Bicycle accidents in California can be caused by reckless drivers, dangerous road conditions, or careless pedestrians. California personal injury laws permit anyone injured in a bike accident to file a lawsuit against the parties who caused the accident. Family members who have lost a loved one in a cycling accident may be able to file a wrongful death lawsuit to compensate the family for their loss.
Below, our California personal injury lawyers discuss the following frequently asked questions about bicycle accident lawsuits in California:
- 1. When can I sue after a bicycle accident in California?
- 2. How common are biking accidents in California?
- 3. What should I do after I get hit by a car on my bike California?
- 4. Is the city to blame if road conditions caused my accident?
- 5. What damages are available in a California bike accident lawsuit?
- 6. Can I sue if my child or spouse was killed in a bike accident?
- 7. Is a reckless driver responsible for my bike crash?
- 8. Can I sue if a pedestrian caused me to crash on my bike?
- 9. Do I have a claim if the driver claims the cyclist caused the accident?
- 10. What happens if my bike was defective and caused me to crash?
If you have further questions after reading this article, we invite you to contact us at Shouse Law Group.
The person or parties responsible for the cycling accident may be liable to pay money damages. An accident victim may seek compensation through filing a personal injury lawsuit in California. If you are injured in a cycling accident in California, you may be able to recover damages for your:
- Physical injuries,
- Bicycle damage,
- Lost wages, and
- Medical bills.
When a bike accident involved a motor vehicle, you should consider speaking to a lawyer before you talk to the driver's insurance company. The insurance company is generally trying to settle the claim for as little as possible. Your lawyer can deal with the insurance company so you don't have to.
Your accident could also be caused by cracked cement, an off-leash dog, or a pothole. In these situations, you may not be sure who is to blame for your accident. Talk to your California bike accident lawyers about who may be responsible so you can get compensation for your injuries.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), in 2015, there were more than 1,000 bicyclists killed in the U.S. and there were almost 467,000 bike-related injuries. In 2010, fatal and non-fatal bike accidents resulted in productivity losses and lifetime medical costs of $10 billion.1
Between 2010 and 2012, bicyclist deaths in the U.S. increased by 16%. According to the Governors Highway Safety Association (GHSA), California has the highest rate of bicycle fatalities. From 2010 to 2012, there were 338 cyclist deaths involving motor vehicles in California.2
Risk Factors for Bicycle Accidents
Anyone who rides a bike can be at risk of a bike injury, even experienced cyclists. However, there are a number of factors that may place some people at a greater risk of cycling injuries or death, including:
- Time of day
- Urban areas
- Helmet use
- Alcohol impairment 3
Sex: Males are 6 times more likely to die and 4 times more likely to be injured on a bike than females.
Age: Those with the highest bicycle death rates include adults aged 50 to 59 years old. However, children and adolescents (5 to 19) have the highest rates of nonfatal bike accidents.
Alcohol: More than 1/3rd of all fatal bike accidents involved a driver or rider impaired by alcohol.4
Time of Day: The majority of fatal bike accidents occurred between the hours of 4 p.m. and 8 p.m.5
Area: The majority of fatal bike accidents occur in urban areas and non-intersection areas. In 2011, almost 70% of fatal bike accidents occurred in urban areas.6
Helmet Use: While a helmet does not prevent bike accidents, it can make a big difference in preventing head injuries or brain trauma. The lack of a helmet is a major contributor to fatal bike accidents or accidents resulting in serious injuries.
California is the state with the highest population in the country. Populated urban areas, especially in Southern California and the Bay Area, also have moderate year-round temperatures, making biking popular any time of the year. This includes bike commuters, competitive racers, and recreational cyclists.
The state's motor vehicle traffic also makes biking a tempting alternative mode of transportation for people who want to avoid sitting in traffic on their way to work. Many areas in urban parts of the state are built around cars, leaving cyclists exposed. These all put Californians at an increased risk of getting involved in a bike accident.
