FAQs Answered by a Bicycle Accident Lawyer in Atlanta, GA
Does insurance cover me if I was hit by a car while I was riding my bicycle?
The short answer is yes. If you were out riding your bicycle and the driver of a car wrongfully hit you, then that driver is responsible and should compensate you for your injuries. That driver’s car insurance should pay you for your damages from the bicycle accident. “Damages” includes both the physical damage to your bicycle and the injuries to your body. Insurance policies cover both property damage and bodily injury.
There are several different types of insurance that may apply. First and most obviously, the at-fault driver’s car insurance should apply. If the at-fault driver had no insurance policy of his own, or if those insurance limits weren’t high enough, then there are other types of insurance that may come into play to cover the bicycle accident. If there was a different insurance policy that applied to the car that the at-fault driver was operating, that policy may apply. Depending on the policy language, the insurance policies of other people who live with the at-fault driver could apply. If the at-fault driver was working at the time of the collision and was operating in the course and scope of his or her employment, that employer may be liable under a legal principle known in Georgia as “vicarious liability” or “respondeat superior.” Most employers carry sizable insurance policies, often called “commercial general liability” or “CGL” policies. Any of these insurance policies could provide liability coverage for a bicycle accident.
Even if none of the insurance described in the paragraph above can be found, your car insurance may provide useful coverage for the bicycle accident. It usually depends on whether you carry uninsured motorist / underinsured motorist / “UM” coverage for your car. If you’re not sure whether you carry this type of insurance, don’t worry, you’re not alone – most people don’t know whether they have it. We can help you find out. This is one reason that we have sometimes been able to find available insurance that our clients didn’t even know they had.
Read more about underinsured motorist insurance coverage in the next section.
What do I do if it was a hit-and-run bicycle accident, and the driver who hit me didn’t stop?
If you were hit by a car and the driver of that car didn’t stop, you may still have a bicycle accident case even if the at-fault driver is never found. You can still recover for your damages from your insurance company through a type of your own auto insurance called “uninsured motorist insurance coverage.” Uninsured motorist coverage covers you if you suffer an injury but the other driver either doesn’t have enough insurance to cover the full cost of your injury, or the other driver left before you gathered his information and you can’t find him or her.
Many people aren’t sure what uninsured motorist insurance is. In Georgia, every driver has to have at least $25,000 of liability insurance coverage, which is a different type of coverage. Uninsured motorist insurance (commonly called “UM”) is optional. However, many people have UM insurance and don’t even know they have it. Typically, UM insurance is provided through your insurance company or the insurance policy of a resident relative (that is, someone related to you who lives under the same roof). UM insurance can cover not only car accidents, but also bicycle accidents, pedestrian accidents, motorcycle accidents, or even scooter accidents, as long as the at-fault driver was in a car. You can figure out the amount of UM insurance you have by looking at your car insurance policy’s “declarations page.” If you don’t have your declarations page, we can help by obtaining a copy for you and figuring out whether it covers your bicycle accident. See O.C.G.A. § 33-3-28.
If you’re worried about your premiums going up, our advice is: don’t worry about that. There are two reasons. First, your insurance company has no reason to hike your rates when you didn’t cause the collision. After all, it wasn’t your fault, and the fact that you were in this collision doesn’t make it any more likely that you’ll be in another one. Georgia law actually prohibits an insurance company from hiking rates mid-term for an accident that wasn’t your fault.
Second, you’re paying for this coverage! You have been paying premiums for months and years so that if you ever needed UM insurance, you’d have it. Now you need it. If you’re not going to use it, then what were you paying for? If you’re planning to pay for UM coverage but never use it, then we have a suggestion . . . instead of writing that check to the car insurance company for UM coverage every month, make that check out to “Jeb Butler’s Children’s College Fund” and send it to our firm instead. (We’re joking.)
How much time do I have to file a claim after a bicycle accident?
Generally, the statute of limitations in Georgia for personal injury cases is two years from the date of the accident. This period of time, however, can sometimes be shorter or longer. If you were hurt because the road was in bad shape, say for example there was a pothole, then you may have a case against Georgia’s Department of Transportation. In cases where you may have a claim against the city, county or state, the deadline for you to bring your claim may be shorter than two years and you may need to send an ante litem notice. The time deadline could be as short as a year or six months.
Sometimes depending on what happened to cause the crash, the time you have to bring your case could be longer. For instance, if a criminal prosecution was brought or could have been brought against the at-fault driver, the statute of limitations may be paused for the duration of that prosecution, up to six years. O.C.G.A. § 9-3-99.
As a general rule, while you can wait to consult with a lawyer, it’s a good idea to consult with a lawyer early on because in addition to notifying the insurance companies on your behalf, and determining whether an ante litem notice may be necessary, a lawyer will more likely be able to gather evidence while the evidence is still more readily available.
How much does it cost to hire a bicycle accident lawyer?
Up front, it costs nothing. Talking with us is free. We charge no retainers and we do not bill by the hour. Our legal fee is only a percentage of the money we collect for you at the end of the case. If we don’t win money for you, then you don’t pay us anything. Even if we do win, you don’t owe us anything until the case is over and we’ve collected money for you. In other words, our firm gets paid if and when you do – not before.
