As the most populous state in America, California roadways are busy. Due to its warm weather and great outdoors, it is common for bicyclists and motorists to mix in the bustling roads. In Los Angeles and the rest of California, bicycling has become a popular alternative to driving cars. It is not only healthy and environmentally friendly, but many LA residents also consider it fun. However, the fact that bicyclists have to share the roadways with motorists means it is also hazardous with the massive number of bicycle riders in Los Angeles and its environs, leading to an increase in reported bicycle accidents.
While bicycle accidents can be a result of cyclist errors, motorists, including distracted and negligent drivers are the cause of most reported accidents. Whether it is the motorist or bicyclist who is at fault, a bicycle accident can leave the cyclist with catastrophic injuries. In addition to requiring extensive medical care, the injuries may completely change the course of the cyclist's life, including robbing him/her ability to work. Bicyclists in these situations may be confused as to the way forward, including who will cover their medical care costs and whether they are entitled to other damages.
To avoid the confusion and anxiety surrounding catastrophic bicycle accidents, you should seek the services of an experienced and skilled personal injury attorney. Our team at Los Angeles Personal Injury Attorney has extensive experience in catastrophic injury cases, including those caused by bicycle accidents. If you have sustained catastrophic injuries from a bicycle accident, we are committed to helping you file a personal injury lawsuit to get compensation for your injuries and related damages. We will also defend you in case you were at fault for the accident.
Catastrophic Injuries in Bicycle Accidents
There does not exist a generally accepted legal definition of what a catastrophic injury is. However, there is an almost universal agreement that a personal injury is catastrophic if it permanently prevents the victim from carrying out productive labor. Mostly, the consequences of a catastrophic injury make it hard for a person to hold a regular job hence cannot financially support themselves or their family. Despite bicycle accidents accounting for only a small percentage of total road accidents in Los Angeles, when they do happen, they are usually severe and catastrophic.
Apart from the everyday slips and falls, most of the bicycle accidents are collisions or knockdowns by cars. Whether a bicyclist is hit or collides with a vehicle, he/she stands a higher chance of being injured. The fact that they have little to no bodily protection against the impacts of such collisions or hits means injuries from these accidents are mostly fatal. While motor vehicles have seat belts, airbags, and other safety measures, bicyclists only have helmets as protective gear. Generally, common distractions, including a negligent driver swerving into a bike lane, can be fatal for a bicyclist. The initial force alone or ejection from the bike is enough to leave him/her with multiple fractures and broken bones injuries.
In some cases, drivers completely ignore the presence of bicyclists and may even run red lights as bicyclists are crossing. Too often, such bicycle accidents leave many cyclists paralyzed and, in some cases, result in death. In addition to cuts and bruises, common catastrophic injuries from bicycle accidents include head and brain injuries, spinal cord injuries, including paralysis, loss of limbs and amputations, sprains, and severe bone fractures.
Common Causes of Bicycle Accidents
Identifying who is responsible for a bicycle accident is an essential legal aspect that goes a long way in determining if the victim is entitled to damages and who is supposed to pay them. Typical bicycle accidents involve bicycles colliding with vehicles as motorists overtake cyclists or pull out of intersections into cyclists' paths. Speeding vehicles or those driven too close to cyclists have proven to be dangerous. In such situations, the cyclists have little or no time to react and maybe hit by the vehicle or fall dangerously. The lack of driving etiquette by some motorists endangers the safety of all the other road users, including bicyclists.
As already discussed, motorists, including negligent drivers, are one of the most significant causes of bicycle accidents. From speeding to distracted drivers to DUI drivers, there is always the likelihood of bicyclists being hit or colliding with a vehicle, especially when sharing the roadways. Additionally, some drivers knowingly ignore bicyclists and fail to grant them riding space on the road. Cases of a driver’s view being obstructed by sun glares, by other objects or by buildings, have also led to vehicles hitting bicycles.
