City Infrastructure Not Conducive to Bicycle Safety
The Wall Street Journal reported in 2018 that the Tampa Bay area was the most dangerous place to cycle in the United States, with Pinellas County—home to St. Petersburg—as the most dangerous of all the counties in that area. The Wall Street Journal reporters used data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), which showed that fatalities from bicycle accidents increased more than 30 percent from 2010 to 2016. Florida’s bicycle accident fatality rate was more than 50 percent higher than the second most deadly state. Additionally, at seven percent, the Greater Tampa area’s fatality rate was higher than Florida’s state average.
Others who have analyzed the NHTSA data have brought to light that, when looking at the most recent five years of data, the statistics are not quite as alarming as first reported. Yet, bike accidents, injuries, and fatalities around St. Petersburg and in Pinellas County continue to rise each year. In 2018, 611 bicycle crashes occurred in Pinellas County, including six fatalities. After examining the most dangerous areas to cycle in Pinellas County, a discussion of injuries that bicycle accidents might face will emphasize the risks for cyclists in the area. Lastly, learning about the steps that you can take after a bicycle accident will help you maximize the likelihood of recovering damages related to your injuries.
Dangerous Bike Paths in and Around St. Petersburg
Bicycle accidents and fatalities have long been a concern of residents and lawmakers in St. Petersburg and Pinellas County. In response, Pinellas County enacted its Bicycle-Pedestrian Master Plan. The county spent the past decade gathering and examining data to have a deeper understanding of the problem. County officials identified some common traits of bicycle accidents in the area, such as that the majority of bike accidents in the county involve teens and adults from age 15 to age 24. Pinellas County also identified high crash areas where bicycle accidents frequently occur. The areas with the most crashes vary each year, but generally speaking, all of the following areas are often near the top of the list, and you should take special care when biking through these places:
- On 4th Street between 9th Avenue S and 46th Avenue
- On North Park Boulevard between Park Street and Highway 19
- On West Bay Drive between Indian Rocks Road and 58th Street
- On Fort Harrison Avenue from Belleair Road to Drew Street
- On Seminole Boulevard from Bay Pines Boulevard to Ulmerton Road
- On Tampa Road from Orange Street to Race Track Road
- From Gulf to Bay Boulevard, especially at Belcher Road, Old Coachman Road, Highway 19, and Park Place Boulevard
- Many intersections along Highway 19/34th Street, including 62nd and 70th Avenues, as well as 5th and 22nd Avenues North
What Types of Injuries Might Result From a Bicycle Accident?
The Florida Department of Health’s most recent data reports 861 emergency room visits due to bike accidents in Pinellas County in 2018, with 79 of those leading to prolonged hospitalization to recover from bicycle accident injuries. Cyclists’ bodies have little protection, so when a motor vehicle strikes a bicyclist, injuries can be severe. Here are some of the most common injuries that a cyclist might experience from an accident:
- Fractures and broken bones
- Head injuries, including traumatic brain injuries, especially in victims who weren’t wearing a bicycle helmet at the time of the accident
- Neck injuries
- Back and spinal cord injuries, including cracked vertebrae and injuries that might cause temporary or permanent paralysis
- Loss of limbs
- Deep lacerations as well as other scrapes and cuts from road rash if a cyclist is thrown from their bike
- Joint dislocations
Common Types of Bike Accidents
Many situations might give rise to a bicycle crash, but dangerous bike paths often lead to the same few types of accidents. Pinellas County Bicycle-Pedestrian Master Plan reports the following as the most common types of bike accidents that involve motor vehicles:
- Left hook crash. This is the most common type of bike accident in Florida and across the United States. A left hook crash occurs when a driver makes a left at an intersection in front of a cyclist traveling in the opposite direction. The driver might turn into the cyclist if he or she is distracted and doesn’t see the cyclist or the cyclist might not be able to stop quickly enough to avoid striking the passenger side of the vehicle.
- Right hook crash. This bike accident happens when a driver turns right and hits a cyclist who is riding in the lane or the shoulder next to the vehicle. These are especially common on busy city streets where bike paths are marked between traffic lanes.
- Intersection crash. When distracted drivers make a right turn at an intersection and don’t see the bicyclist crossing the intersection from the opposite direction.
Liability for Accidents on Dangerous Bike Paths
Florida is a no-fault insurance state, so liability does not immediately play a role after a bike accident; however, when a motorist is negligent and hits you on your bike, Florida law permits you to seek damages in civil court beyond what your insurance policy pays you. When an accident on a dangerous bike path occurs, liability might be more complicated. Your lawyer will advise you on the best path forward given your situation, but if the path is unreasonably dangerous, you may be able to recover damages from St. Petersburg or Pinellas County, depending on who maintains the bike path in question. In these cases, the local entity and the driver might share liability. Things that might entitle you to bring suit against the city or county are covered in depth in the following section.
