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Old 09-30-09, 01:57 PM   #1
fydollahos
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I hit a car...am I liable for damages?

Let me set up the scenario:
This happened last thursday around 6:30 in the evening while riding my fixed gear (no brakes...I know, shameful). The street I was on is a two-lane one-way with bicycle lanes on both sides of the street. I hit a green light at the right time to put me about a block out in front of any traffic and was travelling in the right bike lane at about 25-30 mph.
As I approached a cross-street (cross traffic has stop signs) I see car at the stop sign on my right start creeping into the street in front of me. No problem, I swerve to the left to avoid them. While this was happening, a car travelling from the opposite direction of the creeper starts crossing the intersection in front of me. I was already swerving left to avoid the first car and was left with no time to react to the second car.
I impacted his rear quarter-panel and flew over his trunk, landing on my right side in the middle of the intersection. When I landed my hands were still firmly gripping my bars(yes, the bike came with me for the short flight). Lots of road rash and whatnot, no broken bones. The car's rear quarter-panel was smashed in pretty bad. The driver claimed he wouldn't take any action (insurance or legal). We decided not to file a police report and go our separate ways.
So today his insurance company calls me poking and prodding in their attempt to determine who was responsible. Apparently, the driver mentioned to his insurance co that I was riding brakeless and had a picture to prove it...yipee.

Riding brakeless in Sacramento is a misdemeanor, but does this negate the fact that he pulled in front of an oncoming vehicle? Am I at risk of being sued by his insurance because I was not compliant with local law?

Thanks, and I apologize for the long winded post.
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Old 09-30-09, 02:14 PM   #2
danarnold
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You need input from a local lawyer. I the meantime, there is a concept in the law called negligence per se. When you violate a statute and the purpose of that statute was to prevent the very harm that occurred, you are liable as a matter of law. The question is whether or not your lack of brakes was the cause of the accident. Also, can't you argue that your fixee indeed has brakes; to wit, back pedaling, or the attempt to back peddle?

Finally, your personal injuries can potentially far outweigh the property damage. This may assist you in negotiations. Call a lawyer. If he refuses to take your case on a contingent fee basis it is because he honestly thinks you will lose, or the chances of recovery X the amount likely to be recovered, X his fee percentage yield too small a fee to justify his taking the case. But at least you've paid nothing for the consult.
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Old 09-30-09, 02:15 PM   #3
Kurt Erlenbach
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It sounds like the driver violated your right-of-way.

Whether you broke the law for riding without brakes, or he broke the law violating the right-of-way, is somewhat beside the point. The issue is one of negligence (a civil issue), not a criminal issue. Whether you had brakes sounds mostly irrelevant to who caused the accident (it's like someone driving with a suspended driver's license - that fact usually is irrelevant in determining whether that driver or another driver is at fault in causing an accident.) If the driver pulled out in front of you, he was negligent and he is liable to you for your damages and you are not responsible for his damages.

Also, not calling the cops when there is property damage in an accident is almost always a mistake.
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Old 09-30-09, 02:15 PM   #4
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Neither of you seemed to be compliant with local law.

If there's no police report, however, I wouldn't admit to anything.
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Old 09-30-09, 02:18 PM   #5
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Originally Posted by fydollahos View Post
......riding my fixed gear (no brakes....
You takes your chances!

Quote:
Originally Posted by fydollahos View Post
......We decided not to file a police report and go our separate ways....
You takes your chances!

Quote:
Originally Posted by fydollahos View Post
....Riding brakeless in Sacramento is a misdemeanor, but does this negate the fact that he pulled in front of an oncoming vehicle? Am I at risk of being sued by his insurance because I was not compliant with local law?
Possibly. Without a police report it is your word against his as to what happened. Keep stressing that you had the right of way when he pulled from a stop sign into your path.
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Old 09-30-09, 02:21 PM   #6
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From what you described, having brakes would have made no difference since the driver pulled out abruptly and left you with no time to react.

I don't know if the police would have given you a citation had they came to the scene, but if your story is accurate, the other driver is 100% at fault.

