Articles Posted in Bicycle Accidents

Commuting by bicycle in a densely populated city is a common and sensible way to save money on auto expenses and parking, and many DC residents use a bike to run errands or get to work each day. Using a bicycle in a crowded city like Washington DC can be dangerous. July was especially deadly for bicyclists in the District, as three fatal accidents occurred. In the most recent incident, a woman was killed after she was struck by a semi-truck and pulled under the wheels near a construction site.

According to a local news report discussing the most recent bicycle fatality in the city, the victim was cycling to work at her job with the State Department when she was hit by a large commercial truck and run over. The truck that hit her was involved in a road construction project nearby. The article notes that the truck involved in the crash did not have a guard to prevent someone from being pulled under the truck. Such a guard is required for vehicles registered in DC, though the truck at issue was registered in Maryland, so it’s unclear whether any enforceable regulations were being violated.

How Can Motorists Avoid Bicycle Accidents?

DC drivers need to be extra attentive and careful when driving near bicyclists. This is especially true in areas with construction or road closures, because bike lanes are often reduced or eliminated during construction, and bicyclists must be allowed to use a full lane without fear of being hit by a car. Unfortunately, these recent fatal accidents demonstrate that many drivers are not paying enough attention. Bicyclists who are hurt or killed by a negligent driver may be entitled to significant compensation for their injuries and loss.

Causation is an essential element in any Washington, D.C., negligence claim. This means that a successful plaintiff in a Washington, D.C. personal injury claim has to show that the defendant’s negligent actions were the cause of the plaintiff’s injuries. The plaintiff has the burden of proving a causal relationship between the defendant’s actions and the plaintiff’s injuries. Proving causation means proving that there was “a direct and substantial causal relationship” between the defendant’s actions and the plaintiff’s injuries and that the harm was foreseeable. Proximate cause also involves considering the foreseeability of the harm that occurred and the scope of the risk created by the defendant’s actions. It aims to limit liability in circumstances where the link between the conduct and resulting harm is so attenuated that the consequence is pure luck. It is meant to limit liability in those cases where holding the defendant labile would be unfair or bad policy.

A plaintiff can prove causation by providing either direct or circumstantial evidence. Generally, proximate cause is a question of fact that must be resolved by the jury. The standard for proving causation, like other elements in a negligence claim, is whether it is more likely than not to have been the cause of the plaintiff’s injuries. A plaintiff cannot simply show that it is a mere possibility that the defendant’s actions caused the plaintiff’s injuries. This means that in a Washington, D.C. injury claim, a plaintiff must point to the specific acts that the plaintiff claims were negligent and demonstrate how those specific acts, more likely than not, were the proximate cause of the plaintiff’s injuries. In accident cases involving multiple vehicles, proving causation can be more difficult.

Bicyclist killed in multi-vehicle crash in Northwest D.C.

Earlier this month, a Washington D.C. cyclist was killed in a tragic accident at the intersection of 10th Street and Michigan Avenue, Northeast. Washington, D.C. bicycle accidents are a major concern for city residents, especially since bicyclists lack the protection from crashes than those in larger vehicles—such as cars, buses, and trucks might have. Bicycles also lack the safety features of other vehicles, such as airbags and emergency brakes. Because of their increased risk, cyclists in Washington, D.C., should always be as careful as possible while riding on the roads.

The recent tragic accident happened around 11 AM one morning. According to a local news article, the cyclist, a 47-year-old man, was struck by a driver in a car and suffered severe injuries. He was taken to the hospital by firefighters and EMS personnel, where he later died from his injuries. Not much more is known about the accident or the cause. But this incident serves as an example of a much larger problem—the safety of D.C.’s roads for cyclists.

Colleen Costello is an advisory neighborhood commissioner in D.C.’s Brookland, Michigan Park, and University Heights neighborhoods. She spoke to the news after the accident, saying that speeding along Michigan Avenue has become a major point of concern. “Michigan Avenue basically serves as this dangerous divide between our community where it’s not easy for people on foot or on bike to cross safely,” she said. She then continued, “We have a lot of seniors and a lot of young families and everybody in between and we all deserve to feel like we can cross the street without getting struck by a car.”

Determining who is at fault in a serious or fatal accident is not always as easy as it may seem. In many cases, there are several parties involved, each with their own role in the accident. In some cases, the injured party may also be partially at fault for the accident. Each of these considerations is relevant in determining what, if anything, the injured party is entitled to receive from the negligent party or parties.

Generally speaking, Washington, D.C. employs the doctrine of joint and several liability. This means that all wrongdoers can be held responsible for the total amount of damages suffered by the plaintiff. This favors plaintiffs because it allows for an injured party to receive full compensation from any one of several liable parties involved.

