This week’s question comes from Nancy L. in Pacific Heights, who asks:
Q: “I was riding my bicycle down Market Street near 5th Street when the Uber driver in front of me came to an abrupt stop. I started to slow down and veered to the left side to ride past him, when suddenly the passenger flung the back left door open. It all happened so fast. I had no way of avoiding getting hit by the door. I fell off my bike and onto the ground. I remember feeling immediate pain in my right arm, but I managed to take a picture of the Uber driver’s license plate with my cellphone. Soon after the collision, an ambulance arrived and I was transported to the hospital. After taking x-rays, the doctor told me that I had fractured my arm and I would need surgery. The medical bills keep piling up and I had to miss several days of work. I realize that this is not a typical car accident, but is there anything I can do to recover for my medical bills, lost wages, and pain and suffering?
A: Nancy, the short answer is yes, you may seek compensation for both the economic and non-economic damages you suffered as a result of this collision. While this may not seem like a typical car accident, it has become increasingly common for cyclists to get “doored” by Uber and Lyft passengers.
It is great to hear that you took down the driver’s license plate. After a car accident, it is very important to obtain the other driver’s information which includes their full name, license plate, and car insurance information. It is also important to obtain a copy of the police report and to take pictures of your injuries and the property damage.
Under California Vehicle Code (CVC) section 22517, “No person shall open the door of a vehicle on the side available to moving traffic unless it is reasonably safe to do so and can be done without interfering with the movement of such traffic, nor shall any person leave a door open on the side of a vehicle available to moving traffic for a period of time longer than necessary to load or unload passengers.” Based on CVC section 22517, drivers and passengers have a responsibility to inspect their surroundings before opening the door to determine whether it is safe to do so. In your case, the Uber driver should have found a safe location to stop rather than abruptly stopping in the middle of a busy street. Furthermore, the Uber driver should have also warned his passenger to be careful when opening the door. While some of the liability may be placed on the passenger, the main focus in these cases is on Uber/Lyft and the driver because they bear responsibility for the decision to drop-off a passenger on a street with heavy traffic. We have also handled many cases where the Uber or Lyft driver decides to park in the bike lane forcing cyclists to go around the car, which increases the risk of getting doored or struck by oncoming traffic.
If you were injured in a car accident as a result of a driver or passenger “dooring” you, you have the right to seek compensation for your economic and non-economic damages. Economic damages include compensation for discrete items such as property damage, medical bills and lost wages; non-economic damages include things that are more difficult to quantify, like pain and suffering, physical impairment, and inconvenience. It is important to retain a skilled trial attorney to ensure that you receive full and just compensation for your injuries.
For everyone’s reference, the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition highly encourages drivers and passengers to use the “Dutch Reach” for opening doors: this entails using the hand farthest from the door, so that the body automatically swivels, positioning the head and shoulders towards the window, and thereby allowing them to see any oncoming bikes and cars prior to opening the door. This is an easy technique that can avoid injuries to cyclists. By taking these steps, you can help curb this unfortunate new trend.