It is common to assume that if a bicyclist hits a car or is hit by a car that chances are, the car was at fault. This may be true most of the time, however, if the case goes to trial, both the plaintiff (injured bicyclist) and the defendant (driver) will fight about who was at fault and how much fault was involved by each.
In an unpublished Wisconsin Court of Appeal decision from 1990, a bicylist was exiting a busy shopping area at the same time as a car. The driver had stopped at a red light and was intending to turn right. After looking to the left the driver proceeded to pull out and turn right. She then saw the bicyclist and stopped her car and the bicyclist collided with her vehicle. The bicylist admitted that he saw the car just before impact and did not brake or swerve.
The jury found both parties causally negligent and apportioned 75% to the driver and 25% to the bicylist. In agreeing that the bicylist was partially at fault, the Wisconsin Appellate Court made the following findings:
1. The accident occured at the exit of a busy shopping center;
2. The bicycle was traveling pretty fast and did not slow before the accident;
3. The bicylist was operating a small bicycle at a high rate of speed through a high traffic area;
4. Even after seeing the car, he made no effort to slow down
Personally, I disagree with the apportionment of fault in this case based on the facts. According to the opinion, the driver only looked left before inching right. She never saw the bicyclist until after pulling in front of him. Also, how can a bicylist be expected to slow down when he or she is surprised last minute by a driver pulling out in front without even looking?
The lesson from this case is that bicyclists can be at fault as well, even if the majority of fault rests on the driver. This reduces the injured bicylist's recovery. Last, all Wisconsin bike riders should keep in mind the views that many non-bikers hold towards bike riders. Should you get injured on your bicycle and end up in a jury trial, it is very likely these non-bikers will make up a large portion of your jury. That is why it's important to have a lawyer who also rides and is familiar with all things bicycling so that he can convey this to the jury.
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