The other driver got off easy if all he has is a smashed quarter panel. It's unbelievable that now he's trying to convince his insurance that you were responsible.

I would absolutely fight it. If his insurance co. continues to harass you, kindly remind them that their client illegally pulled out in front of a moving vehicle, and that you sustained injuries and plan to file for medical reimbursement.

It's ******-bags like these that makes me sick.

I'm glad you are ok, hope you recover soon.

And keep riding
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Old 09-30-09, 03:00 PM   #7
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If nothing else, put some brakes on your bike!! I can't even imagine going 25-30 mph without brakes - insane!
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Old 09-30-09, 03:04 PM   #8
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The other driver was at fault, period. Negligence per se does not apply because there has to be causation between no brakes and the accident. From what you say, there was no chance for you to use brakes.

Your best defense is a strong offense. If the drivers ins co is looking to you for reimbersement, get a lawyer and make a claim against the driver.

In fact, get a lawyer anyway. You are looking at $3-15 thousand settlement value on a case like this.
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Old 09-30-09, 03:22 PM   #9
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Apparently, the driver mentioned to his insurance co that I was riding brakeless
That seems to be an astute motorist.
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Old 09-30-09, 03:23 PM   #10
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Neither of you seemed to be compliant with local law.

If there's no police report, however, I wouldn't admit to anything.
Too late.
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Old 09-30-09, 03:40 PM   #11
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51% at fault determines usually who has to pay. As others have said, it is best to get a lawyer. The lawyer does not expect money up front since they take a big cut of what the insurance will pay. Even if you were at fault for no brakes, the driver's insurance company will cough up $10-18K so it will not go to court. Which means you get whatever is left over after the lawyer takes his cut and medical expenses probably $6-8K. This is California; insurance companies do not want to go to court for these small accidents.

Do not talk to the driver's insurance. Document and take pictures of the injuries, accident area, bike, etc. Keep a log of all the problems you are having for the next year related to this accident.

If you already agreed to talk with a recorded discussion, write down what you said for your lawyer.
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Old 09-30-09, 03:44 PM   #12
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Any driver entering the roadway has the obligation to make sure it is clear. You were on the main road the other cars have the obligation to yield. Just sucks for the 2nd car.
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Old 09-30-09, 04:10 PM   #13
fydollahos
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Thanks everyone. I have since put a front brake on for what it's worth (lesson learned). While I don't think it would have made a huge difference in this case, it will give me peace of mind knowing that I can stop quicker.
After giving an official statement to the driver's insurance co, they responded by offering me $300 for damages to my bike. What a relief considering I was envisioning a messy lawsuit aimed at me. Like some of you mentioned, I think they're concerned with a lawsuit for personal injuries.
The reason I didn't want a police report was due to a witness who works for the DMV explaining to me that the police will issue a couple hundred dollar citation and confiscate my bike for riding brakeless. Whether or not this is true, I wasn't willing to take my chances. If I were the driver I would have insisted on getting a report.
Thanks again for your replies.
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Old 09-30-09, 04:13 PM   #14
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I agree with the other comments that the brake issue is irrelevant in a case where the other driver pulled out in front of you illegally since it's not clear that you would have been able to stop in any event.

California law specifies that bicyclists need to be able to make at least one wheel skid. So I'd think that a fixed gear bike would be considered to have a legal brake as long as you can lock your leg and skid.
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Old 09-30-09, 04:47 PM   #15
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If you are happy with this outcome then great!

You should receive a minimum of $1000 also for pain and suffering due to your injuries.

Learn how to negotiate with insurance adjusters, they will always low ball you. Before signing anything, wait to see if you require PT or have any problems in the next few days. Tell the adjuster you may need to see a lawyer about the problems you are having.

It will never go to court. A lawyer will get more than a few thousand in your pocket tax free in a year or so.
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Old 09-30-09, 05:00 PM   #16
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Huh, clean handlebars will make a photo look like you have coaster brakes. The driver's pic is worthless. Lawyer up and get what's due to you for your injuries. Superficial or not, you are due money for them.
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