of cyclists at locations like an intersection or at a red light, failing to look around for cyclists before moving their vehicle, failing to obey the speed limit and hitting a cyclist unexpectedly, and not paying sufficient attention to their surroundings and not seeing the cyclist until it was too late.
Cyclists also can cause crashes when they fail to stop when riding into the street without first stopping and checking to make sure that the road is clear. Along those same lines, cyclists who do not stop at stop signs or at red lights can also cause a crash. In addition, if the cyclists swerve into the road or ride in the wrong direction, accidents can happen. Lastly, when cyclists ride while intoxicated or otherwise impaired, they can either cause or be in an accident because they weren't able to respond to the surroundings quickly.
When drivers and bicyclists are sharing the road, both need to take proper care in order to prevent accidents, injury, and death.
Negligence In Colorado
If you or a loved one has been injured while riding a bicycle, the legal claim at issue is often negligence. Negligence is essentially, the person's "failure to exercise the standard of care that a reasonably prudent person would have exercised in a similar situation." Black's Law Dictionary 1133 (9th ed. 2009). If a person fails to use proper care then, you may be able to hold that person liable for any injuries their actions may have caused.
In order to prove negligence, a plaintiff needs to show that the defendant owed a plaintiff a duty of care. The plaintiff then must show that the defendant breached that duty and that the breach caused the plaintiff's injury. Vigil v. Franklin, 103 P.3d 322, 324 (Colo. 2004). If the plaintiff can prove all these elements, then the plaintiff may be able to hold the defendant liable for any injuries that the defendant caused by breaching his or her duty of care.
Comparative Negligence In Colorado
Sometimes in an accident, the plaintiff can share some of the fault for his or her injuries. In such instances, the defendant can assert the defense of comparative negligence or contributory negligence. Contributory negligence is a harsh doctrine that is only followed by a few states. Under contributory negligence, if a plaintiff is even a little responsible for his or her injuries then the plaintiff is completely barred from recovering any damages from the defendant. So even if the plaintiff is just 1% responsible for his injuries and the defendant 99% responsible, the plaintiff still cannot recover anything.
Colorado does not follow the doctrine of contributory negligence. Instead, Colorado follows comparative negligence. Under comparative negligence, a plaintiff can be partially at fault for her injuries and still recover damages. Usually, the damages are reduced by the percentage of the plaintiff's fault. There are several forms of comparative negligence. In Colorado, in order to recover, a plaintiff cannot be more at fault than the defendant. C.R.S. 13-21-111 (2016).
For example, let's say Priscilla was riding her bike down the street going east, approaching a four-way stop. Don was approaching the intersection going north. Don reaches the intersection first and stops. He sees Priscilla and assumes she will stop at the intersection, so he proceeds on his way. Priscilla fails to slow down and stop at the stop sign. Don hits Priscilla, sending her flying. She has a significant back injury and a broken leg as a result of the accident. Priscilla files a lawsuit against Don seeking compensation for her injuries. At trial, the jury finds that Priscilla is partially responsible for her injuries. As she failed to stop at the stop sign, the jury finds her 35% at fault for her injuries, and Don 65% for hitting her. Since Priscilla is less at fault than Don, she can still recover for her injuries under Colorado law. Her award would be reduced by the percentage of her fault. Thus if the jury awarded her $100,000, Priscilla's award would be reduced by $35,000.
Contact An Attorney
If you or a loved one has been injured while riding a bicycle, contact a Colorado personal injury attorney today. An experienced and knowledgeable attorney can help you seek just compensation from those responsible for your injuries. Jeremy Rosenthal has been practicing personal injury law in Colorado for over a decade and has extensive experience helping clients in all kinds of personal injury cases. He offers a free consultation to all potential clients. Call the office today at (303) 825-2223, or click here to fill out the online form.