According to the most recent statistics from the New York Department of Motor Vehicles, there are over 6,300 bicycle crashes throughout the state each year. Only a handful are fatal, and most do not even involve a second vehicle, but when there is death or serious injury, the courts must sort out fault. And when a bicycle collides with an automobile or truck, it is not a given the driver of the larger vehicle will be held at fault.
Coffed v. McCarthy
Here is a recent case on point. A man was riding his bicycle through an intersection in upstate New York when he collided with a dump truck. The bicyclist died as a result of his injuries. His widow, acting as executor of his estate, sued the driver and owner of the dump truck for negligence.
The key issue was whether the dump truck driver properly obeyed the traffic signal at the intersection just before the fatal crash. The driver initially told police he had a green light. He later testified the signal was red, but said he came to a complete stop before making a legal right turn. Additional witnesses at the scene agreed the traffic light was red.
The victim was traveling in a bicycle land in the same direction as the dump truck. He also tried to execute a right turn at the intersection. The driver said he never saw the victim's bicycle before he struck him, although he acknowledged seeing the victim in the bicycle lane about a mile back.
The defendants moved for summary judgment, arguing the driver did nothing wrong as a matter of law. Erie County Supreme Court denied the motion, but on appeal, a divided panel of the Second Department reversed. The majority held the uncontested evidence showed the dump truck driver was “operating his vehicle in a lawful manner” at the time of the accident. In contrast, the victim “was riding with his head down and not paying attention to his surroundings.”
Two judges dissented. They said while the bicyclist's negligence may have contributed to his death, “there can be more than one proximate cause of an accident,” and a jury should have had the chance to decide if the dump truck driver shared responsibility. In particular, the dissent cited the fact the driver saw the bicyclist a mile before the accident. Given this, it was reasonable to ask if the truck driver failed to exercise “due care” in not seeing the same bicycle just before entering the intersection.
Bicyclists Must Always Be Careful
But even the dissent reiterated bicyclists are subject to the same traffic laws as other vehicles. That is an important message for all bicyclists to heed. It is important for bicyclists to not only be aware of their surroundings at all times, but to obey all applicable traffic signals.
If you have been in a bicycle accident and need advice from a qualified New York personal injury attorney on how to proceed, contact our offices right away.