Every year, tens of millions of people safely enjoy bicycling for exercise, recreation and, in increasing numbers, to commute to work.
According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), 677 people were killed while riding bicycles in 2011 and 38,000 were injured. (Some believe that because most bicycling injuries are not reported to the police, the actual number of injuries could be as many as ten times the number of reported injuries.) According to the National Safety Council, the total cost of bicyclist injury and death is over $4 billion per year.
Most of the Maryland bicycle accidents occur in these circumstances . . .
- Left turns in front of bicyclist. This is where a cyclist and a motor vehicle are approaching an intersection from opposite directions, and the car driver suddenly makes a left turn in front of the cyclist.
- Right turns in front of bicyclist. This is when you are riding straight but, as you approach an intersection, the car behind you pulls in front and makes a right turn, cutting you off.
- Car doors opening. Unfortunately, persons in parked cars often open their doors without looking, often causing bicycles to crash.
- Dogs. Some dogs are attracted to moving bikes, shiny spokes, spinning wheels, tires and chains. They can cause crashes and injuries.
- Side swipes. This happens when motorists get too close to bicyclists riding on the right side of the roadway. Vehicles with wide trailers or wide mirrors on the tow vehicles pose a special danger to bicyclists.
When a Maryland bicycle accident happens, it can be difficult to determine legal responsibility.
For help if you have been injured in a bicycle accident, you can call me now for an immediate and free evaluation of your case. My office phone is 301-874-1520, and my mobile phone number is 240-601-7335.
Alternatively, to learn more about Maryland bicycle accident law, read on.
Maryland bicycle accident law is based on a fault system.
That is, a striking driver is “liable” and must pay damages to any cyclist who was injured only if the driver was at fault.
Those of us who focus on Maryland bicycle accident law usually describe bicycle accident claims as having two components which we commonly call “liability” and “damages,” and that is the framework I will use to discuss Maryland bicycle accidents.
Liability means “Who caused the accident?”
A determination of fault depends on two things: the facts of your case and state law.
To help the evaluation process, you should do these things as soon as possible to preserve the facts or “evidence:”
- Write down the facts. Write down everything you can remember about where the accident happened, when it happened, where you were when you were struck, the weather conditions, anything the vehicle driver said at the scene, etc.
- Make pictures of the scene and of the bicycle and vehicle(s) involved.
- Identify witnesses and, if possible, get statements from them.
- Get a copy of the State of Maryland Motor Vehicle Accident Report, if one was written.
If you hire a Maryland bicycle accident lawyer, your lawyer will investigate the facts of your case and gather the necessary proof of liability.
The second thing that determines liability, in addition to the facts of your accident, are the rules of the road that govern the relationship between motor vehicle and bicycles.
Under Maryland law, bicycles are vehicles, and bicyclists have rights and responsibilities just as do drivers of motor vehicles –- but, of course, bicycles are less visible, quieter, and don’t have a protective barrier around them.
Maryland Traffic Laws For Motorists
- The driver of a vehicle overtaking another vehicle, including a bicycle, which is going in the same direction, shall pass to the left of the overtaken vehicle at a safe distance.
- The driver of a vehicle overtaking another vehicle that is going in the same direction, until safely clear of the overtaken vehicle, may not drive any part of his vehicle directly in front of the overtaken vehicle.
- Drivers shall exercise due care to avoid colliding with any bicycle or motor scooter being ridden by a person. The driver of a vehicle must not pass any closer than three (3) feet from a bicycle or motor scooter if the bicycle is operated in a lawful manner. (It is not lawful to ride against traffic.)
- After passing, the driver must make sure s/he is clear of the bicyclist before making any turns. The bike has the right of way, and you must yield to the bike, when you are turning.
- Motorists must yield the right-of-way to bicyclists riding in bike lanes and on shoulders when these vehicle operators are entering or crossing occupied bike lanes and shoulders.
- When riding on a sidewalk, where such riding is permitted, or a bike path, a bicyclist may ride in a crosswalk to continue on their route. Motorists are required to yield right of way to a bicyclist operating lawfully in a crosswalk at a signalized intersection.
- A person may not throw any object at or in the direction of any person riding a bicycle or a motor scooter.
- A person may not open the door of any motor vehicle with intent to strike, injure, or interfere with any person riding a bicycle or a motor scooter.
Maryland Traffic Laws For Bicyclists
- Bicyclists must obey all traffic signals, signs and pavement markings, just as do drivers.