However, Washington, D.C. also uses the strict doctrine of contributory negligence, which acts to prevent an injured party from recovering at all if they are even the slightest bit at fault. This means that if a person is determined by a judge or jury to be just 5% at fault, they may be prevented from recovering a penny for their damages, no matter how serious.

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Earlier this month in the DC area, an Annapolis woman was arrested and charged with driving under the influence after she crashed into two bicyclists, seriously injuring one of them. According to a report by CBC DC, the accident occurred back in June 28 on the Governor Ritchie Highway.

Evidently, for an unknown reason the woman veered out of her lane and drove onto the right shoulder, which is designated as the Baltimore & Annapolis trail. Once she crossed into the right shoulder, she hit two bicyclists who were riding on the trail, a 28-year-old and a 27-year-old. Both of the victims were flown to Shock Trauma.

One of the victims was released shortly after she was admitted. However, the other victim was held in the hospital for almost a month before staff felt that she was in good enough condition to return home.

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The recent phenomenon of bike-sharing has caught many of the nation’s largest cities by storm. Rather than purchase a bike to travel around the city, bike sharers opt to pay a fee to use bikes at stations around the city. In most cases, riders can pick up a bike at one location and drop it off at another, making the system very convenient for commuters, shoppers, or those just looking to see the sights.

However, a recent article explains that the convenience may come at a cost. As bike shares pop up around the country, the instances of bike-related head injuries are increasing as well. The most cited reason is that, while the bike shares offer bikes, riders must bring their own helmets, something many riders are not doing.

The Study

An NPR article cites a study that looked at Montreal as well as four U.S cities, including Washington DC, both before and after the bike-share program was implemented. The result was a 14% increase in the proportion of head injuries compared to the total number of serious biking injuries. The bottom line is that a larger percentage of bike-related accidents are involving head injuries than before.

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Earlier this week, the American Academy of Pediatrics made a press release about the results of a study regarding the effectiveness of laws that require bicyclists to wear helmets.The data revealed that fewer deaths occurred among youths who were involved in bicycle-motor vehicle crash within those states that had mandatory helmet laws in place.

Researchers set out to determine the efficacy of mandatory bicycle helmet laws in reducing injuries and death rates nationwide by analyzing data from the Fatality Analysis Reporting System for all U.S. bicyclists. They looked at data for all accidents involving children under the age of sixteen who were either severely injured or died during the period of January 1999 until December 2009. They compared data for states with mandatory laws versus those without.

During the relevant period, a total of 2,451 children suffered incapacitating injuries or died in bicycle-motor vehicle crashes. States with mandatory helmet laws had a lower rate of incapacitating injuries or death at approximately 2 per 1 million, versus 2.5 per 1 million. The associated lower rates held true even after adjusting for certain relevant factors.

Maryland is one of the 21 states that requires bicyclists to wear helmets, which could have a direct impact on residents who bicycle in the DC area.

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A bike ride on the San Francisco peninsula during the 4th of July weekend turned disastrous for New York Times writer John Markoff when he crashed on a downhill at over 30 miles per hour. Paramedics took him to the hospital, where he found that he had a 20-minute gap in his memory surrounding the crash. He could not remember the circumstances of the crash at all, despite physical evidence such as road rash on his hands and a deep skid mark on his helmet.

Markoff relates the story of Ryan Sabga, a bike racer, who was hit by a car in Denver in 2010. The driver of the car claimed she did not think she had hit him, and police concluded that there was not enough evidence to issue a citation to the driver. Sabga was able to use data from the GPS device to establish where he was at the time of the accident, and to demonstrate exactly how the car hit him (including a spike in his heart rate at the moment of impact). Although police still did not want to pursue the case, this evidence was enough to get the driver’s insurance company to accept responsibility.

Markoff similarly used his GPS device to reconstruct his bike ride and figure out what had happened to him. Both Sabga and Markoff used a Garmin GPS device that recorded location, speed, and other information, and allowed the option of uploading data to a web service where it could be shared with other users.

Forbes columnist Kashmir Hill notes that an increasing number of people use devices like a Garmin GPS to record data about their daily lives and often share that information through social media. Widespread use of such technology is often known as “the Quantified Self” or “self-tracking.” While such recording and sharing can serve any number of useful purposes such as allowing support for fitness plans or tracking health conditions, it can also be useful for accident victims. This applies to accident victims who may use their own data, much like Markoff and Sabga, to determine what happened, or to those who may obtain data from another party to establish liability or challenge a conflicting description of an accident.

Social media information is the subject of a growing number of discovery requests in litigation. Courts, while often slow to adapt to new and quickly-changing technologies, are beginning to understand the importance and ubiquity of social media, and are allowing discovery of personal social media information that is relevant to the case at hand. Data collected by “self-tracking” technologies, particularly those shared on popular social media sites like Facebook and Twitter, are undoubtedly relevant in establishing the circumstances of an accident. This information can cut both ways. Information that could prove liability in a personal injury matter could also disprove a claimant’s account and clear a defendant of liability. Either way, this segment of social media technology, when used by people involved in accidents, is an invaluable fact-finding tool.

