How Massachusetts insurance laws impact legal remedies after a bicycle injury
Not everyone in Massachusetts lives in Boston.
But the City of Boston uses automated technology to collect data on how many people use biking as transportation. The city also has a shared bike system that residents and visitors have used for more than 11 million trips since the system launched in 2011.
Tragically, there were 4 bicyclist fatalities in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts in 2018, which was significantly fewer than the 12 reported in 2017.
Here are some other statistics about Massachusetts bicycle fatalities from 2014-2018:
85% of bicyclist fatalities... were males.
40% of bicyclist fatalities... were 55 years old or older.
17% of bicyclist fatalities... were under 21 years old.
26% of bicyclist fatalities... were on Fridays.
Bicycle accident trends
Bicycling has become increasingly popular in recent years. There are many possible reasons for this trend, including the emphasis on fitness, environmental considerations, and trends toward work/life balance. These and other factors have encouraged people to get out on bikes more than they did a decade ago.
The People Powered Movement, which is a nonprofit organization that advocates for bicycle and pedestrian transportation, reports that although there are fewer bicycle accidents, there has been an increase in fatalities in recent years.
But, wait, that doesn’t make sense!
The way PPM explains it, communities have worked hard to add safety features for bicyclists such as bike lanes, protective medians, and education campaigns. But more bicyclists also can mean more inexperienced bicyclists. PPM attributes the increase in fatalities to these issues:
- Newer bicyclists are less familiar with safe biking practices and road rules
- Drivers aren’t aware or cautious about sharing the road with bicyclists
- Cities haven’t implemented infrastructure changes that support bicyclist safety
There’s good news, though...
PPM ranked Boston as the second safest city for bicyclists, based on the number and severity of bicycle accidents.
Bike safety tips
Tips for bicyclists to avoid crashes
Nevertheless, it’s always important to follow basic safety practices when biking in Boston or elsewhere in Massachusetts.
|Before you ride||While you’re riding||Be predictable|
Drivers have a responsibility to bicyclists, too
A driver has a duty to avoid harm and safely share the road with all road users — other drivers, bicyclists, and pedestrians.
Aside from generally safe driving, here are some practices drivers should engage in to avoid collisions with bicyclists:
- Give a bicyclist space. Don’t pass too closely, and give a bicyclist the same courtesy you would any other vehicle. Pass the bicyclist when it’s safe to move into another lane.
- Obey the speed limit. Reduce speed when there are dangerous road conditions (like construction zones, weather, excessive traffic, or pedestrians or cyclists).
- When turning right on red, look to the right and behind you, in case there’s a bicyclist approaching from the right rear. Before turning, stop and look left-right-left and behind.
- Yield to bicyclists. Don’t underestimate their speed. Avoid turning in front of an approaching bicyclist who is on the road or sidewalk.
- Be alert to the surroundings in parking lots, at intersections, when backing up, and when parking.
Steps municipalities can take to reduce bicycle accidents
Each bicyclist needs to ride safely and follow best practices, and drivers should pay attention to bicyclists and drive cautiously around them, too. But cities and towns also have a role in reducing bicycle accidents.
A local government can:
- Provide bicycle safety classes for both adults and children
- Provide materials and information to the public about driver and bicyclist responsibilities
- Provide striped, dedicated bike lanes
- Link gaps in community bicycle networks
- Stripe “bicycle boxes” to increase rider visibility at intersections
- Create off-road bike paths
- Install traffic calming measures
- Pave bike lanes alongside busy highways
Massachusetts bicycle laws
Any person age 16 or younger is required by law to wear a properly fitted bicycle helmet.
It’s legal to ride a bicycle on the sidewalk in Massachusetts, except in certain areas of the city, or where banned by a municipality.
Massachusetts requires a white front light on a bicycle from 30 minutes after sunset to 30 minutes before sunrise, along with a red rear light reflector or reflectors on pedals or on the rider’s ankles.
In general, a bicyclist has the same rights and responsibilities as a motorist.
Here are 8 state regulations specific to bicyclists in Massachusetts:
- Bicyclists may not ride more than 2 abreast. If the road has more than 1 lane, bicyclists must ride within a single lane.
- A bicyclist must use a permanent and regular bicycle seat, and a passenger must only ride on a permanent and regular attached seat or in a tow trailer.
- If a bicyclist has a child passenger between 1 and 4 years old, and who weighs 40 pounds or fewer, the child must be in a “baby seat” with a harness. A child under 1 year old is not permitted to ride as a passenger on a bicycle.