Note that Vehicle Code 21200 imposes on bicyclists many of the same rights and duties as with drivers of motor vehicles.
The most important thing to do after a bike accident is to seek medical attention if needed. If you are injured, call 9-1-1 or ask someone to call for you.
Many bike accident injuries involve head, neck, or back trauma. These injuries should be evaluated by a doctor. You may feel fine right after the crash but wake up the next day in serious pain. It is better to be safe than sorry and get checked out by a doctor to make sure your injuries aren't more serious than they appear.
After a bike-car accident, you should seek to record as much information as possible about the incident, including:
- The vehicle's license plate number;
- The driver's name and contact information;
- The driver's insurance information;
- The year, make, model, and color of the vehicle;
- The vehicle identification number (VIN); and
- Contact information of any witnesses.
However, your safety should still be your main priority. If the other driver is not cooperating, is impaired, or trying to leave the scene, you should simply call the police.
Most people carry their smartphone with them. It may be a good idea to take photos or video of the accident scene and record the vehicle information. You may also want to take pictures of your bike and any injuries.
Do Not Admit Fault
It is common for people to apologize after an accident, even if they did nothing wrong. Your words can come back to haunt you if you admit fault in the accident. If the other driver is aggressive about getting you to admit fault, tell him or her to contact your lawyer.
In a personal injury lawsuit, who is “at-fault” is a question of fact for the jury. Don't admit fault, especially if are not 100% sure of what caused the accident. The driver may have been speeding, texting while driving, or even drunk. Let your lawyer deal with the insurance company and the other driver to get you compensation for your injuries.
Contact a California Bicycle Accident Lawyer
It is important for you to contact an attorney immediately after your cycling accident. Don't try and deal with the driver's insurance company on your own. The insurance company will probably try to get you to agree to a low-ball offer. Do not settle your case for less than you deserve.
Road conditions are a frequent cause of bike accidents. Many cyclists only blame themselves if they crash because of cracks in the road or potholes. However, under California premises liability law, the city or property owners may be responsible for negligently causing bike accidents if they don't keep the roads in proper conditions.
Common road conditions that lead to bike accidents include:
- Cracked cement
- Uneven sidewalks
- Loose gravel
- Lifted asphalt
- Damaged road signs
Property owners may be liable for maintaining their asphalt or pavement surfaces. This could include commercial property, private property, or even city property.
Dangerous Public Roadways
According to the Los Angeles Times, the City of Los Angeles has paid out millions in damages to cyclists and their families caused by dangerous road conditions. In 2017, Los Angeles paid out 17 claims for a total of more than $19 million. According to the Times report, almost 20% of the city's bike lanes (179 miles) are rated as grade D or F.7
In many of these injuries caused by bad roads, the city knew about the dangerous conditions. The public and city employees may have complained about the roads. The city may also have been made aware of prior bike accidents in the same locations. However, the city may just have ignored the dangerous road conditions.
In one case from 2017, a 62-year-old cyclist hit a bad patch of pavement on Reseda Boulevard, causing him to crash. The cyclist, William Yao, broke his neck and was left a quadriplegic. The city settled Yao's case for $7.5 million.8
Unfortunately, Los Angeles is not the exception. Roads across California are in need of repair. Dangerous road conditions place millions of cyclists at risk of crashes leading to injury or even death.
According to the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE), there are more than 195,000 miles of public roads in California. Half of those roads are in “poor condition.”9
Anyone who was a cause of the accident may be liable for injuries sustained in a cycling accident. The types of damages available may depend on whether the victim was injured or died as a result of the accident.
In general, the injured cyclist can sue for compensatory damages in a California personal injury lawsuit. This includes:
- Medical bills,
- Occupation therapy,
- Lost wages,
- Lost earning capacity,
- Loss of consortium (of a spouse or registered domestic partner),10
- Disfigurement or loss of limb,
- Scarring, and
- Pain and suffering.
