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Doug Landau
Doug Landau
Attorney • (866) 735-1102 Ext 610

Bicycle Versus Car

4 comments

As I have just concluded another bicycle crash case, I believe it is important to look at cases involving cyclists. Motorists have a legal duty to drive at a reasonable speed and to keep a lookout for other vehicles. They must also take care to pass bicycles at a safe distance and speed. The Virginia Code provides that: “any driver of any vehicle overtaking a bicycle . . . proceeding in the same direction shall pass at a reasonable speed at least two feet to the left of the overtaken bicycle . . . and shall not again proceed to the right side of the highway until safely clear of such overtaken bicycle.”

When a cyclist is cut off or driven off the road, problems of proof can prevent an injured plaintiff from legitimate recovery for his/her loss. Objective proof, eyewitness testimony and/or physical evidence can help in a bicycle negligence case where the 2-foot zone and/or contact is disputed.

In one case I handled, the defendant motorist denied contact with the injured cyclist, who was traveling in the second position in a line of three cyclists on a two-lane road.

(Fleeter v. Cawthorn, Loudoun County Circuit Court.) Fortunately for the biker with the broken ankle, the third/trailing rider had saved the rear view window from the Defendant’s car. The last rider of the trio had been struck just moments prior to the tortuous impact: the driver did not pass with the 2-foot safe distance minimum.

The case settled after that evidence came to light and several “scene depositions” showed the topography of the roadway, which was an important element of the case. As in most “car versus cyclist” cases, visibility and lines of sight are important issues. In a case where a Virginia Community College physical education professor was injured on a “Maine to Miami” charity bicycle tour, the fact that the motorist had a clear line of vision and decided to try to “beat” the cyclist to the one lane bridge, were critical to the ultimate, and favorable disposition of the case. During the cycling portion of a well-known triathlon, a competitor was struck by a car within sight of the finish line. In Colosi v. Willis, Cambridge, MD, the motorist chose not to continue waiting despite signage and race volunteers. The resulting personal injury claim was not against the race directors or event promoters, but solely against the driver. Fortunately, as the plaintiff was in top physical shape, he, like many of our other athlete-clients, made an almost full physical recovery. Critical to the success of both cases were personal inspection, familiarization, photographing and measurement of the scene as well as preservation of the physical evidence. It is also important to have documentary proof of the worth of the bicycle, as top-end models can cost more than the cars that strike them! See also, e.g,

Kastberg v. Milagros, United States Federal District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, Alexandria Division (Judge Brinkema), wherein we and D.C. co-counsel recovered the full $300,000 policy limits for a cyclist struck while training with his teammates in Reston.

4 Comments

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    Agreed that eyewitness testimony, evidence preservation and scene inspection/documentation are vital to overcoming typical motorsit defenses. The two most common defenses that I encounter here in Alabama, which is a pure contributory negligence state (where 1% of plaintiff’s negligence equals a defense verdict) when a motorist overtakes and strikes a cyclist are “he swerved suddenly in front of me” and “I never saw him.” The former is harder than the latter to overcome because a juror that is inclined to find against a cyclist can use this one bit of evidence to do what he/she wants to do anyway -render a defense verdict. All of the things which you mention are vitally important to giving your cyclist his/her best chance of recovery possible.

  2. Ninety5rpm says:
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    Bicyclists hit from behind are relatively rare types of crashes – much more often are conflicts with crossing traffic at intersections, driveways, etc. Awareness and clear communication — including clear and visible lane positioning – are the cyclist’s best weapons against being hit from any any direction in the first place. There is a good reason for requiring motor vehicles to be equipped with rear view mirrors, and that reason applies even more to slow moving drivers, including bicyclists. Show me a crash where you think the cyclist could have done nothing to prevent it, and I’ll show you a case where the cyclist was not using a mirror, not paying proper attention, not using good lane positioning, etc.

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    Why is it so hard to get justice for cyclists? I was assaulted with a motor vehicle in TX and the police refused to investigate until I could prove the assailant’s vehicle had not been armored up such that there would be damage to investigate. Naturally I was unable to prove any such thing and my case of assault was never investigated in spite of the driver making a U-turn and hitting me at an estimated 65 MPH while swearing at me to get off the road. With us the only vehicles on a 7 lane road (3 in each direction and a center turn lane, with a median, speed limit 45 MPH and the only through street in the area)

  4. Doug Landau says:
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    Dear Opus,
    I was sorry to hear about your accident. When the wreckless driver does not confess or make a video of his attack on a cyclist, it is very difficult to get the law enforcement authorities to do anything about a bike crash with no witnesses. Photos of the scene, measuring skidmarks to show speed, the physical damage to the bicycle can all yield useful information, and even posting “WANTED” posters may identify others who have had similar “run ins” with this crazed and dangerous driver. Your comment has caused me to think about writing about one of my Dad’s “unwitnessed” biker cases later this week at “TheAthletesLawyer.com” Hoping you have healed, our bike is fixed, and that you are riding again, Doug Landau