The percentage of the recovery that we charge – what the law calls a “contingency fee” – varies some from case to case, but not much. For bicycle accidents, we typically charge a contingency fee of one-third if the case settles before it is filed or within 90 days after it is filed with the Court. If the case settles more than 90 days after it is filed with the Court or if we take the case through trial, verdict, and judgment, then our fee is 40%. For an unusually complex case, such as a product liability or negligent security case, we might charge more because the cases involve more risk. Typically for bicycle accident cases, that isn’t necessary, so we keep our fee at one-third to 40%.
We cover all expenses in the case for you. In a typical bicycle accident case, that includes the expenses associated with gathering medical records, court fees, meeting expert witnesses, taking depositions, ordering transcripts, etc. If we don’t recover any money for you, then our firm is ‘out’ those expenses – we don’t get that money back. If we do recover money for you, then you pay us back for those expenses at the end of the case, if and when you recover money.
One thing we like about personal injury cases and contingency fees, including bicycle accident cases, is that our firm’s interests are aligned with yours. We don’t get paid unless and until you do, and we both do better if we recover more money for you.
One unusual aspect of the personal injury and bicycle accident litigation industry is that all law firms that handle these cases charge about the same thing. Our contingency fee percentage (between one-third and 40%) is standard across the industry. That’s what you’ll pay if you hire a detail-oriented, service-based firm like ours, and it’s what you’ll pay if you hire a television or billboard advertiser who keeps thousands of cases and has non-attorney “case managers” who do most of the work. In other words, whether you hire a good lawyer who works on your case and personally takes your phone calls, or a volume-based law firm that has “case managers” doing the real work and where you can never reach your lawyer on the phone, you’re going to pay about the same thing. In one situation, you get what you pay for. In the other situation, you get far less.
It’s striking: the price is about the same, but the quality of work is very, very different.
(Hint: don’t hire a personal injury lawyer off a billboard or television commercial!)
If the driver of the car that hit me was texting and driving or driving drunk, are punitive damages available?
If the driver of the car was texting or engaging in some other illegal activity like driving under the influence of alcohol, then in addition to the compensation you’d receive for your injuries, the jury may impose punitive damages for the bicycle accident. Punitive damages go above the compensation necessary to compensate the bicyclist for his or her injuries. The purpose of punitive damages is to send a message to the driver and to the community that engaging in illegal activities will not be tolerated. Punitive damages punish the driver and serve as a deterrent to that driver and other drivers.
Are bicycles allowed on sidewalks?
Generally speaking, no. Bicycle riders are entitled to the same rights and are afforded the same protections that regular car drivers have. For example, bicycle riders are allowed to, and in fact should, ride on the roads. Often motor vehicle drivers become frustrated when they pull up behind a group of cyclists, but the law says that bicycle riders cannot ride on sidewalks. O.C.G.A. § 40-6-144.
What are some other bicycle-related laws that cyclists should know?
Bicycle riders must follow the same rules that other motorists must follow. O.C.G.A. § 40-6-290. That means, for example, that a bicycle rider must stop at a stop sign and stop at a red traffic light. Cyclists should stay on the right side of the roadway except in certain situations like when turning left or if the lane is too narrow to share safely with a car. O.C.G.A. § 40-6-294.
If you have a baby and want to take your baby out with you for a ride, make sure you know this next rule. O.C.G.A. § 40-6-292(c) says that you cannot transport a child under the age of one on a bicycle unless the child is in a bicycle trailer or infant sling, the child is seated in the trailer or carried in the sling according to the trailer’s or sling’s manufacturer’s instructions. Further, the trailer must be properly connected to the bicycle according to the trailer’s manufacturer’s instructions, or the sling must be properly worn by the cyclist according to the sling’s manufacturer’s instructions.
If you enjoy riding at nighttime, make sure your bicycle has the right safety lights. Your bicycle must have a light on the front that emits a white light visible from at least 300 feet as well as a light on the back that emits a red light visible from at least 300 feet to the rear. However, there is an exception to this rule: if a bicycle has a red reflector on the rear that is approved by the Department of Public Safety, then you are not required to have a rear light. O.C.G.A. § 40-6-296(a).
There are other laws that govern bicyclists. A good lawyer will know which laws apply and when to apply them.
How much space must a car driver give a bicycle rider?
The driver of a car must keep a “safe distance” between his car and your bicycle. “Safe distance” means at least three feet. O.C.G.A. § 40-6-56. The law also says “when feasible, the operator of a motor vehicle, when overtaking and passing a bicycle that is proceeding in the same direction on the roadway, shall leave a safe distance between such vehicle and the bicycle and shall maintain such clearance until safely past the overtaken bicycle.”
Keeping a safe distance is important. One obvious reason for motor vehicle drivers to keep a safe distance between their vehicles and bicycles ahead of them is that drivers should make sure they have enough time to react and stop if traffic comes to a stop.
Do I need to speak to the insurance company after a bicycle accident?
You’re not required to. You do not have to speak with the other driver’s insurance company, and you certainly don’t need to give a recorded statement. There is no law that says you must speak with an adjuster of the other driver’s insurance company.
As far as whether you should speak with your insurance company after a bicycle accident, the answer is less absolute. Many insurance policies have clauses that say if you don’t notify your own insurance company relatively quickly after an accident, then your insurance company won’t have to compensate you. If you are uncertain whether you’re going to hire a lawyer, you may want to consider calling your insurance company and notifying them of the accident but be careful when you do. If you do decide to hire lawyer early on, then let your lawyer handle calling your insurance company.
We’ve also addressed this question in our page on Car Accident FAQs.