The damages available also depend on the extent of the injuries. Minor injuries may include emergency medical treatment and a day or two off work. However, some bike injuries are more severe and could require lifelong medical care.
The most common bike accidents injuries include:
- Abrasions, or “road rash”
- Broken bones
- Hand fracture
- Head and neck injuries
- Dental fractures
- Eye injuries
- Strains or dislocations
- Internal bleeding
- Concussion 11
Loss of consortium is considered a loss of the companionship, support, and intimacy between spouses or domestic partners. Damages for a loss of consortium claim allow the plaintiff to recover non-economic compensatory damages, to compensate for the loss of the spouse's or partner's companionship and intimate relations.
In some cases, the injured cyclist might be entitled to punitive damages in California. However, for a punitive damages claim, the plaintiff generally has to show extreme or outrageous conduct by the defendant. This could also include intentional actions by the defendant to injure the plaintiff, such as a driver trying to run down the cyclist.12
If your child or spouse was killed in a bicycle accident, the surviving family members may be able to file a lawsuit for damages. The deceased victim is not able to file a personal injury claim. But surviving family members can file a wrongful death lawsuit in California.13
Family members who can file a wrongful death lawsuit in California include:
- Surviving spouse;
- Surviving domestic partner;
- Grandchildren (if the deceased person's children are deceased); or
- Anyone else who would be entitled to the property of the decedent by California intestate succession laws.
A wrongful death lawsuit allows certain family members to seek damages for:
- Burial and funeral expenses;
- Financial earnings the deceased victim would have earned as income if he or she had survived; and
- Compensation for the loss of companionship and support.
Example: Elena was riding her bike with her partner Gail in Playa Del Rey. Mark was driving his car in a hurry and tried to turn in front of Elena but hit her instead. Elena died as a result of the accident.
As Elena's domestic partner, Gail may be able to file a wrongful death claim against Mark. Gail is a surviving domestic partner and can seek damages for the cost of the funeral expenses, loss of earnings, and loss of companionship caused by Elena's untimely death.
A "survival" cause of action can also be filed in a bike accident case where the victim dies. Under California Code of Civil Procedure 377.30, a survival cause of action is brought on behalf of the victim's estate to seek damages for the losses suffered by the deceased victim from the wrongful act.14
If a driver was reckless or negligent in causing the bike crash, the victim can seek compensation through a personal injury lawsuit. Under California negligence laws, a negligent driver is liable for injuries caused by an accident the driver caused.
Note that Vehicle Code 21209 VC prohibits mootorists from driving in bike lanes. A driver who violates this section and thereby strikes and injures a bicyclist will almost certainly be held liable in court.
To recover damages after a bike accident, the accident victim or surviving family members generally need to prove the driver was negligent. This involves showing:
- That the driver owed the cyclist a duty of care;
- The driver breached that duty of care through negligence; and
- That the driver's negligence was a substantial factor in causing the cyclists injury or death.15
Drivers generally owe a duty of care to
- other drivers,
- pedestrians, and
Driver negligence can be demonstrated by traffic violations, inattentive driving, or other negligent actions. Traffic violations or negligence by drivers may involve:
- Not giving cyclists “3-feet for safety”16
- Failure to yield
- Running a stop sign
- Distracted driving
- Reckless driving
- Driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol (DUI)
According to Bicycling Magazine, the 5 most common bike-car collisions include:
- A driver not seeing a cyclist and making a left turn into the cyclist (this makes up almost half of all bike-car accidents);
- A driver passing a cyclist on the left and turning right into the cyclist's path;
- A motorist opening a car door and hitting the cyclist;
- A motorist exiting a driveway or parking lot directly into the path of a bicyclist; and
- Drivers hitting a cyclist from behind.
