If you’ve been injured, there are ways to have your bike accident expenses covered
Bicycling has become a popular American activity. In 2016, only about 12.4% of Americans said they rode a bike regularly, but that number increased to about 14.5% (47.5 million people) in 2017, and continues to increase.
A survey of nearly 10,000 members by Cycling Fun estimated that the majority of cyclists prefer road bikes, followed by mountain biking, hybrid, gravel, fat bikes, and BMX.
Bicycling — particularly on roads — presents a unique set of challenges and safety risks. Overall, cycling is a safe and healthy way to travel. But you do need to be aware of traffic hazards and how to prevent them, along with what to do if you’re involved in an accident.
Tennessee bicycle accident statistics
The number of Tennessee bicycle-related traffic fatalities and injuries has remained fairly steady over the past decade.
Here’s a look at the number of bicycle-related traffic injuries and fatalities in Tennessee from 2007 to 2019:
Tennessee bicycle laws
Here are just a few of the primary bicycle laws in Tennessee:
- Ride in the same direction as traffic (on the right-hand side).
- Obey traffic signs and signals.
- Use hand signals to communicate movements.
- A bicycle must have a front white light visible from 500 feet in front, and either a red reflector or red light visible from 500 feet to the rear.
- A rider under 16 years old must wear a bicycle helmet at all times.
- A child passenger who weighs fewer than 40 pounds or who is fewer than 40 inches tall must be seated and secured in a child restraining seat or trailer.
- You may not carry any package or item that prevents you from keeping at least 1 hand on the handlebars.
- A bicycle may not be used to carry more people than the number for which it’s intended.
- You may not attach a bicycle, roller skates, sleds, etc. to any car or vehicle on the road.
- A bicyclist who is riding more slowly than the speed of traffic must move as close as possible to the right-hand curb or edge of the road.
- Bicyclists may not ride more than 2 abreast on a public roadway. If 2 riders are impeding normal traffic flow, they must ride single-file.
Common causes of bike accidents
Many bike accidents can be prevented by the rider. A rider can’t control a motor vehicle driver’s behavior, but you can avoid some of the common ways that bicyclists get injured.
1. Distracted driving/bicycling
You’ve probably heard plenty of public awareness campaigns about texting and driving or other forms of distracted driving. But distracted biking is an issue, too. Many cyclists look at their phones or other devices while riding, and that’s always dangerous. Your eyes and attention need to be on the road at all times, whether you’re biking or driving.
Like drivers, a cyclist should ride in a way that allows them to be in control of their bike at all times. Your speed should depend on road conditions, weather, amount of travel, speed of vehicle traffic, and other factors.
3. Riding too close to traffic
Tennessee requires that a motorist give bicyclists at least 3 feet of space when passing.
4. Intersections and lane merges
Bicyclists should follow the road rules just like motorists. Intersections, lane merges, and other situations where cars are turning or traveling outside of a single lane can be dangerous. It’s important for cyclists to be aware of not only where they’re going, but what the motorists around them are doing, too.
5. Sidewalks, parking lots and driveways
Some drivers (and bicyclists) think that because cars tend to move more slowly in parking lots or when backing in or out of a driveway, those areas aren’t dangerous. But because these scenarios often involve backing up and unexpected movement, they can present their own risks.
Liability for a Tennessee bicycle accident
A bicycle is considered a vehicle, so the same rules should apply for a bike accident as a car accident... right?
Here’s the catch:
A car driver is required by law to have insurance (that doesn’t mean every driver does have insurance, but every driver should have coverage). A bicyclist isn’t.
So if you’re a bicyclist and you don’t own a car, then you probably don’t have auto insurance. Your medical insurance should cover some of your treatment. But if you’re seriously injured, it won’t cover your accident-related expenses in their entirety.
So, what do you do?
It depends on who’s negligent. Negligence is an important element of personal injury law. In order to recover damages, a plaintiff (the injured person) must prove that another party was negligent—or was liable for the accident.
