Liability and damages for a bike accident can be confusing, so here’s how it works under Maryland law
Where’s your “happy place” bike route?
Maybe it’s the Great Allegheny Passage through the mountains in Western Maryland, the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal from Cumberland to Washington, or the Green Ridge State Forest with its stream crossings and exhilarating inclines and descents.
Or, perhaps you’re a city bike commuter who rides around Baltimore, or from Maryland into D.C. when the weather’s nice—or just casually around town for errands or exercise.
Regardless of how and where you ride, the reality is that there are hazards that bicyclists face.
Maryland bicycle accident statistics
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) reports that there were 5 bicyclist fatalities in Maryland in 2018 (the most recent year for which there’s data). Of those, 1 was between the ages of 25-34, 1 was 35-44, 2 were 45-54, and 1 was 55-64.
The reporting agencies determined that the factors that caused these accidents were:
- Failure to yield right of way (2)
- Not visible (dark clothes, no lights, etc.) (1)
- Inattentive (eating, talking, phone, etc.) (1)
The cause of one bicyclist fatality remains unknown.
Since 1975, there has been a decrease in fatalities for bicyclists younger than 20 years old, but fatalities have more than tripled for bicyclists older than 20.
There are roughly 816 bicycle crashes each year in Maryland, and about 80% result in injury or death. In 2016, there were 725 crashes with injuries and 11 deaths.
How Maryland negligence laws impact bicycle injury claims
As a bicyclist, you have both rights and obligations.
That’s important because Maryland is a pure contributory negligence state. If you had any fault for an accident, you can’t recover damages in a personal injury lawsuit. Even if the motorist caused an accident, if you (the bicyclist) were doing anything that could have contributed to your own injuries, then you won’t be able to receive financial compensation from a lawsuit.
That’s one reason why you should be familiar with Maryland bike laws and best practices for safe bicycling.
Maryland bicycle laws and road rules
In general, cyclists in Maryland have the same rights and duties as motor vehicle drivers. You’re required to come to a full and complete stop at all stop signs and red lights. Bicyclists must also use hand and arm signals when turning or stopping.
Here are some of the most important road rules you should know as a Maryland bicyclist:
Rules for bicyclists
- You may not wear a headset or earbuds/AirPods/earplugs in both ears while riding. You must have one ear “open” to hear the environment around you.
- A bicycle may only carry the number of people for which it is designed. Passengers must have proper seats. (In other words, no riding on the handlebars!)
- You must keep both hands on the handlebars (i.e. you may not carry a parcel or package unless it’s in a backpack or attached bike basket).
- You may not ride on a road with a speed limit of 50 miles per hour or higher.
- You may not ride your bike while hitched to a car.
Biking while intoxicated or impaired
You are required to follow the same laws for alcohol and impairment while biking as you would while driving. You may not ride if your blood alcohol concentration (BAC) is .08% or higher.
Maryland helmet law
Every bicyclist under age 16 must wear a helmet. This includes riding on roads, trails, or sidewalks.
Maryland allows riding on sidewalks as permitted by local ordinances, but a bicyclist is required to yield the right of way to a pedestrian on a sidewalk.
Sharing the road
A bicyclist must ride with the flow of traffic and as close to the right shoulder as possible. You may use the full lane if traveling at the normal speed of traffic, on a 1-way street, when passing, preparing for a turn, avoiding hazards, avoiding a mandatory turn lane, or traveling in a lane too narrow to share.
You must use a bike lane where available except when passing, turning, or avoiding a hazard.
A driver must allow 3 feet of space when passing a bicyclist.
Bicyclists are permitted to ride 2 abreast but are not permitted to impede motor vehicle traffic.
Required bicycle equipment
All bikes must be equipped with the following equipment:
- Front white light and a rear red reflector or red light when riding after dark
- Functioning brakes that can stop the bike when traveling 10 miles per hour within 15 feet on dry, level, clean pavement
- A bell or device that can provide an audible signal (but not a siren)
An electric bicycle is defined under Maryland law as a bike with fully operational pedals, a motor of not more than 500W, and a maximum speed of 20 miles per hour on a flat surface. The motor must be designed to disengage at 20 miles per hour.
An electric bike rider must wear a helmet. These bikes are permitted on bike paths, but not on sidewalks.
How to recover damages for a Maryland bicycle accident
There are 2 common ways that a bicyclist can be injured:
- By being hit by a motor vehicle
- By being injured by a property defect (for instance, falling off your bike after hitting a pothole, road debris, or other types of road conditions)
If you’re injured in a bike accident, you could recover damages for:
- Medical treatment, including costs for hospital or doctor visits, surgeries, prescription medications, diagnostic tests, etc.
- Ongoing therapies or rehabilitation
- Costs for daily household assistance, including house cleaning, cooking, child care, transportation, etc.
- Wrongful death and funeral or burial expenses, if you lost a family member in a bicycle accident
- Property loss
- Lost wages
- Punitive damages, though these are extremely rare in Maryland personal injury cases
In addition to following a pure contributory negligence system, Maryland is also an at-fault insurance state. That means the person who causes an accident is financially responsible for each party’s damages.
