Most cyclist-motorist accidents involve a driver who failed to look properly when turning or advancing at an intersection. And with the cyclist afforded no real protection, there’s a significant chance they can suffer a serious personal injury as a result.
Let’s examine this idea further with an emphasis on sharing the road safely, what to do if you’re ever involved in a bicycle accident, and some of the time limitations that might be a crucial factor in your case.
Car vs. bike—Who’s at Fault?
Although they cause the majority of cyclist-motorist accidents, drivers can’t shoulder all the blame. Bike riders can also cause collisions by doing such things as disregarding traffic laws or failing to use safety gear like lights and reflectors.
A study at York University, however, concluded that drivers are responsible in most cases. After studying 2,572 motorist-cyclist collisions in the GTA, the research showed the top three causes for these accidents are:
Similar results have been found in many other studies across North America. Still other studies show that these accidents happen less frequently when cyclist and pedestrian traffic is heavier. This suggests inattentive driving could play a factor with more accidents happening when the cyclist is more likely to be unexpected by the driver. That’s why the evidence says that more cycling fatalities happen on rural/country roads than anywhere else per cycling mile traveled.
An Ontario coroner’s report from 2012 studied cycling deaths in the province over five years and concluded that every death was preventable. In most cases, the cyclist was struck from behind by a car or truck.
Common cycling injuries
The unprotected nature of cycling means that you could sustain any number of injuries in an accident. Indeed, most non-fatal injuries are distributed all over the body, especially the arms, legs, head, and chest/abdomen.
The most common injuries suffered in fatal accidents are brain and head injuries such as craniocerebral trauma and traumatic brain injury. Such trauma accounts for three-quarters of all cycling deaths. Catastrophic crushing injuries as the result of blunt force trauma are the second most common cause of death.
These accidents are most often caused by drivers failing to look properly, failing to yield, speeding, driving recklessly, or being distracted. Sometimes, the cause of the accident is a combination of multiple factors. In 30% of cases, criminal charges are laid against the driver—usually for impaired or distracted driving.
Accidents caused by cyclists are usually the result of not looking properly, failing to yield, disregarding traffic regulations, and riding while impaired.
Safer roads, safer cyclists
In response to the coroner’s report, the province adopted the Making Ontario’s Roads Safer Act in 2015. The legislation introduced tougher penalties to promote cycle safety. For instance, dooring a cyclist now results in a $365 fine and three demerit points and failing to leave a one-meter buffer (if possible) while passing a cyclist could cost a driver $110 and two demerit points.
But the onus isn’t merely on drivers. Some fines are targeted toward cyclists to encourage better safety sense. An example of this is the $110 fine for riding with inadequate bike lights at night.
Although the new law met with much criticism—especially among drivers—it’s generally thought that municipalities like Hamilton and Toronto could achieve a more European-like driver-cyclist equilibrium with better infrastructure built around safer cycling practices. Better bike lanes and more roads closed to motor vehicles are bound to reduce the number of bicycle accidents overall. But until that happens, both cyclists and drivers need to be constantly on the lookout for each other.
If you’re involved in an accident
Cyclists involved in motor vehicle accidents have many options for covering their losses. They may be able to claim accident benefits through their own insurance policy or the insurance of a family member or the other driver. The province also has a special fund set up for hit-and-run accidents where the driver can’t be identified.
In extreme cases, it may be necessary to sue a negligent, at-fault driver. This would be the case if you were catastrophically injured—seriously and permanently—and had no other way to be compensated for expenses, lost wages, and pain and suffering.
The amount you could expect in damages depends on how severely you’ve been hurt and how much your life has been changed by the accident. In this way, someone who is unable to ever work again because of their injuries would be entitled to more compensation than someone who suffered minor soft tissue injuries.
If you find you must pursue a lawsuit because of the severity of your injuries, it’s important to hire a personal injury lawyer with plenty of experience helping cyclists rebuild their lives to make sure you do everything by the book and don’t miss any crucial deadlines—see below.
Relevant cyclist personal injury case history
White v. Aransibia (2003): Mr. White, a cyclist, suffered serious head injuries after being hit by a car. As a result, he developed serious cognitive problems and personality changes that hampered his work performance and his personal relationships. White was compensated for all financial losses from his insurance company but decided to sue the other driver for pain and suffering. He also wasn’t wearing a helmet which could’ve lessened the severity of his head trauma.
The judge awarded $100,000 in pain and suffering damages. It was determined that liability for the accident was fifty-fifty because Mr. White was cycling at excessive speed and presumably not keeping a proper lookout. He was also cycling without a light or reflectors.
Pelletier v. Ontario (2013): Mr. Pelletier was struck by a Orillia police car while cycling across an intersection. He sustained serious head and brain injuries as well as a fractured leg and vertebrae. The accident left Pelletier permanently disfigured with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
The police officer had right of way but failed to stop in time due to excessive speed, among other factors, and the judge found the officer 60% liable for the accident. Damages were awarded as follows:
Time is of the essence
A critical element in suing for damages is making sure you file all your paperwork on time. Again, an experienced personal injury lawyer can help you with this. But it’s important to contact one as soon as possible to advise you if you’re in danger of not meeting a target date. This article goes into more detail on statute of limitations for personal injury lawsuits, but it’s important to note that many bicycle accidents involve government agencies, and that’s where windows of opportunity are short-lived indeed.
A government could be named in a lawsuit for any number of reasons from negligent property upkeep (e.g., failing to repair a pothole) to a government agent being involved in the accident—see Pelletier v. Ontario above.
For example, if you intend to sue a municipality – a city or town – the Municipal Act  provides that you have 10 days from the accident to notify them of your intent to sue.
Riding a bike may deliver unparalleled freedom, but it’s important to ride safely. Pay attention to all traffic regulations that apply to bicycles, do everything you can to make yourself more visible to motorists, and wear a helmet—your brain is irreplaceable.
Collisions with motor vehicles are often catastrophic, sometimes resulting in death. If you or a loved one has been injured in a motor vehicle-bicycle collision, it’s important to consult with an experienced personal injury lawyer who specializes in bike accidents to make sure you make all your deadlines and get the compensation you deserve.
Have you been hurt in a cycling accident?
The experienced, dedicated personal injury team at Mackesy Smye wants to make sure you’re fairly compensated for your bicycle collision. Follow the contact link below for a free, no-obligation consultation regarding your case.
If you, or a loved one has been involved in a bicycle accident causing personal injuries, and are looking into the possibility of filing a personal injury lawsuit, contact us today and let’s see how our team can help with your case.
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