Bicycle accidents may also occur as a result of vehicle mechanical faults, including failed brakes. In this case, the driver may not be at fault. Similar, defective bicycles or defective bicycle parts may also cause accidents. Poor road conditions, among other factors such as inadequate road signage, may also cause bicycle accidents. The various causes mean that different parties may be held responsible for your bicycle accident injuries, including motorists and government agencies. The involvement of different parties may complicate your injury claims hence the need to have a skilled personal injury attorney.
Interestingly, one cyclist's negligent conduct may also cause injury to another cyclist. While these types of bicycle accidents do not necessarily lead to catastrophic injuries, if and when they do, it becomes hard to secure damages. It is mainly because, unlike motor vehicles, there is no requirement to have insurance to cycle on the road. The fact that it is also easy for an offending cyclist to leave the accident scene makes tracing him/her hard. Securing damages in an accident involving two cyclists may require the services of an expert personal injury attorney.
Bicycle Laws in California
According to California laws, especially Section 21200 of the California Vehicle Code, bicyclists and motorists have the same rights and responsibilities when they are on the road. Therefore, bicyclists are required to give pedestrians the right of way and obey other traffic laws just as motorists. However, other laws protect bicyclists’ right to share the roads and safely ride in both urban and rural areas.
California also has some special rules to govern how motorists interact with cyclists, including requiring all drivers to be at least three feet away from cyclists when driving alongside or passing them. It is also illegal for motorists to obstruct designated bike lanes or paths by either stopping or parking on them. Cyclists are also not allowed to park on the lanes. Generally, cyclists have greater rights over the usage of bike lanes even when they are moving slower than the flow of vehicle traffic.
However, bicyclists are also required to observe traffic rules, including riding with the flow of vehicle traffic and not against it. They are also required to stop at red lights and stop signs. When on the road with a designated bike lane and are moving slower than the flow of vehicle traffic, cyclists are required to stay on the bike lane unless they are passing or making a left turn. They may also be allowed off the bike lane if the path is too narrow to share if they are approaching a place where right turns are legal and when they are avoiding hazards.
Legal Liability in a Bicycle Accident
Cyclists who have suffered catastrophic injuries as a result of a bicycle accident are usually anxious to know who is liable for their damages. While drivers are legally responsible for most bicycle accidents, government agencies can also be held liable in case the wrong road and maintenance conditions caused the accident. In accidents where the victim only suffers minor injuries, the responsible party is let off with minimal penalties. However, in serious accidents that result in catastrophic injuries, the court may charge the offender with a misdemeanor or a felony crime, including reckless driving, hit and run, or a DUI charge.
Despite California laws criminalization of offenses in a bicycle accident, a criminal case does very little for a victim who suffers catastrophic injuries from a bicycle accident. Mostly, penalties such as criminal fines and jail time for the offender will not be very helpful to a cyclist who may not be able to work anymore. With the medical care costs associated with catastrophic injuries, criminal charges against the offender may be the least of concerns for the injured cyclist and their families. However, California laws allow the victim to sue the offender to recover damages in a civil court. The personal injury lawsuit ensures the offender is not only held criminally liable for their conduct but is also made to pay damages for injuries suffered by the victim.
With the help of a skilled personal injury attorney, you will be able to file a legal claim for negligence against the offender. The attorney should be able to establish that the offender's negligence was the cause of your injuries and other damages, including the loss of ability for productive work. In this case, the offending party will be required by the court to compensate you for financial losses as well as for personal harm. The fact that the court system considers the violation of public safety laws, including traffic laws as negligent, makes it easier for an attorney to make a legal claim for negligence.
Similar to how drivers file third party claims in case of an accident between two cars, a bicyclist can also make similar claims with the driver's insurance company. While bicycle accident claims can be complicated, a skilled attorney can assist you in filing insurance claims. Since the insurance company may not be willing to offer appropriate compensation to cover for all your losses, it is still critical to file a personal injury lawsuit that effectively forces the offender to pay for the damages suffered. According to California laws, you should file a personal injury lawsuit within two years of a bicycle accident.
