The Butler Law Firm is proud to be a member of the Atlanta Bicycle Coalition.

Hit-and-Run Bicycle Accidents

Hit-and-run accidents are unfortunately common in bicycle collisions. That is true for two reasons. First, motorists may fear that the injuries to the bicyclist are likely to be severe, and may want to avoid responsibility for the collision. Second, many motorists assume that they can outrun a bicyclist—especially after a collision. Sometimes the motorist gets away. If the motorist is caught, however, the consequences can be severe. In the context of a lawsuit, hitting-and-running it may also authorize punitive damages.

Even if the motorist is never caught, a bicyclist may have options. Although many people don’t know it, the uninsured motorist / underinsured motorist / UM insurance that a person buys for his or her automobile may cover you if a car violates the rules of the road and collides with you. This UM auto insurance can be available because even though you were on a bicycle, the collision was still “related to” the an automobile—i.e., the automobile that hit you. The availability of this insurance coverage can be a relief for a bicyclist who faces mounting medical bills, time missed from work, and significant pain. Also, in some of our cases, we have seen law enforcement catch motorists long after the hit-and-run occurred—so don’t give up hope! Here is one example of a case that our firm successfully resolved, even though it first appeared that the hit-and-run driver would get away.

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    Mechanisms of Injury in Bicycle Accident Cases

    Injuries from bicycle collisions tend to be severe. To understand why, you have to look at the “mechanism of injury,” which is a medical term that refers to the way that an injury happens.

    The first mechanism of injury in a bicycle accident is that a car or some other object an strike the bicyclist directly. Unlike the driver of a vehicle, a bicyclist has essentially no crash protection – there are no bumpers, doors, crumple zones, or airbags. If a car or truck makes direct contact with a bicyclist’s body, the results are often serious.

    The second mechanism of injury in a bicycle accident is “ejection,” when the bicyclist is thrown from the bicycle. If a car or truck strikes a bicyclist with any kind of force, the bicyclist is likely to end up airborne. If the at-fault vehicle turns in front of the bicycle without leaving the bicyclist time to stop, or if the bicyclist gets “doored,” then bicycle is likely to stop suddenly which the bicyclist keeps going. The bicyclist often gets vaulted forward over the handlebars. If a car or truck strikes a bicycle in the rear, then the bicycle will likely accelerate forward rapidly while the rider doesn’t, so the bicyclist may end up flipping backward over the car. In either scenario, what goes up must come down, and the injuries to the bicyclist are often serious.

    Most of the bicycle accident injuries that we see come from this second mechanism of injury. The type of injury that our client suffers usually depends on what part of his or her body hits the ground first.

    Types of Bicycle Accident Injuries

    Brain Injuries in Bicycle Accidents

    Closed-head injuries are common in bicycle accidents. Even if a bicyclist is wearing a good modern helmet, a bicycle accident can cause a concussion or other traumatic brain injury. Concussions or traumatic brain injuries can happen – and in fact, usually happen – without any visible mark on the skull. One reason is that if the bicyclist goes airborne and lands on his or her head, the bicyclist’s helmet and skull stop suddenly. But the brain, which is suspended inside the skull, doesn’t. The brain keeps moving until it is pressed up against the inside of the skull. If the pressure is great enough, the pressure can cause lesions, bleeding, swelling, or hemorrhaging. In severe cases, doctors may have to perform emergency surgery to lessen the pressure on a bicyclist’s brain created by swelling.

    Symptoms of concussions or traumatic brain injuries include persistent headaches, amnesia or memory loss, vertigo, difficulty concentrating, insomnia, anger, or in severe cases, personality changes. Sometimes these injuries are permanent. Even if the brain injury symptoms aren’t perfect, it can take up to two years for the brain to recover or reach what doctors call “maximum medical improvement.”

    Neck or Back Injuries in Bicycle Accidents

    Injuries to the spine, including the neck or back, are common in bicycle accidents. If you think about it, that makes sense – if a bicyclist is ejected and lands on his or her head, a helmet may lessen the force of impact to the skull, but it does nothing to protect the neck, back, or spine. When the head hits the ground, the head stops moving, but the rest of the bicyclist’s body doesn’t. Depending on the angle of impact, the bicyclist’s neck and spine may have to absorb tremendous force. That can be bad.

    The spine is made up of bony blocks called “vertebrae” that are stacked on top of each other and are separated by softer pads called “discs.” In a particularly severe bicycle accident, if the spine is asked to absorb too much force, one or more of the vertebrae in the neck or back may burst or fracture. This is called a “burst fracture.” A burst fracture is always painful, and it can be catastrophic – if the burst fracture cuts the nerves that run up and down the spinal column, the bicyclist can be paralyzed.