Efforts to Make Local Bike Paths Safer
High traffic, increasing numbers of tourists, and increasing numbers of cyclists make the bike paths in and around St. Petersburg dangerous. In recent years, increased bicycle fatalities, emergency room visits, and hospitalizations have motivated Florida’s cities and towns to take action to make their bike paths safer. In Pinellas County’s Bicycle-Pedestrian Master Plan, county officials committed to improving the county’s 950 miles of bike lanes, shared-use paths, and sidewalks. The county has spent time and money upgrading roads to increase safety for bicyclists, including by employing the following strategies:
- Shared-use lanes. These are bike lanes that share space with vehicle lanes on a road. Pinellas County officials have added shared-use lanes on roads with speed limits under 35 miles per hour as a last resort. Shared-use lanes aren’t the first solution in residential neighborhoods that don’t have a lot of traffic. When neighborhoods have high traffic, shared-use lanes increase the visibility of cyclists for drivers and help prevent bicycle accidents.
- Striping. When bike paths share a road that doesn’t have striping to indicate lanes, motor vehicles don’t see cyclists as easily, and they may not leave room for them. Pinellas County has striped roads that have room for a bike lane to promote accident-free sharing of the roadway.
- Re-striping. The absence of a bike line on roads that have striped vehicle lanes also create dangerous conditions for cyclists. Re-striping roads to utilize all of the usable pavement and include a bike lane helps to reduce right hook accidents that occur because drivers don’t see cyclists on the shoulder of the road.
- Markings and signs. Bike paths without signage or pavement markings might also lead to an accident because drivers have no reference of where cyclists should be riding on a shared-use path. Pinellas County continues to add signs and markings on the pavement for those on bicycles when roads have striped shoulders with extra width.
- Additional pavement. Pinellas County has increased the size of shoulders on roads that don’t have enough room for a bike lane, helping to reduce the likelihood of a motor vehicle colliding with a cyclist because the cyclist is riding very close to vehicle traffic.
Steps After a Bicycle Accident in St. Petersburg
Even when cyclists follow all regulations, wear a helmet, and remain focused on the road, they might get in a bike accident; they have no control over distracted or careless drivers. Most bike accidents result in injury and require the expertise of an experienced attorney. These are some tips for immediate steps to take after a bike accident before you have the chance to contact a lawyer and learn about your rights:
- Go to the doctor. If you aren’t transported to a St. Petersburg hospital in an ambulance from the scene of the accident, you need to head to the doctor as soon as possible. Your health remains of the utmost importance, and some serious injuries might not show symptoms right away. Additionally, if you choose to sue, a positive outcome hinges on the bicycle accident causing your injuries. Formal medical documentation of your injuries prevents the defense from suggesting that you sustained your injuries at a different time and place.
- File a police report. If law enforcement doesn’t arrive at the scene of the accident, you need to call the police if you are physically able. File a report as soon as possible after your bike accident. If you were transported via ambulance, your attorney can request a copy of the report at a later date.
- Gather information. Sometimes you have to wait a long time before the police come to the scene of an accident, and even if they do arrive quickly, it’s always best to gather information yourself to make sure it matches the police report. Ask for the driver’s name and address, and write down their vehicle identification number and license plate.
- Take photos. Use your cell phone to take photos of the accident scene, including damage to your bike, damage to the car, and anything that might be useful for your insurance carrier or a lawsuit. You should also take photos of any visible injuries that you sustained in your bike accident.
- File an insurance claim. Florida is a no-fault insurance state that requires all drivers to carry a Personal Injury Protection (PIP) policy. PIP covers you when you are on a bicycle and your children if they sustain an injury on a bicycle. Benefits cover 80 percent of medical treatment, like ambulance costs, emergency services, hospitalization, radiology, and more. PIP also covers 60 percent of lost wages when you have to miss work because of your injury. If you don’t have a PIP policy, or you have met your policy limits, you will need to file a claim under the driver’s PIP policy.
Contact an Experienced Bicycle Accident Attorney in St. Petersburg
When you file an insurance claim, it’s possible that your insurance company, the driver’s carrier, or any other party to the defense might deny your claim, downplay your injuries, or try to claim that you contributed to the accident. Florida applies pure comparative negligence to personal injury cases, which means the court reduces an award based on the extent to which a plaintiff might have been at fault for their own injuries. The defense might claim you weren’t following proper traffic regulations, such as not using hand signals, or suggest that you were riding your bicycle after using drugs or alcohol.
Insurance companies also may attempt to make quick settlement offers that sound like a great deal in the short run, but don’t actually compensate you fully for the physical pain, emotional strife, and financial hardship that comes with a serious injury. If you or your child sustained an injury after an accident on a dangerous bike path, you may be eligible to file a personal injury suit to seek compensation. You might be able to recover medical costs and lost wages not paid by your PIP policy. You may also seek damages for future medical care and lost wages in the case of a long-term disability, as well as non-economic damages, like loss of consortium, pain and suffering, and scarring and disfigurement.
The experienced legal team at the Dolman Law Group has extensive experience with personal injury cases, including those that involve bicycle accidents. We understand that this is a difficult time for you and your family. Let a skilled attorney handle the details of your case while you focus on recovering from your injuries. Call the Dolman Law Group in St. Petersburg at (727) 222-6922, or contact us online, to schedule a free consultation and to learn more about your legal rights following a bicycle accident.
Dolman Law Group
1663 1st Ave S.
St. Petersburg, FL, 33712