- The rider shall use a bell or other audible warning when needed but is not permitted to use a siren or whistle.
- A bicycle cannot be towed by a moving vehicle, except in a bike trailer with brakes.
- The rider must have 1 hand on the handlebars at all times and is not permitted to carry any package unless it’s in a backpack or bike basket or rack.
- The bicycle’s handlebars must allow for the rider’s hands to be below their shoulders.
- If an accident results in personal injury or property damage that costs more than $100, the rider must report it to the police department in the city or town where the accident happened.
Liability for a Massachusetts bicycle accident
Massachusetts follows a modified comparative negligence standard of law. If you have to file a lawsuit (for any personal injury in Massachusetts), you can recover for your injuries only if you’re less than 51% at fault. If your allocation of fault is 51% or higher, then you can’t recover any damages.
If you’re 50% or less at fault, the amount of your damages would be reduced by your percentage of fault.
In other words, you have the right to recover damages if you were injured in a bike accident with a car or other vehicle, as long as you were 50% or less at fault.
A cyclist isn’t required to have “bike insurance” in Massachusetts. However, if you’re an avid bicyclist, you might wish to consider purchasing additional riders on your automotive insurance policy if you have one. If you’re injured by a driver who is uninsured or underinsured, you can make a claim to your own insurance policy to cover costs for medical bills and other financial losses.
If you don’t own a car but you live in a household with a family member who does, you might be able to make a claim on their uninsured or underinsured insurance policy if they have a household policy.
What if you don’t own a car, and neither does your household?
Then you’d be in the same position as lots of people in Massachusetts. Especially in urban areas or areas that are typically vacation communities, you might not ever need a car. If you’re injured while riding a bike and you don’t have auto insurance, you can be covered under your regular health insurance, with some exceptions like certain employer-funded plans and plans like Medicaid or Medicare.
When to file a personal injury lawsuit
If the amount of your medical costs is $2,000 or higher, or if you have a broken bone, head injury, or another serious injury, you can file a personal injury lawsuit against the liable party.
Who’s the liable party?
That depends on the circumstances of your accident. It might be a car or truck driver, a pedestrian, or another bicyclist.
It could also be the result of a property defect. For example, if you were injured because of a pothole, poor signage, or another hazard on the road that should’ve been remedied, you might have a premises liability lawsuit. The complicating factor is that usually, a roadway is maintained by a government agency — either state or local.
Filing a lawsuit against a government agency
Suing a government agency is procedurally a little different from a lawsuit against a private person or company in a couple of ways.
First, while a regular personal injury lawsuit in Massachusetts has a 3-year statute of limitations (the amount of time you have from the date of the injury to file a lawsuit), you must file a notice of claim against a government agency within 30 days of the accident. You also must make an official claim within 2 years.
Once your written damage claim is approved, you can file an official complaint.
Filing a lawsuit against a driver, pedestrian, or bicyclist
If you need to file a lawsuit after exhausting your insurance options, you’ll need to know who was liable and prove that their negligence caused your injury.
Here are some tips for a successful lawsuit:
- Find witnesses. After the accident, obtain contact information for witnesses. A witness can be anyone who observed the accident, the moments immediately preceding, or sometimes the aftermath. You don’t need to take a recorded statement at the scene, especially if you’re seriously injured, but you might not get another chance to get the witness’s contact information so the more you can get immediately, the better.
- Seek additional evidence. “Evidence” is a broad concept for anything that can demonstrate how an accident happened. If your accident happened in a parking lot or in an area that might be captured on surveillance cameras (which is more common than you might realize), ask any home or business nearby if there's any footage that shows the accident. You can also take accident scene photos, which can be crucial pieces of evidence. If you’re able to take photos, be sure to include any relevant street signs or signals, weather conditions, or other factors that could have contributed to the accident.
- Seek medical treatment. It’s crucial that you visit a doctor, hospital, or urgent care center after a bicycle accident. In order to prove that the bicycle accident caused your injuries, the doctor will need to document your condition.
- Find a Massachusetts bicycle accident lawyer. Your lawyer can help:
- Minimize your liability
- Use resources like actuaries and medical experts to determine how much compensation should be claimed
- Negotiate a settlement
You can be entitled to receive damages for medical treatment, pain and suffering, lost wages or future earning capacity, property loss, and other related costs. Especially if your injuries are severe or long-lasting, or if they will require ongoing or future treatment, your lawyer is the best person to determine how much your demand should be.
You can use the Enjuris law firm directory to find a Massachusetts lawyer today who can help you receive the compensation you need following a bicycle accident.