If you ride your bicycle often, the consequences of being struck by a vehicle will likely cross your mind. If you are struck and need compensation, who would be found responsible?
The most common cause of bicycle injuries is not being hit by a car, but rather falling off the bicycle itself. If the road or private property you are on is not properly maintained, you may be entitled to compensation if you get hurt.
While falls cause the most injuries, cyclist-vehicle collisions are more likely to be serious and cause more fatal accidents. Being hit from behind is most likely, though collisions caused when a motor vehicle turns are also common. If you are hit by a car while biking, how would Alberta law determine who pays?
Estimates of the share of fault between bicycles and cars vary tremendously. Generally, fault tends to lean towards the bulk of an accident being caused by the motor vehicle driver - as the larger, more powerful vehicle. Even then, the divergence in estimates suggests that both parties may have some responsibility in collisions, so knowing which practices to avoid to not share the blame for collisions is important for any cyclist. For example, riding against traffic and not coming to a complete stop often result in a cyclist’s recoveries being limited.
If a car unintentionally strikes you, this is likely grounds for a “negligence” lawsuit. If you were injured by the driver’s conduct and the driver could have foreseen this injury, was under a “duty” to avoid injuring you, and he or she failed to meet that duty, you are entitled to receive compensation. Realistically, the most important component is the last: the driver failed to meet the duty’s “standard of care” or was driving negligently. Generally, this means that the driver took unjustifiable risks for your safety or carelessly failed to take precautions.
In Bourbonnais v. Gauvreau, 2003 ABQB 952 (CanLII), Mr. Bourbonnais was riding his bicycle on Highway 2, near St. Albert. While many other drivers had passed him safely, Mr. Gavreau clipped the tail end of the bicycle, sending the plaintiff flying and leaving him in a coma with a series of physical and brain injuries, even though he wore a helmet. Ultimately, he was awarded the full value of his losses, over $2 million, primarily for lost future earnings.
By contrast, Meyer v Neumann, 2004 ABQB 232 (CanLII) provides an example of a defendant not being held liable for striking Anthony Meyer, a 13-year-old boy, biking across a road. Meyer was crossing on the wrong side of the road, and had tried to beat the truck across. When Neumann came close enough to see Meyer, he slammed on the brakes, but it was too late, and he collided with Meyer. Fortunately, Meyer recovered mostly, suffering insubstantial permanent injuries.
The court noted that drivers should be given leeway in their decision-making when faced with sudden emergencies that they did not bring about, specifically when cyclists themselves create risks. The judge also highlighted the “reverse onus” on drivers: it is assumed they were negligent and caused any accidents between their vehicle and non-motor-vehicle plaintiffs. Under the circumstances, Mr. Neumann proved to the court that he was not at fault, as Meyer’s risky crossing had created the situation.
Another major cause of concern for cyclists is keeping a lookout for cars opening their doors without providing sufficient time for the cyclist to stop. In cases that have gone to trial, courts have determined that a driver opening their car door without checking their mirrors is negligence, although cyclists are still obligated to keep a lookout and maintain reasonable speeds to avoid being considered contributorily negligent.
If you are struck by a motor vehicle, it is possible that the court (if the case is not settled first) may reduce any damages for any contributory negligence. You could be considered partly at fault, or to have taken insufficient precautions for your own safety, making it unfair to demand the driver pay for all damages. This may occur where even though a driver was somewhat careless, the cyclist failed to observe traffic signs, or wear a helmet.
In Bradford v Snyder, 2015 ABQB 406 (CanLII), for example, Ms. Bradford came to a rolling stop at a stop sign, and did not see Ms. Snyder approaching, even though she was in full view. Ms. Snyder looked down at her speedometer for a few seconds, confirmed that she was driving under the limit, and then struck Ms. Bradford. The judge believed Ms. Bradford’s error to be graver, and determined that she was 2/3 at fault for the accident. Clearly, this is not an exact science, but is something to consider in any road accident. The damage arising from a collision could be reduced for any reason, including failing to see a vehicle or maintain a reasonable speed, failing to wear a helmet, “lane splitting”, not maintaining a sufficient distance between yourself and a vehicle, or riding on the sidewalk.
When it comes to insurance coverage, insurers will be keen to keep their costs low. Consulting with a personal injury lawyer before speaking with your insurer and the driver’s insurer can help you understand how much your injuries are worth so that you do not accept less than you are entitled to.
For Bicycle Accidents Talk to a Braithwaite Boyle Accident Lawyer in Alberta
If you are a cyclist injured by someone’s neglect, call our team at 1-800-661-4902 for a free consultation. One of our bicycle accident lawyer’s in Edmonton, Calgary or Red Deer can help you. We look forward to helping you obtain the compensation you deserve.