It is a universal truth that in a battle between a machine and a man, the machine usually wins. We typically imagine this scenario involving people being hit by cars or buses, but a very real danger also exists when the machine happens to be a bicycle. As the number of people using bicycles (both for recreational purposes and to avoid growing traffic) continues to increase, these accidents are bound to happen more frequently.
What can be done about this situation?
Injuries a Pedestrian Will (Probably) Suffer
Pedestrians can sustain serious injuries from unfortunate run-ins with bicyclists, sometimes almost as bad as injuries in automobile collisions—and definitely much worse than a slip-and-fall. A bicyclist traveling at 15 miles per hour may not seem to be reaching deadly speeds, but he still can cause grave injuries to pedestrians who lack protective gear, such as helmets, and are usually caught off-guard by the collision.
Injuries resulting from a pedestrian/bicyclist accident can range from minor bumps to traumatic brain injuries, and even death. Common injuries include the following:
- Broken bones
- Bruises and hemorrhages
- Severe cuts and abrasions
- Concussions and other traumatic brain injuries (TBI)
- Internal injuries
As you can see, the injuries can be life-altering!
So Who’s to Blame?
Simply being a pedestrian or bicyclist does not automatically determine who is at fault for the collision; fault comes down to an idea called “duty of care.” The failure of a person to act according to his or her respective responsibilities is called a breach to the duty of care.
For example, let’s imagine Bob the bicyclist is riding on a poorly maintained bike—his brakes do not perform as intended. Bob knows that his brakes are a bit “iffy” but neglects to get them repaired. Bob compounds this issue by simultaneously running red lights while arguing passionately with an ex-girlfriend on his cell phone. To top it all off, Bob is riding under the influence of alcohol. Not surprisingly, Bob crashes into Pat the pedestrian while she is crossing the street.
Pat is not entirely blameless, however. She was not using a marked crosswalk and was dodging traffic as she crossed the street, pretending she was in a video game like Frogger. Pat had a few too many drinks at the bar she just visited and was attempting to stumble home to take a nap.
In this situation, both parties contributed to the collision. Bob breached his duty of care by:
- Riding a poorly maintained bicycle with brake issues.
- Disobeying traffic lights.
- Riding while distracted (using a cell phone to the point of distraction).
- Riding under the influence.
Pat breached her duty of care by:
- Not using a marked crosswalk.
- Crossing the road despite oncoming traffic.
- Being intoxicated on a public walkway and street.
According to New Jersey’s comparative negligence laws, both Bob and Pat are to blame. However, Pat could still get compensation from Bob if she was less than 50% at fault. This is why it’s often worthwhile for pedestrians to file a claim against the bicyclist’s insurance, even if they were partially at fault.
What’s the Best Way to Avoid Bike/Pedestrian Accidents?
Be aware of your surroundings. It may be tempting to pop in your earbuds and listen to that new podcast or your favorite rock album, but the likelihood of being involved in a collision increases exponentially when one party (either bicyclist or pedestrian) is distracted. It’s best to keep the volume turned down while keeping your guard up, constantly scanning your surroundings for oncoming bicyclists or wandering pedestrians.
The merry “ring-ring” of a bicycle bell may help avoid accidents as well. While some pedestrians find the jingle of a bike bell jarring or even arrogant, bicyclists often use this signal to alert pedestrians to their presence. Another strategy is for bicyclists to call “I’m on your left!” as they approach pedestrians. There have been instances, however, of pedestrians exclaiming, “What?” while stepping to the left and then being promptly hit by the bicyclist. (In case you’re wondering, the bicyclist is to blame in that scenario.)
One final tip—if you are a frequent bicyclist, it may be worthwhile to invest in a camera to mount on your bike or your helmet. These cameras can record footage that may serve priceless in the event of a collision. Your lawyer and insurance company will thank you—assuming you are not the one at fault! So next time you hop on your bike to get some exercise, remember to stay safe and aware of your surroundings.
If you were the pedestrian, and were seriously injured by a bicyclist, you may want to speak to a New Jersey pedestrian accident attorney to discuss your rights and legal options. For a free consultation with Lependorf & Silverstein, P.C., please call (609) 240-0040.