- After a bicycle accident, victims can seek compensation proving the other party acted negligence, which resulted in the accident, and caused the physical injury.
- When determining fault after a bicycle accident, courts will take into account the evidence regarding the accident, but also the events leading up to the accident.
- Compensation is calculated by examining monetary loss, physical injury, emotional suffering, and some cases damages to punish the defendant. Often the defendants insurance will negotiate a settlement to avoid trial.
- Insurance companies often set a limit to how much they are willing to compensate on behalf of their policy holder. Any value above the policy limits will need to be covered by the policy holder, if they posses the financial means.
- Most states have a statute of limitations with regards to filing a bicycle accident negligence claim. These statutes can vary in duration depending on a number of factors, which is why is is important to discuss your case with an experienced bicycle accident attorney.
Bicycle accidents in Missouri can create tremendous legal headaches for both the injured party and the defendant (the party being sued in the lawsuit), often because injured bicyclists can suffer traumatic injuries from even the smallest collisions, such as injuries to the spine, chest, neck, and head. These injuries are most frequently caused by negligent drivers on the road, such as by drivers of cars who are speeding, impaired, tired, distracted, or otherwise violating the law, but can also be caused by poor road design, careless pedestrians and other bicyclists, or as a result of the bicyclists own errors in judgment.
Almost all bicycle accident cases in Missouri are evaluated under so-called “traditional” negligence principles, using a four-part, interrelated test to determine what party may be found legally responsible for the injuries resulting from the accident. First, courts ask whether a legal duty exists to protect against the injury that occurred. Second, was there a breach of this duty? Third, were the injuries actually and proximately caused by the actions of the negligent driver? And, finally, was the injured party actually physically injured? Each element as described will be investigated to illuminate the complexities of this area of law in Missouri.
For bicycle accident victims injured by drivers on the road, it is usually easy to show that the driver had a legal duty to protect against the sort of injuries and accident that occurred. In general, for example, all drivers have a duty to be reasonably careful: that is, to be careful when encountering other drivers, passengers, pedestrians, cyclists, and so on. This legal duty exists for essentially anyone driving a car on the road in Missouri, in any context. As applied specifically to bicyclists in Missouri, Missouri so-called “common” law (that is, law that is not codified in statutory language, but has been created by the courts after evaluating many cases) imposes duties on drivers to protect against bicyclists. In general, bicyclists must be respected as co-equal participants on the road. In the same way that bicyclists are under a legal duty to obey road traffic rules and safety precautions, drivers cannot treat bicyclists as “second class” driving citizens and must stop, yield, and pass bicyclists as they would other drivers of other vehicles. A driver who therefore strikes a bicyclist while changing lanes, at an intersection, or otherwise could easily be found to be abrogating his or her duty towards the cyclist.
Despite this, whether an offending driver has violated this legal duty is oftentimes more challenging to prove than the existence of the duty itself. Courts apply a “reasonable person” test in evaluating whether an offending driver has violated his or her duty. That is, was the driver’s conduct within the conduct expected of a reasonable person? For example, a Missouri driver should probably follow a “reasonable” distance behind a bicyclist while driving, but it would likely not be reasonable to suggest that a driver should be prepared to stop should a bicyclist run a red light and jut out into a driver’s path—that is, should the bicyclist break traffic laws. What exactly this reasonable following distance is, however, might depend on many factors, like the speed limit, weather conditions, time of day, and so on. These inquiries are extremely factually specific to the circumstances of the accident, and rely on eyewitness reports, analysis of tire marks or other marks on the road, or, if possible, traffic camera or dashboard camera videos to reconstruct the accident. Lawyers often hire accident reconstruction specialists in an attempt to determine whether the offending driver was actually violating his or her duty as a safe driver, and, during trial, juries are often tasked with making the decision of whether the driver’s conduct was reasonable given the circumstances.
Moreover, even though bicyclists and motor vehicle drivers are generally required to follow the same sets of traffic laws in Missouri, the reality of cyclists is such that bicyclists are smaller, move more nimbly, and can reach different speeds than a motorcyclist or driver of a vehicle could. This means that the reasonable person test as described above must be applied specifically to the context of a cyclist. For example, whereas it might be reasonable to expect a motorist to accelerate to the speed limit within 100 yards of the stop line, it might be unreasonable to expect this of a cyclist. Whereas it might be reasonable for a motorist to allow three car lengths when changing lanes, it might be unreasonable to impose this same requirement on a smaller bicyclist. As discussed, a skilled attorney must analyze the details of the accident to determine whether the driver and cyclists were acting reasonable in the context of the circumstances of the accident.
The third element requires that the injured party show that the damages they suffered were actually caused by the accident. The causation elements actually subsumes two different inquires in Missouri: the first is the so-called “but for” or “cause-in-fact” test. This test asks whether, “but for” the action or inaction that occurred in the accident, the result would have happened. For example, “but for” the driver of a truck running a red light, the bicyclist would not have been hit, and shattered her collarbone.
“But for” causation, however, has practical limitations. In general, courts consider “but for” causation to be a necessary logical prerequisite, but not necessarily sufficient in itself. For example, using the above example of a driver running a red light, it may have been the case that the motorist ran the red light because he was running late for work. Therefore, “but for” his employer forcing him to work a morning shift, he ran the red light. It is therefore obviously inappropriate to impose liability on the motorist’s employer for the accident, even though the employer may have been a “but for” causal link the chain of events that led to the accident.