- A bicyclist riding slower than the speed of traffic must stay in the right hand through lane (much the same way as a slow moving vehicle is) and as close to the right side of the road as is safe. A bicyclist can move farther left to: (1) Make or attempt to make a vehicular-style left turn, (2) pass a stopped or slower moving vehicle or (3) avoid pedestrians or road hazards.
- This ride-to-the-right provision does not apply when operating in a lane that is too narrow for a bicycle to travel safely side-by-side with another vehicle within the lane. The provision also does not apply where the right-hand lane is a turn lane, or the bicyclist is operating on a one-way street.
- A bicyclist riding at the speed of traffic can operate in any lane, just as any other vehicle can. Where there is not a bike lane, a bicyclist may also use the shoulder of the roadway.
- Bicycles may not be ridden in the travel lanes of any roadway where the posted maximum speed limit is more than 50 miles an hour; however, bicycles may be operated on the shoulder of these roadways.
- Bicycles may not be operated on expressways (access-controlled freeways and interstate highways), except on an adjacent path or facility approved by the State Highway Administration.
- All bicycles must be equipped with brakes capable of stopping from a speed of 10 miles per hour within 15 feet on dry, level, clean pavement.
- If operated in low visibility conditions, bicycles must also be equipped with a white beam headlight visible at a distance of 500 feet, and a red rear reflector visible at a distance of 600 feet if night time or during unfavorable visibility conditions. Alternately, a bicyclist may be equipped with a functioning lamp that acts as a reflector and emits a red light or a flashing amber light visible from a distance of 500 feet to the rear instead of, or in addition to the red reflector above.
- A bicycle or motor scooter may be equipped with a bell or other audible device, but not a siren or whistle.
- Any rider under the age of 16 must also wear a helmet that meets or exceeds the standards of the American National Standards Institute, the Snell Memorial Foundation, or the American Society for Testing and Materials.
Defenses To Liability Claims
The insurance company for the driver may simply deny that their driver did anything wrong.
Or, the insurance company may raise defenses to your liability claim such as “contributory negligence.”
The alternative to contributory negligence that exists in most states is called “comparative negligence,” a much better and more fair rule.
Under comparative negligence, which varies slightly among the states that have this rule, the fault of the two drivers is “compared” and the one who is more at fault pays while the one who is less at fault has his or her claim reduced by the percentage of their fault. For example, if Jones is 90% responsible for causing an accident and Smith is 10% at fault, Smith can recover from Jones for her injuries, but Smith can only recover 90% of full compensation.
Unfortunately, Maryland is one of only four states that has a very harsh rule called “contributory negligence.” If it exists in your case, contributory negligence defeats your claim.
According to the contributory negligence rule in Maryland, if you contributed in any way to causing your accident, you have no claim against the driver. In theory, if you are only 1% responsible for causing an accident and the striking driver is 99% at fault, under Maryland bicycle accident law you are not entitled to recover from the striking driver!
Under Maryland bicycle accident law, if you can prove that the driver caused your accident and that you did nothing to contribute to causing the accident, there is ‘liability.’
“Damages” is the term that refers to the consequences of the striking driver’s carelessness. In other words, “What harm did the carelessness cause?”
There are two main categories of damages in Maryland bicycle accident law, property damage and personal injury damages.
Property damage, or “P.D.” as it is sometimes called, refers to the damage to your property, your bicycle.
If anything you were carrying was damaged or destroyed, the at-fault driver must compensate you for those losses, too.
“Damages” also include injury claims. Some insurance companies call these personal injury claims, or “P.I.” claims. Others call them bodily injury, or “B.I.,” claims. By whatever name, this is your claim to be compensated for the injuries that the striking driver’s carelessness caused.
Under Maryland pedestrian accident law, P.I. (or B.I.) damages include economic losses and noneconomic losses.
The economic losses that you can recover include . . .
- all medical bills you incurred treating injuries that resulted from the accident,
- any loss of income, such as employment income, and
- any other economic losses that result from the accident.
If Maryland bicycle accident law merely required the careless driver to pay for your financial losses, you would not be fully and fairly compensated.
The economic losses are not what you will remember years later about this experience. What you will remember more is the pain of your injuries, the mental uncertainty, the sleepless nights (or whatever your symptoms were) and the disruption to your life that the careless driver caused.
