Written By: Christopher B. Dolan and Cristina Garcia
This week’s question comes from Heather M. in Pacific Heights who asks: “I was riding my bicycle down Oak Street, approaching Franklin Street when I realized my backpack was not closed properly, so I pulled over onto the sidewalk to adjust my backpack. As I jumped back on my bike, I noticed that the pedestrian walking signal was on, so I began riding through the intersection within the marked crosswalk. Suddenly a vehicle came racing down the street and struck me. I was thrown off my bike and fell to the ground. I was transported by ambulance to the hospital. At the hospital, the attending doctor told me that I had broken my left ankle and it would require surgery. The driver is adamant that the collision is my fault because I should not have been riding my bicycle within the crosswalk. But he was driving so fast that even if I would have walked my bike across the street, he would have still struck me because he wouldn’t have had enough time to stop. I realize that maybe I shouldn’t have been riding my bike on the crosswalk, however, is there anything I can do to recover for my medical bills, lost wages and pain and suffering?”
I am sorry to hear about your accident. The short answer is yes, you may seek compensation for the economic and non-economic damages you suffered as a result of this collision. Economic damages include items such as property damage, medical bills and lost wages; non-economic damages are commonly known as pain and suffering, physical impairment and inconvenience. However, there are a few hurdles you will need to overcome in order to obtain compensation. Additionally, the compensation may be reduced by what is called, “Comparative Fault,” which will be discussed in more detail below.
As a general rule, adult bicyclists have the same duties and responsibilities as motor vehicle drivers under California Vehicle Code (CVC) section 21200. Therefore, under CVC 21200, it is unlawful to ride a bicycle within a crosswalk. In order to comply with California law and for your own safety, bicyclists should dismount their bicycle and walk it across the street within the marked crosswalk.
Many times, the police report will place the bicyclists at fault because they were riding within the marked crosswalk, which makes it more difficult for individuals to pursue a claim. It is not surprising that the driver of the vehicle is refusing to accept any liability as many insurance companies will rely on the police report and CVC section 21200 to place 100% of the fault on the bicyclist. However, if a serious bicycle accident occurs within a crosswalk, that does not automatically mean that you are precluded from recovering compensation for your injuries.
Based on the limited information you have provided, it appears that at the time you were riding within the crosswalk pedestrians had the right of way. This means that the driver of the vehicle had the responsibility to yield-to-pedestrians. Therefore, had the driver of the vehicle been driving as a reasonable and prudent driver, instead of speeding down the street, he would have had sufficient time to stop. Thus, as a result of his negligence, you suffered personal injuries.
An issue that is likely to be raised is, “Comparative Fault,” also referred to as, “Comparative Negligence.” Comparative Fault is the percentage of fault, if any, that will be assigned to the injured party. Under California law, if the parties are found to share fault, the law requires that the amount of recovery that the injured party is entitled to be reduced by his or her percentage of fault. For example, if the injured person is found to be 30% at fault, their compensation award will be reduced by 30%. This percentage is generally assigned by the driver’s insurance adjuster if the case is settled pre-litigation. However, if your case does not settle before trial, a jury will decide what percentage of fault will be assigned to each party.
If you were injured in a bicycle accident as a result of someone’s negligence, you have the right to seek compensation for your economic and non-economic damages. Due to the complexity of cases involving Comparative Fault, it is important that you contact a qualified and skilled trial lawyer to review the situation and assist you with your claim to ensure that you receive full and just compensation for your injuries.