A defendant who’s negligent has breached their duty of care, which means that they took an action (or inaction) that they could reasonably know would cause injury to another person.
Who could be liable for a bicycle accident?
- Driver. A driver could be negligent if they’re speeding, swerving, under the influence of drugs or alcohol, using a mobile phone, driving too close to a cyclist, opening their door into the path of a bicyclist, or for a variety of other reasons if a collision occurs.
- Cyclist. The bicyclist can be negligent, too. If a cyclist was riding on the wrong side of the road (facing traffic), riding in the road instead of a bike lane where one was available, makes an illegal maneuver, or was otherwise riding unsafely, they might be the liable party.
- Pedestrian. Since a bicycle is considered a vehicle, a bicyclist is required to stop for a pedestrian just as a car would. If a pedestrian steps off the curb into a cyclist’s path, it might be hard for a cyclist to swerve in time or slow down to avoid hitting them, and the court would have to decide which is the negligent party.
- Municipality or government agency. It’s usually the function of a local government agency to maintain roads and public bike paths, unless it’s a state route. A lot of bicycle accidents happen because of road hazards like fallen rocks, gravel, potholes, debris, leaves, or other issues. If there are issues that aren’t easily fixed (like a sharp turn or railroad tracks), there should be sufficient warning signs. If the agency charged with maintaining the road is negligent in keeping it reasonably safe, you might have a premises liability claim against the agency.
- Bicycle manufacturer. Your brakes, chains, frame, or some other part of your bicycle could fail in a crash (or cause a crash), which would be the responsibility of the bike manufacturer, provided you didn’t make after-market alterations that might have caused the problem. In addition, helmets and other safety gear have requirements, too. While a faulty helmet might not cause a crash, it can fail to protect your head adequately and result in more severe injuries than you would have otherwise. This type of claim would be a defective product lawsuit.
Tennessee comparative negligence
Tennessee is a comparative negligence state. Each driver is assigned a percentage of liability in an accident. A driver who is 50% or more at fault for an accident cannot recover any damages in a lawsuit.
In other words, if you’re injured in a Tennessee bicycle accident, you’ll need to show that even if you didn’t cause the accident, you also weren’t doing something that might have contributed to the accident.
For instance, if the accident was a driver’s fault but the court finds that you were somehow also negligent (looking at your phone, failed to signal, not using the required lights, failing to yield, etc.), then your damage award would be reduced according to your percentage of liability.
How to recover damages in a Tennessee bicycle accident
You typically have 2 options for recovering damages for a Tennessee bicycle accident:
- Make a claim against the driver’s insurance company.
- File a personal injury lawsuit.
As mentioned above, the negligent party might not be a driver. If it’s any other party — a municipality, pedestrian, etc. — then you’ll need to file a lawsuit.
In a personal injury lawsuit, you can claim costs that include:
- Medical treatment (doctor and hospital visits, surgeries, diagnostic testing, prescription medication, etc.)
- Assistive devices like wheelchairs, walkers, prosthetics, etc.
- Lost wages and loss of future earning capacity during your recovery (or if you become disabled)
- Wrongful death if you’ve lost a family member in an accident
- Property loss
- Ongoing therapies or continued treatment
- Pain and suffering or other emotional distress
- Loss of consortium
- Punitive damages
What to do after a bike accident
A bike accident can leave you seriously injured or traumatized. Most cyclists aren’t thinking about insurance claims or litigation immediately following an accident. 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 Tennessee 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.
Contact a Tennessee bicycle accident lawyer
If your injuries are serious, long-lasting, or expensive, it may be worth taking the time to contact a Tennessee bicycle accident lawyer to review your options for legal recovery.
Look for an attorney with the right skills, experience, and knowledge of bicycle law to help you recover to the greatest extent possible, whether that means negotiating a fair settlement, minimizing your liability, or discovering evidence necessary to prove your claim.