Bicyclists who are involved in accidents with motor vehicles have a much greater risk of suffering from serious injuries than occupants of automobiles. Car occupants have the benefit of the car’s frame absorbing some of the shock. It also provides a barrier between them and the road. By contrast, bicyclists have little protection when they are struck by cars.
Bicycle accident reconstruction and investigation is a vital element of expertise in most cases involving bicycle crashes. While bicyclists have the same rights as others on the road, law enforcement officers often do not have sufficient training in investigating bike accidents. Bicycle accident reconstruction experts can use their knowledge and training to determine exactly what happened. Thus greatly improving an injured victim’s chance of recovering damages.
The importance of investigation and accident reconstruction in bicycle crashes
Bicycle accident investigation and reconstruction are very important when a person has suffered a serious injury or has been killed. A reconstructionist can look at a variety of different factors in order to determine what contributed to the accident. As well as who was at fault in causing it. This can help those who are injured or the families of cyclists who are killed with recovering damages in filed personal injury or wrongful death claims.
Rights and responsibilities of bicyclists
Bicycle riders have the same rights and responsibilities as others traveling on the road in almost every state. In California, Vehicle Code 21200 specifically states that bicyclists have the same rights as the drivers of motor vehicles. They are also subject to the same laws as automobile drivers.
Law enforcement officers and training issues
Training for law enforcement officers regarding bicycle laws and crashes is, unfortunately, negligible across the country. Most police academy courses do not include sections on bicycle crash investigation or cycling laws. This means that when there’s a serious bicycle injury or fatality accident, responding officers may not conduct a proper investigation. In many cases, officers may not understand the types of factors that can contribute to an accident. They may fail to document important details and make mistakes when they are making determinations of fault.
For this reason, its oftentimes a good idea to retain a bicycle accident reconstruction expert early on. Accident scenes and evidence can be diminished or destroyed over time. Thus having someone examine the bicycle, the accident scene, the other vehicles involved (before they are repaired) and other evidence can make a huge difference in proving up your claims down the line. If you don’t want the initial expense of retaining an expert, the injury attorney should at least hire an investigator to photograph the scene. Also they should if possible take video of the area in question to later provide to an expert witness.
In a recent case, I had a cyclist that was traveling along the right hand edge of a roadway and was struck and thrown off his bike. He sustained major orthopedic, injuries including a fractured pelvis. The defendant driver claimed that my client “veered” left into his lane trying to pass a parked car and struck his car. Contrary to my client’s recollection of being hit unaware from behind.
The police report was inconclusive and simply stated that the impact occurred “200 feet back” from the closest intersection. I had an investigator go the accident scene, place a cone exactly 200 feet back from the edge of the intersection and do a slow, drive-by videotape showing that the curb was red (i.e. no parking zone) for that entire 200 foot length. When I later provided this to my bike accident expert, it (along with other physical evidence including the bike itself) provided for a great basis for his opinion. He stated that my client was lawfully traveling along the right hand edge and was hit from behind and knocked off his bicycle.
What bicycle accident reconstruction experts examine and what they do
A bicycle accident reconstruction expert looks at many different things when they are analyzing an accident. They may review all of the police reports and go to the accident scene. At the scene, accident reconstruction experts take photographs, take measurements and identify traffic signals, lanes, lane width and other characteristics. They will look at the condition of the roadway whether the road is hilly, curved or straight. They will also consider the weather conditions that existed on the day and time of the crash. An expert will also examine both the bicycle and the involved motor vehicle. On the road itself, they may look for the presence of tire marks from the car. They can measure them to help determine the speed of the vehicle prior to the collision.
Other factors that are very important in helping to reconstruct the accident include a variety of different things. The clothing that the cyclist was wearing at the time of the accident can come into play. The width of the lane and shoulder is also important. If the cyclist was riding on a sidewalk prior to the accident, the condition of it will also be important. Investigators will also measure the bicycle’s frame and compare it to the cyclist’s height and leg length. They can then determine whether or not the bicycle was too large or small for the cyclist. The inflation of the bicycle’s tires can be a factor in an accident’s cause. Investigators will examine the cyclist’s helmet and examine other evidence held in the case by law enforcement officers.
After the accident reconstructionist has completed his or her initial investigation, he or she will use expert-level knowledge of bicycles, physics and other areas of learning in order to make calculations. The calculations can tell experts how fast the vehicle and the cyclist were going before the accident. Also whether or not the motorist applied his or her brakes. The reconstructionist will also look at the interplay between environmental factors, road conditions, visibility, weather conditions and all of the relevant circumstances that led up to the collision.
After examining all of the data, the expert can then render an opinion about what happened and what factors may have contributed to causing the incident. They may write reports and help with computer imaging and graphics to clearly demonstrate what happened. Bicycle accident reconstruction experts often testify at depositions or trials. Their testimony can be very helpful to insurance companies for reaching settlements or juries for reaching verdicts.
When looking to retain a bicycle accident reconstruction expert, it is good to not only have someone with the scientific knowledge on how to measure speed, distances, estimated impact levels and other factors but, in my opinion, to also have someone who is familiar with bicycles and, hopefully, is a rider themselves. For example, in a recent bike accident case that our team took to trial, our expert was a perfectly qualified and well experienced forensic engineer with extensive background and prior trial testimony with motor vehicle collisions. However, the defense hired a similar expert, who also happened to be a former Olympic cyclist. We won our trial but, the amount awarded was not quite as much as we hoped. When we later poled the jury, it factored into their decision making that the defense expert was a “cyclist” himself.
Because of the importance of using a bicycle accident investigator and accident reconstruction expert, personal injury attorneys who represent people in bicycle accident cases often rely on them and their findings. Using a bicycle accident reconstruction expert may help to reach successful resolutions to filed lawsuits. It can also make a big difference to clients trying to obtain maximum compensation in these cases either in pre-trial settlement negotiations or at trial.
Steven Sweat is a Los-Angeles based personal injury attorney and founder of Steven M. Sweat, APC. His professional honors include membership in the Million Dollar Advocates Forum and awards for volunteer public service. He is also an active member of several legal organizations, including the Consumer Attorneys of California, the Association of Plaintiff Interstate Trucking Lawyers of America and the National Association for Civil Justice.