Miles of beautiful beaches and nature trails throughout the State of Florida have made it a popular destination for bicyclists. Florida motorists see bicyclists throughout town, especially in downtown and beach areas. While biking is a healthy and eco-friendly mode of transportation, it can prove deadly when a collision occurs between a bike and a motor vehicle.
According to the National Highway Transportation Authority, in 2011 vehicle vs. bicycle accidents resulted in 677 cyclist fatalities. That number accounts for 2% of all traffic fatalities in the United States. Florida saw 120 of those 677 deaths. In addition to fatalities, approximately 38,000 more cyclists were injured as the result of a motor vehicle collision. However, it is estimated that only about 10% of all vehicle-bicycle injuries are reported by the police so the number of injuries is actually much higher.
Recognizing the high number of cyclists in our state, the Florida legislature has adopted several laws that apply to cyclists and motorists alike. Florida law defines a bicycle as a vehicle and its rider as a motorist, meaning that bike riders have the same rights and responsibilities on the roadway as any other vehicle driver. Cyclists must adhere to the same traffic laws as motorists, and motorists must be aware that cyclists are sharing the roadways. Typically, bikers are required to ride in a designated bicycle lane or, when there is none, in the far right-hand lane of traffic. However, an exception to this rule exists which allows cyclists to exit their designated lane if conditions in the roadway would make continued travel in that lane unsafe. If, for example, a vehicle is parked in the bicycle lane or the cyclist sees a large pot hole ahead, he/she is permitted to move as to safely avoid the obstacles.
Florida law also requires bicyclists under the age of 16 to wear helmets at all times when riding. While helmets are not required for persons over the age of 16, they are strongly recommended. Safety helmets are built to protect the rider’s skull in case of a fall or accident. They help to prevent injuries ranging from minor but painful skin scrapes to the face to severe traumatic brain injuries that can result from a serious blow to the skull. Given these Florida helmet laws, many cyclists may believe that they are not entitled to compensation for injuries following a crash simply because they were not wearing a helmet. This is not the case. Florida law provides, “Failure of a person to wear a bicycle helmet may not be considered evidence of negligence or contributory negligence.” Basically, this means that cyclists may be compensated for their injuries whether or not they were wearing a helmet at the time of the crash.
Outside of a helmet, cyclists have no real physical protection in the event of a collision. This exposure can result in severe and sometimes fatal injuries to the cyclist who is hit by an oncoming automobile. Minor injuries can include skin scrapes, bruises and sprained appendages. More severe injuries include broken bones throughout the body, spinal damage or herniated discs, damage to internal organs such as the kidney, spleen and liver, traumatic brain injury, and even death. In the event of a fatality, the surviving family members of the deceased cyclist may be able to recover from the negligent party under Florida’s wrongful death statute.
Most vehicle-bicycle accidents are caused by the driver’s inattention. When a negligent motorist injures a cyclist, the motorist’s insurance policy is on the hook for the damage. Distracted driving habits like texting, changing the radio station or eating take the driver’s focus away from the road and the surrounding area, making it difficult to notice cyclists sharing the roadways. Additionally these distracted driving habits make it more likely that the driver may swerve while travelling down the road and possibly side-swipe a cyclist, particularly in areas where no designated bike lane exists.
The popularity of bicycling around beach and downtown areas also increases the risk that cyclists will be sharing the road with motorists (or even other cyclists) that have been drinking alcohol. (It is important to note that because Florida law defines bicycles as vehicles, you can get a DUI on a bicycle!) Collisions involving DUIs present a special set of circumstances, particularly where the drunk driver flees the scene of the crash for fear of criminal prosecution or monetary liability. While hit-and-run drivers may be difficult to track down, it is not necessarily impossible. If you are struck by a hit-and-run driver it is important to call 911 as soon as you are able. In addition to law enforcement, Dolman Law Group’s team of experienced investigators will work tirelessly to help find the negligent party and bring them to justice. In the event that the hit-and-run driver cannot be located, the cyclist’s own uninsured motorist insurance policy may compensate the victim for his/her bodily injury.
Another important consideration in vehicle-bicycle crashes is that the driver of the car is not always the only person who can be held legally liable for the accident. In some cases dangerous road conditions or areas of low visibility due to poor maintenance may also be to blame. In these cases, the cyclist may also have a claim against the government agency responsible for maintaining the roadways and traffic control devices. It is also possible that the bicycle itself caused or contributed to the cyclist’s injuries if it was not properly manufactured or designed. In these instances, the injured party may have a claim against the companies who designed and built the bicycle. Dolman Law Group’s skilled and practiced investigators will investigate every possible cause of your injuries, and our attorneys will fight for your rights to recover from all responsible parties.
All too often, injured cyclists attempt to handle claims and negotiate with insurance companies on their own. Insurance companies are not on your side- not even your own uninsured motorist insurance carrier. The insurance adjuster’s job is to settle your claim for the smallest amount of money possible. So while they may agree to cover your medical bills resulting from an accident, they may refuse to pay for additional expenses such as loss of income or pain and suffering caused by the crash. This leaves many injured cyclists grossly undercompensated, with no way to continue earning income and providing for their families. The experienced personal injury attorneys at Dolman Law Group, represent consumers, not insurance companies. We know how to effectively negotiate with insurance companies on behalf of our clients and we are not afraid to take your case to trial if a just resolution cannot be met.
If you or someone you know has suffered an injury as a cyclist caused by a motorists’ negligence, faulty road conditions, or a poorly designed bicycle please contact the personal injury attorneys at Dolman Law Group, for a free consultation and case evaluation. 727-451-6900.