Written By: Patrick Brown and Kate Hunter, Summer Student
With increased congestion on the roads, more and more individuals are choosing to ride their bikes to avoid some of the bumper-to-bumper traffic and avoid the costs associated with owning a car. However, distracted drivers and narrow or poorly designed roadways put cyclists at risk for a run in with a vehicle. If you have been hit and injured while riding your bike, you are not without legal recourse. Continue reading below to find out how to deal with this type of collision.
Understanding the Physics Behind Car versus Bike Collisions
Every moving object has kinetic energy. Kinetic energy refers to the energy that is derived by any object being in motion. When a cyclists and driver of a vehicle collide, the reaction of force sent back into the vehicle and cyclist will differ. While a collision with a cyclist may have little impact on a vehicle driver, it can be deadly for a cyclist. For drivers in a motor vehicle, the force of the collision will be dissipated across the frame of the car, thereby minimizing the damage. However, cyclists have no such protection and with no surrounding armour like passengers have in a car, the force of a motor vehicle accident is applied right to the body of a cyclist
When a cyclist is stopped suddenly because they have come into contact with a vehicle, kinetic energy continues to be transferred. In other words, the bike may be stopped but the rider remains in motion. This often results in the cyclist going over their handlebars or falling off their bike sideways at an even greater rate of force. If a cyclist is hit and ejected from their bike, they will either come into contact with a larger object that brings them to a stop, or they will skid across the pavement until they come to a stop. Either of these outcomes can result in grave or life-threatening injuries.
Common causes of bicycle and vehicle collisions include:
- Drivers in parked cars opening their doors without looking if it is safe to do so;
- Distracted driving;
- Sideswiping or passing too closely;
- Right hooks and left hooks across bike lanes, paths, and sharrows;
- Aggressive drivers;
- Failing to look or properly yield at an intersection;
- Distracted drivers on their phones;
- Drunk drivers.
Steps to Take Immediately After a Car versus Bike Collision
Step 1: Assess Your Injuries
Immediately after you’ve been in an accident, the first step for any cyclists is to get to a safe area and then assess your injuries. Being in a motor vehicle accident is a traumatic experience, and you may not be aware that you’ve suffered an injury. Assess your injuries and if needed seek medical or emergency services promptly. Keep in mind, invisible injuries like brain trauma or internal bleeding can be fatal. As such, securing medical attention can be crucial. It should be noted that a helmet is one of the best measures cyclists can take to protect themselves.
Step 2: Contact the Police or Report the Collision
If you’ve been hit by a driver, you should inform the proper authorities. Not only will this serve to document the collision, but it will be useful for filing an insurance claim.
If you have suffered injuries due to the negligence of a driver, calling the police is an important step to make sure you receive justice. As mentioned above, adrenaline and shock may minimize your injuries, as such seeking emergency help may be critical in the aftermath of an accident to address your injuries.
While in the aftermath of an accident you may want to ride home or leave the scene, however, it is best to sit down and wait. Take your time, assess your health, and document your evidence (more on this below).
If police don’t attend the scene, head to your nearest collision report centre. Again, by reporting a collision you will be given a Motor Vehicle Accident Report that will contain vital information for your insurer when you seek to claim benefits. Moreover, this data will help cycling advocates seek more bike lanes and safer road designs.
Step 3: Document
You will want to document the scene by taking photos and getting witness contact information. More on this below.
Step 4: Notify your Auto Insurance Company
Most auto insurance policies will cover your injuries, even though you weren’t driving. As such, you should notify your insurance company as soon as possible. Under the Statutory Accident Benefits Schedule, you have 7 days to notify your insurer of your intention to claim. Don’t hesitate, as your delay could disentitle you to valuable benefits.
Building a Strong Case for Justice
Document! Document! Document! The more evidence, the better!
Document the Collision
If you are injured as a result of the negligence of some driver, it will be important to document the event.
You will want to get the information from the driver including:
- Their license plate number
- Their personal contact information
- The name of their insurance provider
Make note of any witnesses on the scene, you, or someone there, should obtain names and contact information of all potential witnesses. Additionally, if police are called to the scene, document the name and badge number of any officers present.
Taking photographs is another great way to document the collision. Take photos of the entire scene, damage to your bike, damage to the vehicle; and any road markings. If possible, take photos of the your bike and vehicle before either are moved. You should also take photos of any damage you sustained. This includes photos of any injuries you have and/or damage to your property.
While an accident of this nature can be traumatic, if possible, you should try to write down a record of what happened:
- What were the road conditions like?
- Where were you?
- What were the traffic lights displaying?
- What were you doing leading up to the accident?
- How many people were around?
Unfortunately, memories fade so taking notes immediately or soon after the collision will be useful in maintaining a record of the accident.
You will also want to continue to track your injuries, especially if you experience a latent onset of symptoms or if your condition deteriorates or changes. This will be useful information to support your insurance claim.
Holding Bad Drivers Accountable for their Actions
While cyclists are subject to the rules of the road, just like drivers, they are not required to have insurance. However, this does not mean that if you are hit as a cyclist you are not without legal recourse.
If you have been in an accident as a cyclist, you may receive compensation from the following:
- The insurance of the vehicle involved in the collision with you;
- Your personal car insurance, or that of your spouse, or of someone you are listed as a dependent of;
- The Ontario Motor Vehicle Accident Claims Funds.
If you are injured in a motor vehicle accident, you can sue the driver or owner of the vehicle for damages. In other words, you can seek monetary compensation from their insurance. Being partially at fault for the collision will not disentitle to you claim compensation against the driver – it may just reduce the amount of damages you receive.
While in a typical motor vehicle accident claim, plaintiffs must demonstrate that someone else is responsible for their injuries. Meaning plaintiffs must prove that the other driver was negligent and that their negligence resulted in the collision, the injuries sustained, and any subsequent damages. However, claims involving vehicles and cyclists or vehicles and pedestrians differ. Under section 193(1) of the Highway Traffic Act, there is a reverse onus provision that sets out that,
When loss or damage is sustained by any person by reason of a motor vehicle on a highway, the onus of proof that the loss or damage did not arise through the negligence or improper conduct of the owner, driver, lessee or operator of the motor vehicle is upon the owner, driver, lessee or operator of the motor vehicle.
This means that there is a burden placed on the driver of the vehicle to prove that their conduct was not negligent. Drivers involved in a cyclist or pedestrian accident are thereby presumed to be negligent and bare the responsibility of proving otherwise.
Legal Options and Strategies for Seeking Justice
If you’ve been injured as a result of a cycling collision, you may want to consult a lawyer to help you with a claim. An experienced bike lawyer will know the importance of and know how to go about investigating the scene, obtaining photographs, finding witnesses, preserving critical video evidence, soliciting police records, funding experts, getting the right forensic engineers, accessing vehicle data, and retaining experts in municipal disrepair. Consulting an experience bike lawyer will create a strong foundation for your case and help you focus on the most important thing – recovering from your injuries.
The personal injury and bike lawyers at McLeish Orlando understand how injuries sustained in bike crashes can change one’s life overnight and potentially cause pain and disability for years or for life. Our goal is to obtain compensation for our clients so they can return to the quality of life they retained prior to the collision, and hopefully, put the accident behind them.
For more information on bike safety and commonly asked legal questions, see “June is Bike Month! – Clips & Tips with Patrick Brown”.