The summer months in the Northeast bring out the bicyclists in full force on trails and city streets. Unfortunately, it also means tragic accidents when motorists and bicyclists share the roadways. One such fatal accident occurred in Chicopee this July when a woman in her 70s was struck and killed on Fuller Road near St. Patrick’s Cemetery during the morning commute. The only details of the accident released by police were that the cyclist and a car collided, and that the decedent was not wearing a helmet.
A Chicopee police officer took the opportunity to remind the public about safety rules for bicyclists as well as motorists and to be cautious when cars and bicyclists share the road. The officer noted the rising rate of accidents involving bicyclists and motorists and blamed technology for being partially responsible. With nearly everyone possessing a smartphone and a general inability to resist the temptation to text, watch videos, answer phone calls, use the GPS, and do anything else except concentrate solely on driving, it is no wonder that pedestrians and bicyclists are at increasing risk from distracted motorists.
Although the total number of fatal traffic accidents in Boston has gone down by nearly half in the past 3-years, the overall number of traffic-related injuries has not. Although the city has instituted more bike lanes, traffic calming measures, and lowered city speed limits, the number of bicyclists has increased. With more incidences of distracted driving, all users of the road need to be more cognizant of each other and to use commonsense to reduce the likelihood of an accident.
Safety Tips for Riders
The unfortunate rider who lost her life in Chicopee might have avoided a fatal injury if she had worn a helmet. An Australian report indicated that wearing a bike helmet reduced the risk of a serious head injury by 70%, and of a fatal head injury by 65%. While it may not reduce the risk of facial injuries or injuries to other parts of a rider’s body, not wearing one would be foolhardy. In Massachusetts, the law only requires riders 16 and under to wear helmets but if you are injured while not wearing one, this could not only lead to a catastrophic injury but possibly reduce your opportunity to receive full compensation if your accident was caused by a negligent motorist.
A list of safety tips to follow for riders include:
- Always wear a helmet
- Consider wearing bright clothing and make yourself as visible to motorists as possible
- Obey all traffic laws—riders are obligated by law to obey traffic signals, signs and other traffic laws
- Ride in a bike lane if available
- You are required to have a white light on the front of your bike and a red light or reflectors on the back that can be seen from 500 feet away if riding between sunset and sunrise
- Use hand signals when turning—you are also required to use them and may be found at least partially at fault if you are in an accident where you failed to signal a turn
Motorists are also obligated to follow these rules:
- Riders have as much right to the road as motorists
- Cars must maintain a safe distance from a bicyclist when riding next to or when passing—if the lane is too narrow, the motorist must wait until it is safe to pass the bike
- Do not enter a bike lane unless turning, after signaling, and ensuring that it is safe to do so
- Motorists are not allowed to stop or park in biking lanes
- Drivers must not open car doors while parked if there is an approaching rider
Liability in Bicycle Accidents
Often, there are conflicting accounts of how a bike/motor vehicle accident happened unless there are neutral witnesses, surveillance camera footage, or the location of the accident suggests who was responsible. For instance, if the driver side-swiped the bicyclist on a narrow road or struck the cyclist in a bike lane, this may be strong evidence of driver negligence.
As far as injuries as a rider, you have the burden of proving not only that the motorist was negligent in causing your accident but that your injuries were substantially caused by the driver’s negligence. If you failed to stop at a stop light or sign or do not use hand signals when turning, you could be found either totally or comparatively negligent.
In Massachusetts, your own degree of responsibility cannot exceed 49% or you recover nothing. If it is 49% or less, any resulting compensation will be reduced by your degree of fault. Similarly, if the surviving family members of the Chicopee woman sued the driver in the fatal accident, the defendant’s bicycle accident lawyer will certainly argue that her failure to wear a helmet contributed to her death. It will take expert medical testimony to ascertain if wearing a helmet would have either led to non-fatal injuries or none at all.
Damages in a Fatal Bike Accident
The administrator for the decedent’s estate can bring a wrongful death claim on behalf of the immediate family members. Damages may include:
- Funeral and burial expenses
- Medical expenses for emergency services and final treatment and care
- Lost potential income over the working life of the decedent
- Loss of the decedent’s love and companionship
- Pain and suffering of the decedent if he was visibly observed to have suffered prior to his death
- Punitive damages if the defendant’s conduct was grossly negligent
Retain Bike Accident Lawyers Burns and Jain
Bicycle accidents can result in life-altering or fatal injuries as well liability and causation issues that only an experienced and resourceful bike accident lawyer should handle. Call the lawyers at Burns and Jain at (617) 227-7423 for a free consultation about your injury claim.