A second subtest in Missouri therefore seeks to determine whether the results of the accident were “foreseeable” or “reasonably foreseeable.” Individuals are therefore considered to be liable for results that are foreseeable from their actions or inactions. In the case of a bicyclists: consider the case of a cyclist who was injured when a power line fell in front her path, causing her to fall off her back and break her wrist. If the power line fell because a construction worker failed to properly re-attach the power line to its mount after doing routine maintenance, the construction workers inactions are both a “but for” cause of the action and are reasonably foreseeable. However, if the power line fell because the construction worker spilled honey on the ground while eating his lunch, causing a swarm of bees to burrow into the supports for the power line thus causing it to fall, that the power cable fell and injured a bicyclist is not a foreseeable result of spilling honey on the ground. The construction worker would therefore not be legally liable for the injuries resulting. This is so even though the construction worker’s spill was a “but for” cause of the accident.
Finally, the injured party must actually be physically injured. Being inconvenienced, annoyed, or mentally or emotionally injured is usually insufficient in Missouri to obtain damages in a bicycle accident case, except in very rare cases. Because medical bills are normally a large part of the compensation sought by injured cyclists, it is extremely important for injured parties to consistently document their injuries and expenses with medical professionals as soon as possible after an accident occurs.
In Missouri, it is essential to prove that the injuries suffered by the bicyclist actually resulted from the accident. For example, if a bicyclist injured his arm playing tennis the day before an accident, then suffered an accident in which he is alleging he injured his arm, he will need to prove that the injuries he is claiming actually stemmed from the accident, and not from playing tennis. Oftentimes a physician or medical report is essential in accurately tracing the cause of the injuries to the accident that occurred.
A related doctrine to negligence often relied on by injured parties in Missouri bicycle accidents is called “negligence per se.” Negligence per se is a legal construct that can simplify the negligence tests described above. In a negligence per se action, the injured bicyclist must show that the driver who hit them violated a law that was designed to protect the cyclist, and that the violation of that law was a substantial factor in causing the injuries suffered. For example, if a bicyclist was struck by a car that was being driven 15 miles per hour over the speed limit, the bicyclist likely has a very strong negligence per se action by showing that the driver violated traffic laws, that this law was intended to protect people like the bicyclist, and that violating this law was a substantial cause of the injuries that bicyclist suffered. However, if a driver who simply became distracted hits a bicyclist, it may be difficult (though not impossible) to prove that the driver necessarily violated a traffic law, and negligence per se may therefore be more difficult to prove. In such a case, a normal negligence action, as described above, would be the more appropriate legal cause of action.
Negligence per se can be extremely helpful for injured bicyclists because it shifts the legal burden on the driver to essentially prove that the he or she was not at fault. For example, the driver must argue that he or she did not actually violate the law, or that the bicyclist was not the class of person the law was intended to protect. This is different from a normal negligence action, in which the injured party normally carries the burden at every step of the inquiry to prove that driver had a duty that he or she violated.
Unfortunately, in many bicycle accidents, the party at “fault” is not entirely obvious, and it may be the case that both the driver and the bicyclist are partly to blame for an accident. For example, although it may be the case that a driver who hit a bicyclist was speeding, it may also be the case that the bicyclist failed to yield the right-of-way to the driver or was also speeding. In essence, the driver who struck the cyclist can argue that he or she was only partially responsible for the injuries suffered, even if negligence or negligence per se is proven.
To resolve this situation, Missouri utilizes a system known as “pure comparative fault” for bicycle accidents. Pure comparative fault is generally very friendly to injured cyclists, because it allows injured parties to recover for damages proportional to their fault, even if they were almost entirely at fault for the accident, and generally comports to what most people assume the law might be. For example, consider a bicyclist who makes an illegal left turn and collides with a driver who is going 5 miles per hour above the speed limit. The bicyclist argues that he suffered $100,000 in damages. A court could find that, although the bicyclist was 90% at fault for making an illegal left turn, the driver was 10% at fault for speeding. In a pure comparative fault system like in Missouri, this means that the bicyclist will be able to recover 10% of the $100,000 (or $10,000), even though the bicyclist was almost entirely at fault for his own injuries.
Many bicycle accidents settle outside of court, and, assuming the driver was insured, will involve the at fault driver’s insurance company. Most insurance companies want to settle bicycle accident cases before they go to trial, because preparing for a full jury trial is often time consuming and expensive. Moreover, many lawyers often see juries as being overly sympathetic to the injured party, even if questions of responsibility and liability are unresolved.
The factually heavy nature of bicycle accidents in Missouri means that it is essential to consult a lawyer who is not only familiar with the facts of what happened, but also intimately familiar with the laws and legal decisions of Missouri that govern these situations. As discussed, a knowledge of the interplay of statutory law, common law, and the specific facts and context of the accident is required for an attorney to be an effective advocate of the injured.
If you believe that you have been wrongfully injured while bicycling by another person’s negligence and have questions about the process of filing a claim, our experienced counsel can provide a free and confidential case evaluation. Please contact Thompson Law Office for more informataion and to speak directly with one of our skilled Missouri bicycle accident attorneys.