In case a driver's negligent conduct results in the death of a cyclist, the victims' families can also file a wrongful death lawsuit in place of a personal injury lawsuit against the offender. Contrary to common belief, the bicyclist may also have been negligent hence at fault for the accident. In this case, it becomes tough to support any personal injury claims, and the cyclists may miss out on compensation for his/her injuries. However, with a skilled personal injury attorney, the bicyclist may still be able to gather enough evidence to support the driver was also at fault for the accident.
Measures to Prevent Bicycle Accidents
Despite the law providing for legal avenues that make it possible for a victim of a bicycle accident to recover damages for their injuries, the accidents can be devastating, especially where the injuries are catastrophic. With losses associated with catastrophic injuries being more than financial, it is advisable to take preventive measures that may prevent a bicycle accident or lessen the resulting injuries. Common preventive measures include:
- Wearing a helmet: While California laws only require young cyclists under the age of 18 to wear a helmet, it is advisable to wear a helmet even as an adult bicyclist. Helmets can prevent serious head injuries or even death in case of a bicycle accident. While there is no legislation requiring a bicyclist to wear a helmet, the fact that the practice is common can make wearing a helmet a point of contention in a personal injury lawsuit or in an insurance claim. In this case, the defendant may argue that the cyclist’s injuries are severe or catastrophic because they were not wearing a helmet. If successful, the defense may lead to the reduction of damages due to the injured cyclist.
- Equip your bicycle: You should also have a white headlight and a red taillight either as part of your helmet or installed on the bike. The lights are critical, especially for those who ride in the dark at night or early in the morning. Other safety equipment may include mirrors for safe lane changes and blinking lights attached to the wheels. The blinking lights increase the bicyclists' visibility at night.
- Wearing brightly colored gear: Bicyclists should wear reflective clothing as drivers' inability to spot cyclists is one of the leading causes of bicycle accidents. Wearing bright and reflective gear allows motor vehicles to see you. Despite the Highway Code outlining the appropriate clothing for road users, including bicyclists, there is no legislation requiring bicyclists to wear reflective clothing correctly. Similar to cycling helmets, failure to wear bright and reflective gear may be used by the defendant to justify the reduction of damages for the injured cyclists. In this case, the defendant seeks to apportion some of the blame for the accident to the bicyclists.
- Know and follow traffic rules: According to California laws, both motorists and bicyclists have the same rights and responsibilities. It includes adhering to traffic rules. To be on the safe side, cyclists should familiarize themselves with California traffic laws, especially those that are specific to cycling in your area. For example, in LA, you are not allowed to ride on the sidewalk. Simple rules like riding on bike lanes and only moving when you have the right of way do not only ensure your safety but also makes it easier for an attorney to argue a personal injury lawsuit in your favor.
- Use hand signals to indicate when turning or breaking: As a bicyclist, you should always indicate to other road users when ready to make left or right turns, when preparing to overtake and when braking. These simple steps will ensure your safety on the road as it alerts others, especially drivers of your presence and actions on the roadway.
- Stay Alert: As a standard precaution, a cyclist should not be distracted while on the road. A cyclist wearing earphones, texting, or talking on the phone while cycling can be dangerous as they make the cyclist unaware of his/her surroundings. For example, cyclists may fail to see a vehicle that is dangerously overtaking, braking, or coming too close to them. Failure to pay attention to other road users, including parked and moving cars, can lead to serious bicycle accidents.
Contact a Los Angeles Personal Injury Attorney Near Me
Despite the existence of safety measures, including bike lanes in Los Angeles, bicycle accidents still occur. With the busy LA roadways, a bicycle accident can be fatal and may leave a cyclist with catastrophic injuries. Even for a regular accident, cycling claims cases are complicated, hence the need for a skilled and experienced personal injury attorney in bicycle accidents where the victim suffers catastrophic injuries. Whether it is you or your loved one who has suffered severe injuries, our team of attorneys at the Los Angeles Personal Injury Attorney will help recover the appropriate damages for financial losses as well as for personal harm from the bicycle accident. Call us at 424-231-2013 to learn more about our services.