Can a bicyclist be liable for an accident with another vehicle? Yes, in some cases. In fact, being partially at fault for an accident can mean that you cannot collect damages in a lawsuit in Virginia.
It is easy to believe that a vulnerable bicyclist involved in an accident with a car or other vehicle could never be at fault. However, vulnerability does not determine fault in any crash.
Bicyclists are subject to the same rules of the road as drivers of other vehicles. If a bicyclist violates a traffic law, he or she will be liable if that action causes an accident. If the bicyclist is at fault, she or he will be legally responsible for any injuries or damages suffered by anyone else involved in the accident. Liability is determined on the basis of negligence. This means that whether driving a car, or riding a motorcycle or bicycle, everyone on the roadways is required to operate their vehicle in accordance with the laws. Failure to obey the laws constitutes a failure to act with reasonable care for others sharing the road.
Thus, violation of a traffic law is negligence if someone is injured as a result of that violation. Negligence is the basis for assessing liability for an accident involving a bicycle (the same way that the driver of a car may be liable). If the bicyclist acts negligently by making a left turn without signaling or by ignoring a traffic light or stop sign, that act will likely be the factor upon which fault for the accident will be assessed.
Liability for an accident is determined according to the Commonwealth’s laws regarding shared fault in the event of an accident. Virginia is one of four states and Washington, D.C. that measure fault by a rule of contributory negligence. This rule stipulates that if a bicyclist is partially responsible for causing an accident (in any way), he or she cannot recover financial compensation for their injuries or for other damages resulting from the accident in a personal injury lawsuit. The bicyclist may bear only one percent of liability for causing the accident, but that contributory negligence prevents the bicyclist (or other driver) from recovering damages at all.
All bicyclists (of any age) who ride on public streets (even in bicycle lanes or on the far right-hand side of the lane) must know and obey traffic laws of the state and the local jurisdiction. More bicycle fatalities occur between the months of April and October than any other time of the year.
Before you or your children set out on a bicycle excursion, please check your bicycle for safety (tires, steering, brakes), ensure that you are wearing a correctly-fitting helmet, and review traffic laws.
If you or a loved one are injured in a bicycle accident with another vehicle, you may be entitled to recover financial compensation for your hurts and harms. Call Altizer Law, P.C., for a free initial consultation to discuss liability and injuries sustained. Bettina Altizer and her team have advocated for bicyclists in Virginia for more than 30 years.