Many drivers ignore bicyclists or don’t see bicyclists at all. Some drivers can even be hostile toward bicyclists, resenting them for slowing down traffic. When bicycles are sharing the road with automobiles, particularly where there are no designated bicycle lanes, it’s important for bicycle riders to constantly be on the alert. It only takes a second for a car to veer into you or turn in front of you to cause a tragic bicycle accident.
In 2015, there were 818 bicycle-related deaths nationally, a 12% increase over 2014. Georgia suffered 23 of those deaths which was a 21% increase over the 19 Georgia bicycle deaths in 2014. Bicycle and pedestrian fatalities were more than 15% of the total roadway fatalities in Georgia, underscoring the need for us to consider bicyclists and pedestrians when designing our roads.
Injuries from Bicycle Accidents
It only takes a few seconds for your life to change. Take for example an accident just a few years ago where a man with no insurance and a suspended license hit Georgia man Andrew Powell and his brother-in-law Frank Guinn while they were training for the New Orleans Half Ironman. Frank Guinn was killed and Andrew Powell suffered a spinal cord injury that left him temporarily paralyzed and broke his back, hip, and ankle. He spent months recovering at Shepherd Center, a spinal cord & brain injury rehabilitation center in Atlanta. Dr. Brock Bowman, Associate Medical Director of the Shepherd Center, said “It doesn’t take much. I mean a side mirror that clips a handle bar can send a rider sailing off the road.”
Bicyclists have no protective shell, which Georgia law emphasizes the importance of helmets for younger bicyclists, whose brains may not be finished developing. In Georgia, bicycle helmets are not required for people over the age of 16. Most bicycle-related fatalities are caused by head injuries. Helmets can reduce head injuries by 50% and reduce the chances of injuries to the face and neck by 33%.
Common Causes of Bicycle Accidents
Georgia law considers bicycles to be vehicles, and bicyclists must obey many of the same laws as motorists. Bicycle accidents can have some of the same causes as other types of vehicle accidents such as running red lights or alcohol use. In fact, alcohol is involved in 37% of all fatal bicycle crashes.
However, bicycling near motor vehicles carries special risks. When a motorist doesn’t see a bicycle, they may violate the bicyclist’s right of way. They might pull in front of the bicyclist, swerve into their lane, illegally turn in front of them or back up without checking their rear view mirror. Even when a motorist sees a bicycle, they may not respect their right to the roadway. Just because Georgia law requires motor vehicles to give bicyclists three feet when passing under O.C.G.A § 40-6-56, doesn’t mean everyone obeys the rules of the road. And sometimes motorists follow bicycles much too closely.
Compensation for Losses from a Bicycle Accident
Drivers owe a duty of care to bicyclists just as they do to anyone on the road. If a motorist is responsible for your injuries when you are in a bicycle accident, you have a legal right to be compensated for your medical expenses and other losses. When you consult with your Georgia bicycle accident attorney, they can advise you about possible compensation if the other party was at fault. Compensation could include:
- Medical expenses: A court will expect you to document your medical expenses to date, but you may also be awarded compensation for medical expenses you are likely to have in the future as a result of the bicycle accident. You must file a law suit against the other party within a period of time set by Georgia law, usually two years for a personal injury case under O.C.G.A. § 9-3-33. Therefore, it is not always possible to wait until all your medical expenses are incurred before filing a law suit. You will need a good Georgia bicycle accident attorney to determine what medical expenses you might expect in the future.
- Interference with normal living: You can and should be compensated for injuries that stop you from enjoying the activities you enjoyed before the accident.
- Lost wages: You are likely to lose quite a lot of work days if you are in a serious bicycle accident. Whether you lose pay directly or are forced to take vacation or sick days, you should be compensated.
- Loss of earning capacity: A bicycle collision injury could leave you unable to perform some types of work. You do not need to be employed at the time of the accident in order to be compensated for loss of earning capacity.
- Pain and suffering. Georgie law allows you to be compensated for past, present and future pain and suffering.
- Punitive damages: If the other party was so negligent or reckless that they showed little care at all who they hurt, under O.C.G.A. § 51-12-5.1, a judge may impose punitive damages as well as damages that directly compensate you for your losses.
- Property damage: Your medical bills are likely to be your largest expenses by far, but you may also be compensated for damage to your bicycle and other property.
What to Do After a Bicycle Accident
If you are in an accident with a motor vehicle while bicycling, the first thing to do is to take care of your health and seek medical help. If you are able to do so, get the contact and insurance information of the driver. Do not say anything more than you must to the driver, and you may not want to talk to insurance adjusters before speaking with a lawyer. (An insurance company may twist anything you say to try to prove you were at fault.) Take photos of the scene if you are able. Familiarize yourself with all the tricks that auto insurance companies may play to try to reduce your compensation. It is usually wise to contact a good Atlanta bicycle accident lawyer who understands the games insurance companies play and can advise you how to best protect your cause of action.