Because you did nothing to cause these losses, fundamental fairness — and Maryland bicycle accident law — require the one who caused your injuries to compensate you in money damages for such noneconomic losses as . . .
- physical pain
- mental anguish
- physical impairment
- damage to your marital relationship.
To be able to prove these losses, keep a diary which answers this question: How has this accident affected my life?
If you hire a Maryland bicycle accident lawyer, such as me, your lawyer will help you gather and develop the evidence of your noneconomic losses.
Defenses To Damage Claims
You must be able to prove that the striking driver’s negligence caused your injuries and damages.
Often, the defending insurance company will raise the defense that something other than their driver’s carelessness caused your damages. They may claim that the “real cause” (their term, not mine) of your injuries was an earlier accident, a later accident, the normal aging process . . . or anything else they can think of.
Normally, you will defeat these claims with expert testimony, such as your doctor’s opinion that your injuries are the result of your bicycle accident.
How Much Are You Entitled To Recover For Your Injuries?
The amount of compensation you are entitled to receive for your injuries depends on the circumstances of your case. Obviously, in addition to the amount of your financial losses, that determination will depend on such things as . . .
- how seriously you are injured
- how long you suffered with your injuries and
- whether you recovered fully
What you want is a full and speedy recovery from your injuries. If that happens, you will still have a claim against the careless driver, but it will be for less than the claim you will have if you do not recover quickly or completely.
Fair compensation for your injuries under Maryland bicycle accident law includes the full amount of the medical bills that were caused by your bicycle accident, the full amount of the income that you lost as a result of your cycling accident and an additional amount for pain, suffering, inconvenience and the like.
The end result could be as little as about 1 ½ times your out-of-pocket losses for your medical bills and loss of income to an amount 10 times your financial losses, or more, if your injuries are very severe and permanent.
Here’s a rule-of-thumb to keep in mind: the more seriously you are injured, and therefore the more you are entitled to recover as damages, the more the at-fault driver’s insurance company will resist you. If you have been seriously injured and have substantial losses, you should have an experienced Maryland bicycle accident lawyer on your side protecting your interests.
PIP No-Fault Claim
Here is one final, but important, point about Maryland bicycle accident law.
Everything that I have told you so far about injury claims concerns your liability claim against the careless driver who caused your accident. (Actually, in almost all cases, although your claim is against the careless driver, you will deal with that driver’s insurance company and that company, not the driver, will pay the claim under the driver’s liability insurance coverage.)
However, there may be another claim you can make after your Maryland bicycle accident.
I am referring to a claim under a type of insurance coverage called “PIP” — which rhymes with “sip” — and which stands for “personal injury protection.” Actually some insurance companies have other names for it — such as economic loss protection — but everyone in the industry knows this coverage as PIP.
Although Maryland bicycle accident law is based on fault, PIP is an exception. PIP is a no-fault claim. That means that, after an accident, you can make a PIP claim without proving who caused the accident. You simply have to prove that an accident occurred and that, as a result, you suffered damages that are covered by PIP.
PIP covers your medical bills and (85% of) your lost income, up to the policy limit. The policy limit must be at least $2,500, and some insurance companies offer up to $10,000 of PIP coverage.
The driver’s PIP insurance coverage is “primary,” which means that the driver’s insurance company must pay PIP benefits to an injured cyclist.
If that driver did not have PIP insurance, the bicyclist’s car insurance policy provides “secondary” coverage and pays the PIP claim.
The real value of PIP — in fact, the reason that it came into existence — is that it can provide benefits much sooner than your liability claim against the at-fault driver.
As I discuss elsewhere at this website, you should not even present your injury claim until you fully recover from your injuries (or, at least, recover as much as you are going to), but you can submit your PIP claim without delay. Then, if you have additional medical bills or lost wages, you can send a supplement to your PIP claim. In fact, you can keep submitting supplements until your medical bills and lost income stop or until you have received the policy limit of benefits.
Here’s an insurance TIP. I recommend that you purchase as much PIP coverage as your insurance company will sell you. It doesn’t cost much, and it is awfully handy if you are in a serious auto accident that disables you for a lengthy time.
You can safely make a PIP claim under your policy without fear that your insurance rates will increase or that making the claim will affect or limit in any way your liability claim against the careless driver. It won’t.
To learn more about Maryland bicycle accidents, contact me any time.
You can call me NOW for an immediate and free discussion of your bicycle accident in Maryland.
Call 301-874-1520 (Office) or 240-601-7335 (mobile).