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According to the Governors Highway Safety Association, up to 25% of motor vehicle accidents in this country occur because motorists were distracted driving and more often than not using cell phones and other handheld devices. The GHSA’s report, which was released last week, is called “Distracted Driving: What Research Shows and What States Can Do.”

As our Washington DC personal injury law firm has reported in past blogs, distracted driving is very dangerous and can dramatically increase the chances of injuries or deaths. It also can be grounds for a DC car crash lawsuit against the driver. Other findings from the study:

• Some drivers are distracted as much as 50% of the time they are on the road.
• Texting while driving, which is both a manual and visual distraction, is even more dangerous than talking on a phone.

• Examples of other common types of distracted driving behavior include talking to other passengers, looking for tapes or CD’s, switching radio stations, drinking, eating, reading directions or a map, reading books or newspapers, dealing with kids or pets, shaving, putting on makeup, shuffling through an iPod, and reading your GPS.

Many people don’t realize that distracted driving impairs their ability to drive safely. This does not change the fact that this behavior can result in very deadly consequences.

Should other parties aside from a distracted driver be held liable for DC personal injury or wrongful death? A couple of years ago, one woman sued Nextel, Samsung, and Sprint for her mother’s distracted driving death. The plaintiff claimed products liability because the three companies allegedly failed to warn the driver that using a cell phone wile driving is a safety hazard. Samsung countered that it did include safety warnings on its websites and packaging and in its user manuals and advertising.

Report: Gadgets Linked To 25 Percent Of Car Accidents, AutoGuide, July 13, 2011

Read the GHSA’s Distracted Driving Report

Related Web Resources:
Distracted Driving, US Department of Motor Vehicles
Cell Phone and Texting Laws, Governors Highway Safety Association
More Blog Posts:
US DOT Holds Second Annual Distracted Driving Summit in Washington DC, Washington DC Injury Lawyer Blog, September 22, 2010
Preventing Maryland Car Crashes: State Senate Approves Ban on Reading Text Messages While Driving, Maryland Accident Law Blog, March 9, 2011
Maryland Lawmakers Want Texting While Driving Ban to Block Drivers From Reading Messages, Maryland Accident Law Blog, February 20, 2010

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DC officials are kicking off their Street Smart campaign this spring to combat last year’s increase in pedestrian and bicycle crashes. Last year there were 83 cyclist and pedestrian fatalities in the Washington region—a 9% rise from the year before. This year, at least four people have died in DC pedestrian accidents.

More DC pedestrian and cyclists facts as reported in The Washington Post:

• There were 436 DC bicycle accidents in 2010.
• The number of bicyclists and pedestrians hit last year was 25% higher than in 2009.
• Ambulances answered 1,299 pedestrian collisions calls in 2010.
• 16 of the DC traffic fatalities were bicyclists or pedestrians.
• The intersection of Howard Road and Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue SE saw the most number of DC pedestrian accidents—13—with 1 of the victims dying.
• The intersection of New York Avenue and North Capitol Street saw 12 Washington DC pedestrian accidents.

• 11 Washington DC pedestrian injuries were sustained at the Seventh and H streets NW intersection and the H and North Capitol streets N.

Most DC pedestrian accidents take place at intersections when an auto is turning and a person is crossing the street while the “walk” sign is activated. Unfortunately, even if a pedestrian has the right of way, this doesn’t necessarily mean that the driver has seen him/her.

Pedestrians and bicyclists have little in the way of protection during a DC traffic crash, and the injuries are usually catastrophic. Spinal cord injury, traumatic brain injury, head trauma, severed limbs, and organ damage can be costly to treat and recover from. Some injuries are permanent.

Our Washington DC pedestrian and bicycle crash lawyers are familiar with the serious injuries can result. For years, we have helped many victims and their families prove liability and obtain the financial recovery that they are owed.

Hopefully, the Street Smart campaign will bring the DC cyclist and pedestrian injury toll down. In addition to new ads, the campaign will include heightened efforts by police to ticket drivers, bicyclists, and pedestrians who don’t follow traffic laws.

Campaign to protect pedestrians, cyclists as number of crashes in the District rises, The Washington Post, March 30, 2011
Related Web Resources:

District Department of Transportation

Street Smart

More Blog Posts:
71-Year-Old Dies in Hit-and-Run Washington DC Pedestrian Accident, Washington DC Injury Lawyer Blog, November 18, 2010
Washington DC Pedestrian Accidents At Higher Risk of Occurring After Daylight Saving Time Ends, Washington DC Injury Lawyer Blog, November 5, 2010
68-Year-old Mount Pleasant Woman Killed in Bicycle Accident with DC Guard Truck, Washington DC Injury Lawyer Blog, April 20, 2010

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