    More often, bicycle accident injuries occur to the softer discs that separate the vertebrae. If a disc has to absorb too much pressure, it can rupture, spilling its internal fluid into the spinal column or elsewhere. Doctors call this type of injury an “annular tear.” Or a bicycle accident may cause a part of the disc to poke out in what is commonly called a “herniated disc,” “disc herniation,” or “slipped disc.” If the protruding part of the disc presses against the nerves that travel up and down the spine, that hurts. A bicyclist may feel the pain in the part of the back where the herniated disc is, or the pain can feel like it is coming from somewhere else.  Since the nerves that run through our neck, back, and spine come from all different parts of the body, pressure on that nerve can make a bicyclist feel like the pain is coming from anywhere that the nerve goes – feet, legs, arms, hands, etc. When pain seems to move like that, doctors say that the pain “radiates” and may diagnose “radiculopathy” as a result of the bicycle accident.

    Orthopedic Injuries in Bicycle Accidents

    Orthopedic injuries are common in bicycle accidents. Like head, neck, or back injuries, they are most common following ejection, when the bicyclist strikes the ground after being launched into the air. We have seen everything from broken legs to fractured shoulders.

    In the more severe bicycle accidents, emergency surgery may be required. Emergency surgeries usually stabilize the injured area, often through the installation of plates and screws. Unfortunately, emergency surgeries usually aren’t “final” – often, they’re a stopgap measure to keep things from getting any worse. Recovering from bicycle accident injuries after an emergency surgery usually involves lots of physical therapy, and may involve additional surgeries to provide a longer-term fix and longer-term comfort for the injured bicyclist.

    Road Rash in Bicycle Accidents


    Someone with a quirky sense of humor created this statue of a bicyclist getting doored. We don’t know why.

    Road rash is a serious injury. When a bicycle accident throws the bicyclist off the bicycle and causes him or her to skid across pavement or concrete, the skidding can remove a layer of skin – or sometimes all of the skin in an area. It hurts. Road rash from a bicycle accident can also be serious in the long term, both because of the likelihood of infection and because it can leave scars.

    Protective clothing helps, but it’s hard to cover everything. Bicycling is a physical activity, so it’s usually not comfortable to ride a bicycle while every inch of your body is covered. In a serious bicycle accident, the clothing may not matter anyway because skidding across asphalt can tear through the clothing and reach the skin.

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    We Support Bicycle Safety

    Bicycling holds promise. Done correctly, bicycling can ease traffic congestion, improve air quality, and provide exercise for the American public. But it needs to be safe cycling. Drivers must respect bicyclists, bicyclists must respect drivers, and government should provide infrastructure that will allow drivers, bicyclists, and pedestrians to travel in harmony.

    Cities and counties, across Georgia and particularly in Atlanta, should support these multiple modes of transportation. And increasingly, they do. The city of Atlanta has committed itself to becoming more bicycle-friendly by putting in bicycle lanes in some of the areas where they are needed most. Beyond that, the movement toward creating trails around the city to be shared by bicyclists and pedestrians has made Atlanta more hospitable to bicycles. For instance, the Beltline project makes commuting and recreational bicycling a more reasonable possibility. Rails-to-trails projects around the state (like the Silver Comet Trail leading from Atlanta, Georgia to Weaver, Alabama) create even more cycling opportunities.

    Given the promise of bicycling, Butler Law is proud to sponsor the Atlanta Bicycle Coalition, which works with public and private partners to make bicycle travel safer for everyone.

    Bicycle Laws in Georgia

    Safety requires rules, and rules require enforcement. That’s where we come in. When motorists pull out in front of a bicycle because they didn’t see it, that’s negligence. When a motorist swerves off the road and strikes a bicyclist, that’s negligence. When a bicycle blows through a stop light and strikes a pedestrian, that’s also negligence. When someone’s negligence hurts an innocent person, the person at fault (and usually that person’s insurance company) should be held accountable.

    Below are some of the more important rules that establish how motor vehicles should interact with bicycles with citations to Georgia law.

    1. When a car passes a bicycle, the car must leave at least three feet of space.  O.C.G.A. § 40-6-56.
    2. When a bicycle is in a bicycle lane, cars must yield to it. O.C.G.A. § 40-6-55.
    3. Bicycles may legally ride upon the paved shoulder of the road. O.C.G.A. § 40-6-291.
    4. Generally, bicycles must obey the same rules that cars must obey. O.C.G.A. § 40-6-290.
    5. Generally, bicyclists must stay on the right side of the roadway. O.C.G.A. § 40-6-294(b).
    6. Bicycles must have certain safety equipment. O.C.G.A. § 40-6-296.
    7. If a bicycle is built for one person, only one person can ride it—no passengers on handlebars or axle foot pegs! But children under one can ride in a sling or trailer. O.C.G.A. § 40-6-292.
    8. Bicycles should not be ridden on sidewalks. O.C.G.A. § 40-6-144.
    9. And unfortunately, despite how much fun it might be, it is illegal to tow a bicycle (or skateboard, or rollerblader, or sled) behind a car. O.C.G.A. § 40-6-293.

    For more information, you can review the “pocket guides” written by Georgia Bikes! and the Georgia Department of Highway Safety.


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    Atlanta GA’s Bicycle Accident Lawyers

    If you or a loved one has been hurt in a bicycle accident, we invite you to call us for a free consultation. Our firm charges no legal fees unless we take your case and we are able recover money for you.

    If you are a member of the Atlanta Bicycle Coalition, you may be eligible for a discount on top of that.

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