When a car hits a bicycle, the driver is more likely to be at fault. However, there are circumstances when a bicyclist may also be wholly or partially liable.
Bicycle accident cases are often based on negligence. An individual is negligent when they have a duty, such as to adhere to traffic laws, and they breach that duty – either by action or inaction. When a person is negligent and causes an accident that results in property damage or injuries, they can be held legally liable for those losses.
An example of driver negligence would be failing to check for a cyclist before merging into the bike lane to make a right turn. They had a duty to share the road and give the bicycle rider the right of way, and they breached that duty. If that negligent action directly resulted in harm or losses to the cyclist, the driver would be considered at fault and legally liable.
In California, bicycles must follow the same laws as cars. If a cyclist violates the law and their negligence contributes to or causes an accident, they may be partially or entirely at fault and liable for damages. For instance, a cyclist would be considered negligent if they roll through a stop sign and fail to yield the right of way to a car that arrived at the intersection first.
In some cases, a third party can potentially be liable for a bicycle accident. For example, if hazardous road conditions contributed to the crash, such as a pothole, an intersection design flaw, or a defective vehicle or bicycle part (e.g., tire or brake failure).
If a hazardous road condition contributed to the accident, a government agency might be at fault. Whereas, if a defective part or vehicle/bike causes a collision, the product’s manufacturer may be at fault.
California law applies the theory of pure comparative negligence in bicycle accident cases. Rather than only one, multiple parties can be considered at fault depending on their contribution to the accident. Each party involved will be assigned a percentage of fault, and their compensation will be reduced accordingly. For example, if a bicycle rider is awarded $100,000 and the driver is 100% responsible, the cyclist will recover $100,000. However, if the driver and cyclist share responsibility and the driver is found 60% at fault and the bicyclist is 40% to blame, the bicyclist will only recover 60% of their award, or $60,000.
Determining liability after a car hits a bicycle can be a complex process. It requires a thorough investigation, including reviewing photos or video of the accident scene, obtaining any available surveillance footage, police reports, medical records, witness statements, and possibly hiring an accident reconstruction expert to determine and testify to the cause of the crash. A San Diego bicycle accident lawyer will have the resources and ability to complete this investigation for you and collect the necessary evidence to prove your claim.