If a pedestrian or other cyclist caused you to crash, you may have a claim for damages against the person responsible. Bike accidents involving pedestrians can include:
- Failure to control their dog
- Walking while texting
- Listening to headphones and not paying attention to bike traffic
- Stepping out suddenly into a bike lane
- Running out in front of a cyclist
- Deliberately knocking a cyclist off his or he bike
Like the example above with motor vehicle and bike accidents, the plaintiff would have to prove that the pedestrian was negligent. This requires the cyclist to show:
- The pedestrian owed the cyclist a duty of care;
- The pedestrian breached the duty of care through negligence; and
- That the pedestrian's negligence was a substantial factor in causing the cyclists injury.
Example: Janice was out cycling in Brentwood on a Tuesday morning before work. Ashley was out walking her dog and talking to her friend on the phone. Ashley wanted to take a selfie with her dog but her dog wiggled free and ran into the street right in front of Janice. Janice narrowly missed the dog and fell over, spraining her shoulder.
Janice may have a negligence claim against Ashley for her injuries. Ashley owed other pedestrians and cyclists a duty not to endanger them by letting her dog run around without a leash. Ashley breached her duty by not maintaining control of her dog. Ashley's dog running off was a substantial cause of Janice's crash.
Many drivers do not understand the difficulties cyclists experience with cars on a daily basis. Bike riders may have multiple “close calls” when they ride on the streets. Even when a driver is clearly at fault, the driver blames the cyclist.
If the driver blames you for the accident, do not admit fault. Fault in an accident can be a difficult question to answer. Saying you might have caused the accident could mean you will have to pay for your own medical bills and even pay for any damage to the car. If a driver pressures you to admit you were at fault, simply tell them to contact your lawyer.
In many cases, the driver and cyclist may both share some level of fault for causing the accident. The cyclist and driver may both have been a partial cause of the accident. This could limit the property owner's liability in a biking accident.
Under California's “comparative fault” law, if more than one party shares in the fault for the accident, the jury can apportion fault and damages. This means that the injured cyclist's damages award would be reduced based on the cyclists level of fault.
Example: Anthony hasn't fixed the breaks on his bike so it takes him longer to come to a complete stop. Arthur is driving his truck and passes very close to Anthony before pulling in front of him. Arthur stops suddenly because he realizes he missed his turn. Anthony crashes into Arthur's truck.
Arthur gets out of the truck and yells at Anthony and says Anthony should have stopped. Anthony yells at Arthur for passing too close then stopping short in front of him. Anthony has a broken wrist and his bike is damaged. Anthony files a personal injury claim against Arthur.
After a trial, the jury determines Anthony's medical bills and bike damage total $2,500. The jury determines Arthur was 80% negligent in not giving Anthony a save space on the road and stopping right in front of him. The jury determines Anthony was 20% negligent because he knew his breaks weren't working very well. In this situation, Arthur may have to pay Anthony $2,000 as 80% of the total damages.
Some bike accidents are caused by a defective bicycle or bike part. A bike part could break, causing you to crash or leaving you unable to stop. You may have no idea what happened or who was to blame. Under California's “products liability” laws, the company who designed, manufactured, or sold the defective bike product is liable for injuries caused by that product.
Unlike in other personal injury cases, the injured cyclist does not need to prove the company was negligent. In product defect cases, strict liability can be imposed for:
In order to recover damages in a products liability claim for a defective bike or bike part, the injured cyclist has to prove:
- The defendant designed, manufactured, distributed or sold a defective product;
- The product contained the defect when it left the defendant's possession;
- The plaintiff used the product in a reasonably foreseeable manner; and
- The plaintiff suffered an injury or harm as a result of the defect.
Example: Barbara bought a new Syk-Low cyclocross bike from Richie Rocco's Road Racing Retailer in Reseda. The first time Barbara took her bike out on a trail near her house, the pedal snapped off, causing her to fall and break her clavicle.
