If you’ve been involved in a crash on a bicycle, most likely
Although Idaho has adopted a number of laws that make the roads safer for bicyclists—such as ‘stop as yield’—crashes between bicyclists and motor vehicles still happen. We spoke with Kurt Holzer, a personal injury attorney in Boise, about what a cyclist can potentially expect, legally, if they have been involved in a crash.
How often do you work on cases involving bicycle accidents?
I work with crashes. An accident is an incident where there is no responsibility, and I don’t know that I’ve ever seen an incident where there is no responsibility. Sometimes, that responsibility is on the cyclists. What I often see with cyclists is riding on the wrong way on the roadway. They’re surprised when I say that’s not legal.
The number one type of motor vehicle-cyclist crash that I see are left crosses—cyclists riding straight down the road into an intersection, and the vehicle coming the other direction makes a left turn. They’re often the worst injuries. You also get your right hooks, where somebody zips past a cyclist and turns right in front of them. Those are the two biggest, but I also see cars driving into the back of bicycles sometimes.
The number one thing you hear from the driver, is “I just didn’t see the cyclist.” For me, that’s nearly an admission of responsibility for causing the crash. Often, some members of law enforcement or the media take that as an excuse. It’s not an excuse—it’s an admission that you’re not doing your job as a driver, which is to pay attention to the environment in which you’re operating.
If I’m a bicyclist in a crash, and I’m physically able, are there things I can do at the scene of the crash?
Take pictures, document the scene. Generally speaking, make sure law enforcement shows up. They will do some documentation. If anybody says, “Hey, I saw what happened,” get their name and number. Get the medical care you need, make sure you know who the other person was.
The ordinary advice from any lawyer involved in collision cases is never admit that you did something wrong. I have a little different view, which is, if you are 100 percent certain that you screwed up, it’s OK to admit that you are wrong and recognize that you are not going to receive compensation. I believe in people being human beings, and acknowledging responsibility. But if there is any question whatsoever, don’t admit it. People often want to apologize just because something happened, and what happens then is that gets recorded or used against you. Silence, as far as admission of responsibility, is the best thing.
Is there anything specific a bicycle crash lawyer can do for me?
If you’re a cyclist you almost always need a lawyer who has a real understanding of the dynamics of bicycle crashes. The key is to make sure you are fairly treated in both the civil side—that is, recovering your damages—and the criminal side.
There can be cultural forces in the law enforcement community, and a windshield bias—a bias toward car drivers. Members of the Bike Law Network, which I am part of, we all talk with law enforcement folks, deal with the issues, deal with legislative stuff, advocacy organizations.
Most states in the country have what’s called comparative reasonability issues. Some of the insurance companies who deal with these issues want to say: The mere fact that you’re on a bicycle makes you comparatively at fault, which reduces your ability to recover the losses which have been imposed on you by this driver who wasn’t paying attention. … . Bicycle attorneys also understand that bicycles can be $10,000 these days, and many times the insurance company adjusters are used to bikes that are $140. Being able to speak confidently about fancy carbon fiber or electric shifting can help the individual put that package of lost property together.
What about legal costs?
Lawyers cost money. The standard fee is sometimes as low as 25 percent, sometimes as high as 40 percent. There can be reasons within your particular case that happens. In addition there are the costs, which will vary on the scope of the injury. If you have tons of medical expenses that have to be compiled and dealt with, that’s one type of expense. If it’s a fight over responsibility—who had the red-light type of question—and you have to go to court, the expenses are going to go up and up over time.