Personal Injury

Liability in Bicycle Versus Pedestrian Accidents

By Carol DiBari, Attorney
Roadways can be particularly dangerous for pedestrians and cyclists, who need to be wary of vehicles, but also of each other. How is fault established after a bicycle-pedestrian accident?

Roadway collisions most frequently involve at least one motor vehicle, but they can also occur between pedestrians and bicyclists, whether at an intersection, on a sidewalk, or elsewhere. But since pedestrian-versus-bicycle accidents are relatively rare, the rules of liability may not be as well known. In this article, we'll discuss the legal "duty of care" that bicyclists and pedestrians owe to one another on the roadway, the factors that go into a fault determination after an accident, and more.

Bicyclists, Pedestrians, and the "Duty of Care"

The legal principle that governs fault in almost every personal injury case is "negligence," and in any negligence case, the existence of a "duty of care" must be established.

By utilizing the roadways, both bicyclists and pedestrians assume a legal duty to act as a reasonable person would act, taking into consideration all the circumstances that exist at a particular moment (even as circumstances are in constant flux on roads and in intersections).

For example, if there is poor visibility due to heavy fog, both cyclists and pedestrians are required to use extra caution, since the fog likely limits their ability to see and anticipate potential dangers, roadway obstructions, and others on the roadway. Similarly, if the roads are slippery due to snowy, rainy or icy conditions, both cyclists and pedestrians would be required to exercise additional care when crossing or traveling through an intersection. Should a cyclist or pedestrian breach the duty of care by acting carelessly (or even recklessly) then they could be held liable for any injuries or damages resulting from that breach.

Proving Fault After a Bike-Pedestrian Accident

Once a breach of the duty of care is established, the injured person will have to prove that the breach actually caused (or contributed significantly to) the accident.

To continue with the first example above, if a cyclist speeds down a hill in heavy fog during rush hour, failing to see and then striking a pedestrian who is crossing the street in a clearly-marked crosswalk, then the pedestrian will probably be able to successfully argue that:

  • the cyclist’s failure to exercise additional caution in foggy conditions -- riding at excessive speed in limited-visibility conditions -- amounted to a breach of the duty of care, and
  • the cyclist's breach of the duty of care led directly to the injuries sustained by the pedestrian.

What about proving fault on the part of a pedestrian? Assume a pedestrian is in a hurry on a cold, snowy day and decides he can beat an approaching cyclist and cross the intersection, despite not having the light. The pedestrian slips on a patch of ice in the road and falls in front of the cyclist, who despite traveling cautiously, swerves to avoid the fallen pedestrian, falls off the bike, and sustains injuries. In this case, the cyclist, who was traveling lawfully and carefully, need only show that he could not have stopped in time to prevent the collision. The pedestrian, who disregarded the traffic signal and the hazardous weather, would likely be found negligent and would be liable for the cyclist’s injuries.

Other ways to prove negligence include showing that the cyclist/pedestrian was distracted at the time of the collision, due to texting or other phone use, or that the cyclist/pedestrian was in violation of some traffic law at the time of the accident.

Shared Fault Considerations

Note that, as with many negligence cases, fault is not always apportioned 100% to one party in a bicycle-versus-pedestrian lawsuit. In situations where a civil trial takes place and a jury finds that fault is shared, depending on the state, the legal concepts of contributory negligence and comparative negligence will dictate how a money judgment will be affected.

Be Prepared

Cyclists should make sure that their bicycles are properly insured to help protect themselves from the unexpected. Pedestrians should review their homeowner's insurance policies and see whether the policy provides protection for a bicycle vs. pedestrian accident. If you find yourself involved in a bicycle-pedestrian accident where injuries are significant and key issues like liability are in dispute, it may be time to discuss your situation with an experienced personal injury lawyer.

If you've been involved in a car accident within the last three years, please consider taking our car accident survey so that we can include your experience in Martindale-Nolo's 2016 Car Accident Survey. Your participation will help inform others about their situation and options before dealing with their car accident.

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