Barbara may have a products liability claim against the manufacturer (Syk-Low) and the retailer (Richie Rocco) for the defective bike. Barbara does not have to prove that anyone was negligent in handling the bike. Barbara only has to show:
- The bike was defective,
- The bike was defective when it left the defendants' possession,
- Barbara rode the bike in a foreseeable manner, and
- Barbara was injured as a result of the defect.
Call us for help.
For questions about bike accident lawsuits in California or to discuss your case confidentially with one of our skilled California personal injury attorneys, do not hesitate to contact us at Shouse Law Group. For cases in Nevada, please visit our page on bicycle accident lawsuits under Nevada law.
We have local law offices in and around Los Angeles, San Diego, Orange County, Riverside, San Bernardino, Ventura, San Jose, Oakland, the San Francisco Bay area, and several nearby cities.
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Web-based Injury Statistics Query and Reporting System (WISQARS). Atlanta, GA: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Center for Injury Prevention and Control. Available at www.cdc.gov/injury/wisqars.
- Governors Highway Safety Association. Bicyclist Safety. Available at https://www.ghsa.org/sites/default/files/2016-11/Bike%20Spotlight2012%20E%20-%20FINAL.pdf.
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. WISQARS. See footnote 1 above.
- National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Traffic Safety Facts, 2015 data – bicyclists and other cyclists. Washington, DC: US Department of Transportation; 2017. (Publication no. DOT HS 812 382).
- National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Traffic Safety Facts, 2011 data – bicyclists and other cyclists. Washington, DC: US Department of Transportation; 2013. (Publication no. DOT HS 811 743).
- Reyes, Emily A. “L.A. faces skyrocketing costs for lawsuits over bike crashes.” Los Angeles Times, February 3, 2018.
- Reyes, Emily A. “L.A. to pay $7.5 million to settle suit from bicyclist who was left a quadriplegic after crash.” Los Angeles Times, October 4, 2017.
- ASCE 2017 Infrastructure Report Card. Infrastructure in California. Key Facts.
- California Family Code 297.5 gives registered domestic partners the same legal rights and remedies as spouses.
- Matthew J. Thompson, M.B., CH.B., and Frederick P. Rivara, M.D., M.P.H., “Bicycle-Related Injuries.” Am Fam Physician. 2001 May 15;63(10):2007-2015.
- California Civil Code § 3294
- California Code of Civil Procedure 377.60 (“A cause of action for the death of a person caused by the wrongful act or neglect of another may be asserted by any of the following persons or by the decedent's personal representative on their behalf: (a) The decedent's surviving spouse, domestic partner, children, and issue of deceased children, or, if there is no surviving issue of the decedent, the persons, including the surviving spouse or domestic partner, who would be entitled to the property of the decedent by intestate succession.”)
- Code of Civil Procedure 377.30
- See, e.g., California Civil Jury Instructions ("CACI") 400. See also California Civil Code section 1714(a) (“Everyone is responsible, not only for the result of his or her willful acts, but also for an injury occasioned to another by his or her want of ordinary care or skill in the management of his or her property or person.”)
- California Vehicle Code 21760. Three Feet for Safety Act. (“(b) The driver of a motor vehicle overtaking and passing a bicycle that is proceeding in the same direction on a highway shall pass in compliance with the requirements of this article applicable to overtaking and passing a vehicle, and shall do so at a safe distance that does not interfere with the safe operation of the overtaken bicycle, having due regard for the size and speed of the motor vehicle and the bicycle, traffic conditions, weather, visibility, and the surface and width of the highway.(c) A driver of a motor vehicle shall not overtake or pass a bicycle proceeding in the same direction on a highway at a distance of less than three feet between any part of the motor vehicle and any part of the bicycle or its operator. (d) If the driver of a motor vehicle is unable to comply with subdivision (c), due to traffic or roadway conditions, the driver shall slow to a speed that is reasonable and prudent, and may pass only when doing so would not endanger the safety of the operator of the bicycle, taking into account the size and speed of the motor vehicle and bicycle, traffic conditions, weather, visibility, and surface and width of the highway.”)