Who’s liable for a bike accident? Can you get compensated?
Almost 50 million people ride bikes in the United States. Many of these bicyclists live in Illinois, which—due in part to its mix of flat prairies, rolling hills, tall bluffs, and lakefront views—is the 16th most bike-friendly state in the country according to The League of American Bicyclists.
Although riding a bike is linked to improved mental and physical health, it’s not without risk.
Let’s take a closer look at bicycle accidents and what to do after a bike crash in the Prairie State.
Bicycle accident statistics
In Illinois, roughly 1% of all crashes involved bicyclists in 2017 (the last year for which data is available). Although this may not sound like a lot, it amounts to 2,793 crashes. Of these 2,793 crashes, 26 were fatal and 2,689 caused significant injuries.
|Bicycle Accidents and Light Conditions in Illinois (2017)|
|Darkness (Road Lighted)||390||3|
|Source: Illinois Department of Transportation: Motor Vehicle Crash Facts 2017|
|Bicycle Accidents and Ages in Illinois (2017)|
|4 or younger||14||0|
|75 or older||27||3|
|Source: Illinois Department of Transportation: Motor Vehicle Crash Facts 2017|
Illinois bike laws
Like all other states in the country, Illinois requires bicyclists to follow the same rules and regulations as motor vehicles. This means that bicyclists are required to stop for traffic lights and stop signs.
Additionally, there are bike-specific laws that only impact cyclists. Most of these laws can be found in Chapter 11 of the Illinois Vehicle Code. Here are some of the most relevant:
- A bicycle can’t be used to carry more people than it was designed to carry. However, an adult rider can carry a child securely attached in a backpack or sling.
- If riding a bicycle less than the normal speed of traffic, the bicyclist must ride as close to the right-hand curb or edge of the road as possible.
- Bicyclists are prohibited from riding more than 2 abreast.
- Bicyclists are prohibited from carrying objects that prevent them from using both hands.
- When used at nighttime, a bicycle must be equipped with a lamp on the front that emits a white light visible from a distance of at least 500 feet and a red reflector on the rear.
- A uniformed police officer may, with reasonable cause to believe that a bicycle is unsafe or not equipped as required by law, require the person riding the bike to stop and submit the bicycle for inspection.
- A person must not ride a bike on a sidewalk if such use is prohibited. A person riding a bike along a sidewalk must yield the right of way to pedestrians and must give an audible signal before passing a pedestrian.
- A person can park a bike on a sidewalk so long as the bike doesn’t impede the normal movement of pedestrian traffic and so long as parking isn’t prohibited on the particular sidewalk.
- Bike racing is only lawful when the event has been approved by state or local authorities.
- No person shall operate a commercial bike messenger service in a city with a population of more than 2 million unless the bikes are covered by liability insurance.
- No person shall open the door of a vehicle on the side available to moving traffic unless and until it’s reasonably safe to do so. In addition, no person shall leave a door open on the side of a vehicle for a period of time longer than necessary to load or unload passengers.
Illinois bike helmet law
What about bike helmets and alcohol?
In Illinois, there are no laws requiring you to wear a helmet when riding a bike.
In addition, it’s not illegal to ride a bike while under the influence of alcohol. With that being said, both actions are strongly discouraged and could result in you being found liable or at least partially liable for an accident.
Who’s liable for a bike accident?
Most personal injury claims made by bicyclists are negligence claims. To prove negligence in Illinois, a bicyclist must show that:
- The driver owed the bicyclist a duty. All drivers owe all others on the road a duty to drive with a reasonable degree of care.
- The driver breached their duty. To prove this, the bicyclist will have to show that the driver failed to drive with a reasonable degree of care. For example, the driver was distracted, speeding, or driving under the influence of alcohol.
- The bicyclist was injured as a result of the driver’s breach. The bicyclist must show that the driver’s actions (such as texting, speeding, or driving under the influence) caused the accident. In other words, if it wasn’t for the driver’s actions, the accident wouldn’t have occurred and the bicyclist wouldn’t have been injured.
Of course, not all accidents are caused by drivers. Just like drivers, bicyclists owe all others on the road a duty to ride with a reasonable degree of care. If a bicyclist violates this duty, then they can be found negligent.
Moreover, Illinois is a modified comparative fault state. This means that the amount of damages a bicyclist can recover will be reduced by the percentage that reflects the bicyclist’s degree of fault. Moreover, if that degree of fault is 51% or more, the bicyclist will be prohibited from recovering any damages.
Let’s look at an example:
At trial, the jury finds that you were 20% at fault for the accident for failing to have proper lights on your bike, and the driver was 80% at fault for running a stop sign. Under Illinois’ modified comparative fault rule, you would only be allowed to recover 80% of the total damages.
What’s more, if you were found to be 51% at fault for the accident, you wouldn’t be able to recover any damages.
Here are some examples of actions that might cause a bicyclist to be found at fault or partially at fault for an accident:
- Failing to stop at a stop sign or red light
- Riding against traffic
- Riding more than 2 abreast
- Failing to yield to ongoing traffic before entering a roadway
- Failing to be equipped with adequate lighting/reflectors
It’s possible that your bike accident wasn’t caused by a driver. Every year, bicyclists are injured as a result of obstructions or bad road conditions. For example, a bike might crash because it hits a rut in the pavement, debris, or some other hazard.
In these instances, Illinois’ premises liability law generally comes into play. Premises liability laws require owners to ensure that their property is well maintained and free of dangerous conditions. If you run over a hole that the property owner failed to repair, you may be able to sue the property owner for negligence.
Often, the bad road condition exists on property owned by the government (such as a public road or bike trail). When suing the government, there are a host of strict laws that you must follow. Moreover, the statute of limitations is much shorter than when you’re suing a private citizen. If you think the government might be responsible for your accident, consider reaching out to an attorney immediately.
What to do after a bike crash
Bike accidents can be traumatic and most bikers aren’t thinking about insurance claims or litigation immediately following an accident. But the truth is, if you’re able to take a few simple steps immediately after a bike accident, you will greatly increase your chances of recovering damages down the line.
- Step 1: Seek medical attention. Your health should be your top priority. Even if you don’t think you’ve been injured, it’s a good idea to see a doctor immediately after an accident. The symptoms of some injuries, including serious internal injuries, may not appear for hours or even days after an accident. What’s more, going to the hospital lessens the ability of the insurance company or the defendant to successfully argue that you weren’t really injured.
- Step 2: Call the police. Most counties in Illinois require that you call the police if you’re involved in an accident, including a bicycle-vehicle collision. What’s more, calling the police right away can help keep you safe in the event of road rage, which is a serious issue among bikers and drivers.
- Step 3: Collect driver information. If the police arrive on the scene, they can help you collect this information. Otherwise, you’ll need to get the information yourself. Be sure to write down or take a picture of the driver’s name, contact information, insurance information, and license plate number.
- Step 4: Collect witness information. Witnesses are notoriously difficult to track down after an accident. The best chance of collecting their contact information is immediately after the crash. Though police will often collect this information, they may miss witnesses or fail to add their contact information to the police report.
- Step 5: Preserve evidence. Take pictures of the scene and any damages (including physical injuries). In addition, if your clothes were bloodied or your bike was damaged, preserve those objects.
What to expect from your bicycle accident lawyer
When you meet with your lawyer, they’ll want to determine which parties might be responsible for your accident and what evidence needs to be gathered. They’ll also want to get a rough idea of what damages might be available. You can help your lawyer (and save time and money) by being prepared for your first meeting.
Here’s a checklist that will help: