Bicycle-Involved Auto Accidents in North Carolina
When you are operating a bicycle on today’s roads, you are exposed to real danger. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, every day more than two people die from bike-auto accidents across the United States. Total fatalities nationwide every year exceed 800! As you might expect, reports of serious personal injuries arising from bicycle accidents are dramatically higher. Annually about 55,000 bicyclists are injured in crashes with automobiles. A significant number of these bicycle accident victims – an estimated 1000 per year - are right here in North Carolina, where bicycle riders have a host of safety rules and traffic statutes that they must follow. Legal issues arising from a bicycle accident get complicated quickly, and it is essential to learn and understand your legal rights and options before you begin working with the insurance claims adjuster who is being paid to oppose your injury case and minimize your injury claim payments. Let’s review here some of the factors that come into play:
Serious Personal Injuries Suffered by Bicycle Riders:
First of all, there is nothing between you, the vehicle and the road except, hopefully, your helmet. In North Carolina, individuals over 16 years of age are not legally obligated to wear a helmet while operating a bicycle on the roadways; but hopefully you have not elected to put wind-in-the hair over safety. If you have children 16 years of age or under, you have no choice. You are legally responsible for making sure your 16-and-under child wears a helmet while riding a bike, and you bear legal responsibility if you knowingly allow your child to ride without one.
Regardless of age, severe head and other bodily injuries often occur in a bike-auto collision. After attending to all medical concerns, the important thing after the accident is securing details. You need the personal contact info for all motorists responsible for your injuries. That could be the motorist who hit you, the driver who forced you off the road by driving too close to your moving bike or a third party who created a dangerous condition on the roadways. All might have applicable insurance, so you want to get Driver’s License and auto tag numbers, make and model of vehicle(s), all insurance particulars, and the names and details of all emergency responders and law enforcement on the scene. While most of this information will be on your Police Report, takings steps to secure information at the accident scene will help to ensure that witnesses and legally responsible parties don’t get away.
Where you can, secure smart phone photos and/or video of everything, including the accident scene and your bicycle. Where you cannot do this yourself, ask bystanders to help, and then send that information to you. Those and all other details should go in a package to an experienced bicycle accident attorney such as those at Nagle & Associates, to properly assemble a personal injury claim.
Duties of Motorists to Cyclists:
Under North Carolina law, bicycles are generally treated as vehicles. The reality, however, is that you and your bike are not as easily seen as another large vehicle, and you lack the protective armour provided by a vehicle. In a contest between a bike and a car, the winner is easy to predict. Though motorists have a duty to watch out for you, there is no question that you should do everything in your power to watch out for them as well. A passing motorist must give you at least a two-foot leeway when passing, and cannot rightfully return to the right side of the road until safely past you. In other words, if you are squeezed off the road, you have a claim. Likewise, a motorist is not supposed to follow too closely behind you and, when exiting a driveway or alley, must yield to you (not the other way around). Unfortunately, in the real world, it often seems that drivers either don’t bother to look for bicycle riders, or even worse they seem impatient and unwilling to share the road with bicycle riders.
In addition, many bike-auto accidents result from what you might call “traditional” careless driving by the motorist. Among them are:
- Driving too fast.
- Failing to stop at traffic signals or signs.
- Driving while talking on the phone.
- Drunk driving.
When you are involved in a bicycle accident that results in personal injury, make note of all these circumstances, as they will bear on liability and allocation of fault. And as in all other road accidents, defense counsel will try to blame you.
Responsibilities of Bicycle Operators:
Just like motorists have unique driving responsibilities, so do bicycle operators. In addition to those involving the helmet, discussed earlier, there are others. One applies at night, where bikes must have a front lamp visible from 300 feet. From the rear, a red reflex reflector or lamp must be visible from 200 feet. Bikes must also drive on the right, like vehicles, contrary to what you may have seen or heard, and you don’t ever have to drive on the sidewalk: bicycle riders are entitled to drive on the roadways. Further, under North Carolina General Statute 20-4.01(49), our law defines a bicycle as a “vehicle” and thereby imposes all of the same traffic laws on bicycle riders that govern drivers of cars and trucks on NC roadways. Thus, bicycle riders must obey traffic lights and signs and all other traffic laws that govern drivers of cars and trucks. Of course, in the end, no matter how safe you operate a bike, there are careless vehicle drivers out there who may cause you to suffer serious personal injuries. And when they do, their insurance company will try to point the finger at you. In North Carolina, if the bicycle rider is slightly at fault for the accident, they have NO claims and no right to payment for medical claims or property damage! That’s why knowing the rules of the road for bikes and autos, and how they interact, is crucial to bolstering your claim.
This is the primary defence that is presented in opposition to nearly every bike-auto injury claim. The insurance adjusters and defense attorneys will try to blame you for the accident. The reason is that North Carolina follows the harsh and unfair doctrine of pure contributory negligence. Under this rule of law, if you - the victim of another’s negligence - are even one-percent at fault for the accident, you cannot recover personal injury damages from the careless, largely-at-fault vehicle driver. Since most bike riders do not have biker-operator insurance, this means diligent bike-auto counsel must place the entire fault on the vehicle driver. If you want to recovery anything, no fault can be assessed against you, regardless of the severity of your injuries. This of course is all the more reason to immediately retain an experienced personal injury law firm like Nagle & Associates to diligently advance your claim.
Typical Bike-Auto Accident Victim:
As people live longer, they ride their bicycles longer. Also, bicyclists have been granted bike lanes in some areas, and commuting by bicycle has been encouraged both for fuel-efficiency and for health reasons. These factors explain why the average age for injured bike riders has skyrocketed over the years. Whereas thirty years ago the average age of a bike rider was 24, today the average age is nearly double that, at 45. This translates to more serious injuries for bike operators who suffer personal injuries from an auto accident, because an aging body often suffers greater injuries from impact, older individuals are likely to have higher incomes that are disrupted, and adults in their forties are likely to have families who depend on them. Any bike-auto accident is thus likely to have a substantial impact on you, the bike operator trying to get to work, exercise, or simply enjoy the leisure of the ride.
Bike operators injured by the carelessness of an auto driver are entitled to recover the full range of damages available to any other auto accident victim. Past and future medical expenses, permanent or temporary disability, lost wages, pain and suffering, and damages to your bicycle – all are recoverable. We at the Nagle Firm are here to steer you through the pitfalls, marshal the evidence to eliminate any fault that may be blamed on you, and maximize your personal injury accident claim. Our founding attorney, Carl Nagle, is a former insurance adjuster and former insurance company lawyer. He knows how the other side will work to oppose your claims, and he stands ready to protect and enforce all of your legal rights arising from a bicycle accident.