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.