Cycling Legalese: Almost Doored
Cycling Legalese is our online cycling law column from everyday cyclist and Chicago based injury lawyer, Brendan Kevenides.
What if by virtue of luck and reflexes you narrowly avoid a parked car’s door swinging open only to be struck by a passing vehicle? Who is responsible?
Q:Recently, I was almost doored. Luckily, I was able to swerve out of the way and avoid injury. But I could have been nailed by another car when I swung left to miss the door. I was wondering, if I got hit could I have held the driver that opened the door responsible?
You were not almost doored. You were doored. It sounds like you avoided injury thanks to some good reflexes and a bit of luck. Had you crashed because of that carelessly flung open door, the driver that opened it likely would have been responsible for the harm. A driver does not get a free pass because a bicyclist evades their bad conduct.
A driver may be responsible for the harm caused by his or her negligent driving even if there is no actual contact. However, the lack of contact between car and bicycle can create evidence problems. When there is no contact it may be more challenging to prove that the driver’s conduct actually caused the bicyclist’s injury. Proving a casual connection between the driver’s bad action and the injury sustained by the cyclist is a vital part of every bicycle injury case. Inevitably the driver will assert that (1) he or she did nothing wrong, and (2) the bicyclist overreacted and crashed on their own. Furthermore, the burden of proving the casual connection between the driver’s conduct and the harm is a burden borne by the injury victim.
Recently our law firm resolved a case that highlights the challenges that may arise from a near miss situation. Our client and his friend were participating in an organized ride. The route took them through a downtown area in a central Illinois city. They were on a road with one lane of travel in each direction with no shoulder or parking on either side when our client heard his friend yell, “Truck!” He looked to see a semi tractor trailer bearing down on them. It did not look like it was going to stop so the two pushed as close to the curb as possible. The truck passed them at about 35 mph within 18 inches, in violation of Illinois’ three foot passing law. Somehow, while the two cyclists were attempting to get out of the way of the passing semi, they ran into one another, causing our client to fall and break his leg. There was no contact between the cyclists and the truck, which continued on without stopping. The driver was never identified, and the subject truck was never found. No witnesses were able to obtain a license plate or identifying number from the truck. All we had was the name of the trucking company which had been emblazoned on the side of the vehicle. That turned out to be enough to hold the company responsible. With the name of the corporation we filed a lawsuit seeking to hold it vicariously liable for its driver’s negligence. The case eventually settled for a substantial sum.
Incidents in which there is no actual contact between a motor vehicle and bicycle are undoubtedly more challenging. The cyclist’s credibility will be challenged by the defense. His or her version of events must be able to stand up to strong scrutiny. But where a driver causes serious injury by forcing the cyclist to take dangerous evasive action, he or she may be accountable for the harm.
Nothing contained in this column should be construed as legal advice. The information contained herein may or may not match your individual situation. Also, laws differ from place to place and tend to change over time. No reader should act or refrain from acting on the basis of any information presented herein without seeking the advice of an attorney in the relevant jurisdiction. This column is meant to promote awareness of a general legal issue. As such, it is meant as entertainment. It does not create an attorney-client relationship between the author and the reader.
Cycling Legalese Question Submission Form:
About Brendan Kevenides, P.C.
Brendan Kevenides is an everyday city cyclist and licensed attorney. His Chicago law practice is dedicated to representing cyclists injured by the negligence of drivers, government officials and equipment manufacturers. He is also the creator and author of The Chicago Bicycle Advocate, a popular blog about bicycling and the law. He is active with bicycle advocacy organizations, and is a Certified Bicycle Instructor by the League of American Bicyclists. Check out www.mybikeadvocate.com