When the weather gets nice, it's inevitable that more people are out jogging, playing sports, and riding bicycles. Maryland has been encouraging residents to bicycle more for health, to reduce traffic congestion, and to lower carbon emissions. But because bicycling is most often done on or near roadways, traffic collisions are inevitable.
Remember that Maryland is a contributory negligence state, which means that if the injured victim is even 1% at fault, their entire claim is barred. With that in mind, it is very typical for insurance carriers to raise liability defenses in an attempt to avoid paying the injury claim of a cyclist. Below are some common arguments raised by insurance carriers.
Bicycle Riding On the Sidewalk
Many cyclists rely on sidewalks as a safer travel lane than the adjacent asphalt roadway. After all, the roadway is where all the cars are and riding on the sidewalk is a way to separate the unprotected cyclists from the speeding traffic. But as sidewalks become crosswalks at the streets and driveways, a cyclist can be momentarily exposed to the traffic they were trying to avoid and get hit.
The problem is that there is an old provision in the Maryland Transportation Code that generally prohibits bicycles on Maryland sidewalks, unless authorized by local ordinance. An insurance adjuster will often cite to the state code provision without doing the extra work to verify if the county where the collision occurred does allow bicycles on sidewalks. We hear this argument all the time and are often able to overcome this with research.
Further, even where there is no local ordinance allowing bicycles on sidewalks, we have been able to overcome the state code provision by showing that the sidewalk was clearly the safer choice for the cyclist.
Bicycle Riding Without a Helmet
Cycling injuries can be serious because of the general lack of protection for the cyclist when struck by a car. A bicycle helmet is one of the few items that enhance the safety of a cyclist and we strongly recommend the regular use of a helmet. However, Maryland's mandatory helmet law only applies to riders under age 16. There is no code violation for an adult who cycles without a helmet.
Many insurance adjusters will argue that the cyclist was not wearing a helmet even when the resulting injuries were not head injuries. Logic and basic medicine tells us that a cyclist that suffered a leg injury would have met the same fate even when wearing a helmet, so the lack of a helmet would have made no difference. To some insurance adjusters who are determined to deny a claim, logic may not matter.
Flying Down the Street or Sidewalk
Many vehicle and bicycle collisions are the by-product of the motorist not looking carefully enough before pulling out, making a turn, changing lanes, etc. A motorist who wasn't looking carefully is then startled to realize they just hit a cyclist. To the motorist, the cyclist just "came out of nowhere," and they then excuse the failure to see by rationalizing, "The cyclist must have really been speeding along to appear suddenly like that".
We hear "flying across the street" arguments all the time, especially where the claim rep has to admit that bicycles are allowed on sidewalks. The claim rep will go on to argue "Okay, but your client can't just speed down the sidewalk and shoot out into the crosswalk with no warning."
Cyclists should exercise proper speed control at any driveway or street intersection where they are likely to encounter cars. But if the case involves the false argument that the cyclist was riding at a reckless speed and therefore contributed to the collision, sometimes technology can rescue the case. A client of ours, a serious cyclist, had installed a trip computer on his bicycle which tracked miles ridden, speeds, and other data on any given ride. At trial, where the motorist argued that the client had been speeding down the sidewalk, we were able to show the court that the cyclist had actually been coasting along at just 6 mph as he approached a crosswalk. If you have one of these computers, preserve the data!
As you can see, presenting an injury claim after a cycling collision can raise challenges. If you have suffered an injury in a bicycle collision, we have years of experience in this area.