If you were the victim of a bicycle accident, here’s what this means for you:
If the driver is at fault, their car insurance should pay for your damages. Each auto policy in Maryland is required to include a minimum of $30,000 per person for bodily injury coverage.
If you’re hit by a car and the driver doesn’t have insurance (or if their insurance doesn’t cover the full extent of your injuries), you could turn to your own uninsured or underinsured motorist coverage if you have it.
A bicyclist who doesn’t own a car could still choose to have uninsured or uninsured motorist coverage, which is a good idea if you’re going to be cycling on a regular basis.
However, if there isn’t an insurance policy that would cover your damages, the next option is to file a personal injury lawsuit against the at-fault driver.
Why file a personal injury lawsuit after a bike accident?
Not covered by insurance
The first reason why you might need to file a personal injury lawsuit is if the at-fault driver’s insurance (and your own) doesn’t cover the full extent of your injuries.
In addition, there are some expenses that insurance doesn’t cover. For instance, insurance will never cover your non-economic costs like pain and suffering. If your injury was very severe or traumatic and you believe you’re entitled to damages for mental anguish or pain and suffering, you can try to recover those through a lawsuit.
If you decide to pursue a personal injury lawsuit, you’ll need to prove these elements of negligence:
- The driver had a duty. This is a “simple” element to prove since every driver or road user has a duty to every other road user to avoid foreseeable harm and injury.
- The duty was breached. In other words, the driver did not act in a way that was reasonable and failed to uphold their duty to try to maintain safety for others on the road.
- The breach caused your injury. People fall off bikes. It happens. You might momentarily lose your balance, be blinded by the sun at a particular angle, or something else might happen that causes you to fall and get hurt. If you fell off your bike directly in front of a car and were hit, it’s possible that the driver can make a valid defense that your injury wasn’t caused by their driving, but that you fell for some other reason.
- The injury cost money. If a driver hit you and you fell, resulting in a scraped elbow or minor bruise that didn’t require medical treatment, you probably can’t recover damages. Your injury must have cost you money in order to recover damages. The purpose of the personal injury legal system is to restore a plaintiff (injured person) to the financial condition they would be in if the accident hadn’t happened.
Premises liability (property hazard)
The second reason you might need to file a lawsuit is if the accident is the result of a property condition. An injury that happens because of a defect or hazard on public or private property is called premises liability.
For example, you may have a premises liability case if your injury results from a problem with the road itself, from faulty signage, being hit by a falling tree branch, road debris, or another incident that doesn’t involve a motor vehicle.
If the property is privately owned, then you would seek damages from the property owner.
It gets a little more complicated when you’re injured in a public space like a road or bike path. These areas are typically maintained by a local or state government agency.
If you’re suing a government employee acting in their official capacity, or any state government agency (which is usually the entity that maintains roads and highways), you must first deliver a claim letter to the Maryland State Treasurer that states why you believe the state is responsible for your injuries. This letter must be sent and postmarked within 1 year of your injury.
If your lawsuit is against a local government, your claim letter would need to go to the local government, itself.
What to do after a bicycle accident
If you’re a bicyclist who’s been in an accident with a motor vehicle, take these steps if you’re in a physical condition to do so:
- Call the police. Even if your injuries seem minor, an accident report will help serve as important evidence for your case should you need to pursue a lawsuit.
- Get a medical evaluation. There are some injuries that might not appear immediately. If you suffer back or neck pain, or a head injury that isn’t immediately apparent, you will need to have had a medical evaluation so your condition is documented at the time of the accident. You can visit a hospital emergency room, urgent care center, or your regular physician. Delaying a medical evaluation could make it more difficult to prove that your injuries were caused by the accident.
- Gather witnesses’ contact information. If there are witnesses like other drivers, bystanders, people at nearby businesses or homes, or anyone else who might have observed the accident or the events leading up to it, those people are important. You don’t need to ask for a statement about what they observed — the police or your lawyer or investigator can handle that — but be sure to get their names and contact information so they can be reached later.
If you think there’s a possibility that the accident was captured on video, ask about reviewing the footage. But ask quickly — most video surveillance footage isn’t saved longer than a few days (or even a few hours).
- Obtain the driver’s information. It’s also important to get the driver’s information. Take the driver’s name, address, phone number, driver’s license number, license plate number, insurance card information, and registration. It’s also helpful to have the color, make, and model of the vehicle.
- Take photos at the scene. The more evidence you can gather about road conditions, signs, traffic signals, debris, or any other elements that might have been a factor in the accident, the better. Photograph damage to the vehicle, your bike, other property damage, visibility, road markings, and anything else present at the scene.
Were you the victim of a hit and run?
If you were injured by a driver who fled the scene without leaving their contact and insurance information, it’s a Maryland hit-and-run accident. You should be able to use your uninsured motorist insurance to cover this type of accident. You should also be sure to contact the police since they have ways to identify hit and run drivers and might be able to locate the person who caused your injury.
Lastly, contact a Maryland bicycle accident lawyer.