Bicycles provide both an alternative means of commuting, as well as a fun, physical activity. In the past few decades, bicycling has become increasingly more popular. However, with increases use comes increase chance of being involved in an accident. Bicyclists can strike and injure pedestrians. More commonly, bicyclists can be struck and injured by the driver of a car or truck. Below is an overview of common bicycle accidents that can occur and what kind of legal remedy is available to someone injured in those accidents.
When Is A Bicyclist Responsible For Hitting A Pedestrian?Bicyclists are under an obligation to operate their cycle in a reasonably safe way. When a bicyclist fails to do so and causes injuries to another, the bicyclist is generally liable for those injuries. The common starting point of such an accident is determining whether the bicyclist should have been operating the bike in the area the pedestrian was hurt. Despite what it may seem, bicycles are vehicles, just like cars, and are largely treated the same as other vehicles under Kansas law. Section 8-1590 requires that bicyclists use roadways or bike paths. As the Kansas Supreme Court determined in Schallenberger v. Rudd, this statute does not automatically prohibit a bicyclist from using a sidewalk, but instead grants a bicyclist the right to use the road. Most cities or counties do prohibit the use of a bicycle on a sidewalk, particularly when a bike path is provided. The take away from Section 8-1590 is that motorists must be conscious of bicyclists on the roadways—where cyclist may legally be—and bicyclists must be conscious of whether they are allowed on sidewalks. If they permitted to legally ride on sidewalks, the cyclist must be conscious of pedestrians on sidewalks—where the pedestrians are legally allowed to be.
Aside from operating a bicycle in an unlawful place (a sidewalk where ordinance prohibits it), bicyclists can breach their legal duty to pedestrians in several other ways. These include riding too fast on a sidewalk and failure to keep a proper lookout while cycling. When operating a bicycle on a roadway, the cyclist is bound to obey all traffic laws applicable to cars. It is not uncommon for a bicyclist to “cheat” a stoplight, deciding to go through the intersection when the signal is red because no cars are coming. This is just as illegal as running a red light in a car and is likewise just as careless, meaning liability will attach if a cyclist strikes a pedestrian while running the light. Further, the bicyclist on the road is bound to give pedestrians all the courtesies that drivers do, such as yielding the right of way at a crosswalk.
When Is A Motorist Responsible For Hitting A Bicyclist?Motorists and bicyclists alike owe a duty to all others on (or even near) the road to operate their vehicle in a safe, reasonable way. When a motorist fails to act reasonably and injures a bicyclist, the motorist is responsible for those injuries. As discussed above, Section 8-1590 allows bicyclists to drive on all roadways in Kansas so long as they can maintain the minimum speed and aren’t otherwise prohibited by another law. Thus, bicyclists are foreseeable on public roadways, but may not necessarily be foreseeable on major highways (with minimum speeds). Additionally, in Kendrick v. Manda, the court noted that a bicyclist is entitled to all the benefits given to pedestrians when operating their bikes on a sidewalk. In fact, even a cyclist operating on the sidewalk is likely a foreseeable plaintiff when a driver is careless.
The actions of the bicyclist will also be considered in determining how injuries should be compensated. Kansas uses a system called comparative fault, in which each party—the plaintiff and defendant—is assigned a percentage of fault. The plaintiff can recover so long as her fault is 50% or less. However, the amount of damages the plaintiff can recover is reduced by the fault assigned to her. In the context of bicyclists, this means that the motorist will be allowed to present evidence of any carelessness of the bicyclist. This can include failure to obey a traffic law or failure to ride on the appropriate part of the roadway.
When Is A City Or Property Owner Responsible For An Injury To A Bicyclist?Generally, property owners are responsible for injuries caused to guests by dangerous conditions on their property. This responsibility also attaches to public entities, such as cities and counties. Notice, however, that states and the federal government are immune for being sued without a statute allowing suits—a concept known as “sovereign immunity.” When the property contains a dangerous condition, the property owner is required to repair or warn about the condition. Common conditions that can result in an accident include uneven sidewalks, potholes, and debris on paths. Two important things must be proven to recover: the property owner knew or should have known of the dangerous condition and the cyclist was allowed to be riding where the dangerous condition was. If the bicyclist was not allowed to be on the property or allowed to be specifically where the injury occurred, the bicyclist is a trespasser. This means the property owner only owes a duty to avoid willful conduct, not to warn of or correct defects.
One particular area of note are sidewalks. In Kansas, the slight defect rule applies to sidewalks, whether owned by a city or private owner. This rule allows the property owner to escape liability if two things can be shown. First, the dangerous condition that caused the accident was “slight.” This means that a gaping pothole cannot be covered by the rule, but a slab that is two inches higher than other slabs may be. Second, the defect must be the only defect on the property. If the sidewalk is in wide disrepair, the property owner cannot invoke the protections of the rule.
Injuries arising from bicycle accidents are becoming more and more common. When you have suffered injuries from a bicycle accident—whether you were the cyclist or not—it is extremely important to contact capable legal counsel. An experienced attorney can ensure that you receive the proper redress and compensation for your injuries.