Who Is Liable When Cars and Bicycles Collide?

Bicycle accidents can lead to serious injuries and other damages, especially when an accident involves a motor vehicle and a bicycle. Most bikes are small and can be difficult to spot, and some drivers fail to notice bicyclists in time to avoid accidents. However, bicyclists have the same rights and responsibilities as other vehicles on the road, and it is possible for a bicyclist to be at least partially liable for such an accident.

Drivers’ Duty of Care

All drivers have a duty of care to others on the road to drive safely and obey the traffic laws and posted signals on the road. This applies to bicyclists as well, so all bicyclists in Portland need to exercise care when traveling near motor vehicles on the road. Liability for an accident comes down to negligence; if two parties involved in a crash both share fault for the crash, then the jury reviewing the subsequent lawsuit will determine the level of fault of each party involved.

When bicycle accidents happen, physical evidence plays a major role in determining liability. Drivers and cyclists may argue over fault for an accident, but the truth will come out through traffic camera data, dash cam footage from other drivers, witness statements, and other physical evidence from the scene of the crash.

Oregon’s Comparative Negligence Statute

Oregon follows a comparative negligence law, meaning it is possible for a plaintiff to share some liability for a claimed accident and still recover damages. However, he or she loses a portion of the damages equal to his or her degree of fault and the plaintiff may only recover damages if his or fault does not exceed 50% of the total fault for the claimed accident.

Consider the example of a bicyclist riding in a bike lane alongside a regular traffic lane. The bicyclist approaches a red light, but assumes he or she has enough time to make it through the intersection next to the crosswalk. Instead of properly taking the lane to wait for the light to change, the bicyclist heads straight through the intersection intending to continue on the bike lane past the crosswalk. A driver with a green light coming from the cross street makes a legal right-hand turn in the path of the bicyclist, creating an accident. In this situation, it is likely both parties will share fault for the resulting damages.

Damages with Comparative Negligence

The jury may consider that the bicyclist bears more fault for the accident because he or she ran a red light, which is illegal for any driver or cyclist. However, the jury may also believe that the driver should have checked before executing the turn, even though he or she had the right-of-way. Additionally, a jury may tend to favor an injured cyclist in bicycle-motor vehicle accidents because he or she has very little protection from accidents compared to a driver of an enclosed vehicle.

Imagine the bicyclist in this example files a personal injury claim against the driver. Once the jury learns that the cyclist ran a red light, the jury will likely establish comparative negligence based solely on this fact. The bicyclist claims $50,000 in damages for medical expenses, lost income, pain and suffering, and property damage. If the jury finds the bicyclist 50% at fault for the accident, then he or she would only recover 50% of the damages for a net total award of $25,000 instead. However, if the jury finds the bicyclist 51% or more at fault, he or she would not be able to recover any damages for the incident.

A personal injury attorney is an asset to anyone involved in a bike accident with a car in any capacity. An attorney will help build a strong case to limit the client’s personal liability and maximize compensation after an accident. Bicyclists must take care to navigate Oregon roads as they would while driving cars and remember they have the same duty of care as any other driver on the road.