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Old 04-19-10, 07:26 PM   #1
catturtle
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Need help determining fault

I was recently in an accident and need some advice on whether I was 100% at fault or if the driver should share some blame. I am in California, which is a comparative negligence state and I fractured two vertebrae, along with totalling my bike, so if the driver was even only a small percentage at fault I could have a claim. I have been commuting to work by bike for a year with no problems until this accident.

This is what happened: I was leaving my residential neighborhood, travelling northbound, when I stopped at a stop sign. There is no traffic control for the Eastbound/Westbound lanes. Normally the traffic is light at this intersection and I proceed to turn left, heading westbound. On this morning, however, traffic was very heavy and eastbound Lane #2 traffic was backed up past the intersection. I waited at the stop sign while the cars in the eastbound lane cleared the intersection. There were still cars backed up to the west of the intersection, but they were not moving because the traffic to the east of the intersection was stopped. At this point the first driver to the west of the intersection waived me through. I waited awhile to consider my options (turn around, ride down the sidewalk), but decided that I should just proceed through the intersection as cautiously as I could.

I looked for oncoming vehicles in both the westbound and eastbound lanes and could see none, so I proceeded slowly to enter the intersection, continuing to look in both directions. Again not seeing anyone approaching in the other eastbound lane, I turned to look at the westbound lane, and seeing none I turned back to look at the eastbound lane. It was at this moment that a car travelling eastbound hit me. The impact occurred 20 feet north of the south edge of the intersection and 3 feet from the west edge of the intersection. So not only was I fully in the intersection when she hit me, but she also had travelled a good part of the intersection.

Her and My insurance company say I am 100% liable because I was cited for failure to yield and she was not speeding (Witnesses have her going between 10 - 25mph in a 25mph zone). But I think she had some obligation to go even slower given that the lane next to her was stopped and to keep a more careful lookout when entering an intersection. Also, the lane she was riding in merges into the other lane a few yards after the intersection, another reason for her to have exercised more caution.

I am not trying to escape responsibility here, but I feel as if I did everything I could to be cautious and feel like I'm getting dumped on by the insurance agencies. If this were a simple auto accident I guess I wouldn't take it so personally, but I was trying to do right by biking to work and was trying to be cautious. To add insult to injury she is filing a claim against my insurance for a stupid hole in the bumper of her 15 year old mini-van from my bike pedal and paint transfer on her hood, while I spent 3 days in the hospital and have to wear a back brace for three months.

Should I just let it go and accept full responsibility?
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Old 04-19-10, 07:34 PM   #2
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You were on the sidewalk?
Then you entered the street?
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Old 04-19-10, 08:13 PM   #3
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No - sorry I don't think I explained it well. I was already on the street and stopped in the northbound lane at a stop sign (the street doesn't have a separate bike lane). Then I entered the intersection.
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Old 04-19-10, 08:30 PM   #4
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If your insurance company is against you, and the police report too, you have an uphill struggle, but you should consult an attorney, seriously.

As it was explained to me (after a collision when someone made a left turn in front of me), *who hit who* is very important in assessing fault as it shows who was in the intersection first.

I don't see how a motorist hitting you as you describe is not at least partially at fault.
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Old 04-19-10, 08:32 PM   #5
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Sorry you were injured.
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Old 04-19-10, 08:45 PM   #6
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I am having some difficulty getting a mental image of the accident. Probably more the hour, than your explanation.

But since you are having issues with responsibility and liability, as Chicago Al pointed out, talk to an attorney. These types of cases are evaluated and taken on a contingency basis, so you will not have any initial cost to consult with one. So, do yourself a favor, discuss it with an expert (a Personal injury/tort lawyer) and have them explain your situation and legal rights to you. Good luck.

FWIW, IAAL, but not your lawyer, and this is not legal advice.

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Old 04-19-10, 08:53 PM   #7
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You had a stop sign and she didn't; that's a hard thing to overcome, and probably makes the whole thing 100% your fault.

On the other hand, what you have described is some pretty lousy driving on her part. If the intersection is gridlocked, she shouldn't be moving through it way faster than the adjacent lane, especially if she's supposed to merge with that lane. I'm not sure that actually makes her liable at all for the collision, but it might make the case against you a little less clear cut.

I would talk to an attorney specializing in bike traffic cases, and see if they think you have any chance here.
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Old 04-19-10, 10:46 PM   #8
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You are 100% responsible for the collision. Your auto or home insurance should cover your bicycle (less deductible) and her full car damage. If CA is a no fault state for personal injury, then her auto insurance may be required to pay your full medical bill (even with your 100% responsible) if mandated to do so for cyclist and pedestrians under CA law. Your insurance company should be able to advise you in that respect. If not then your auto or health insurance should cover your medical cost (less deductible).

You would have had an out if you were walking your bike across the street in a crosswalk.
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Old 04-20-10, 12:20 AM   #9
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I am in California
You negated your excuse right there.

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Old 04-20-10, 12:22 AM   #10
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Sounds like you were trying to be cautious. However, its unclear to me if you popped into sight of the view of this minivan or not. I find it hard to believe that the car is not at least partly to blame. What did the police report say?

I would echo the advice that you should talk to attorney and see what they have to say rather than asking your most-likely-less-than-impartial friends here on bikeforums.
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Old 04-20-10, 02:58 AM   #11
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I'm pretty sure you're out of luck. It sound's like you should have been able to see that car coming, and also like seeing it coming was your responsibility. It also sounds like a bad traffic situation.
You should have been able to see that one of the lanes was not backed up and should have concluded that a car may reasonably be expected to cross the road in that lane. How is it that you didn't see the van coming? I'm about as militant about cyclists rights as they come, but I can't see what she did wrong short of driving a car in the first place.

There is some legal precedent to suggest that the car that waved you through is responsible, but that's a bunch of legal BS that we really don't need to get into.
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Old 04-20-10, 03:00 AM   #12
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I think there is a lot of difficulty in understanding the intersection. Why not take an aerial view of the intersection from Google and draw on it with paint?
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Old 04-20-10, 03:57 AM   #13
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I think there is a lot of difficulty in understanding the intersection. Why not take an aerial view of the intersection from Google and draw on it with paint?
It's pretty clear from the description. He was at a stop sign and then proceeded into an intersection and was hit by cross-traffic. The cross-traffic had right of way. He's 100% at fault. End of story. No wiggle.
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Old 04-20-10, 04:00 AM   #14
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It's pretty clear from the description. He was at a stop sign and then proceeded into an intersection and was hit by cross-traffic. The cross-traffic had right of way. He's 100% at fault. End of story. No wiggle.

Its obviously not clear, or I wouldn't have asked. From his description it sounds like he was standing there not moving and a vehicle slammed into him. I think it would help to have a visual of the situation.
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Old 04-20-10, 04:24 AM   #15
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"No wiggle"

I'd have to agree. Sometimes things happen. There are millions of bad drivers out there. You need to avoid every one of them. That's tough. And sooner or later you make a mistake or they do and BOOM! Think of it from her perspective. She's driving legally. Even slow. And you pop out! From behind a stopped car. How many times were we told as youngsters that stepping out from behind a parked car is the worst thing we could do?
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Old 04-20-10, 04:29 AM   #16
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It's pretty clear from the description. He was at a stop sign and then proceeded into an intersection and was hit by cross-traffic. The cross-traffic had right of way. He's 100% at fault. End of story. No wiggle.
Don't jump into conclusions. Once catturtle talks to the attorney that is specialized in bike traffic, he will let us know.

Catturtle, I'm sorry for the injuries that they have caused you. Next time, don't let the motorist wave you to proceed. Just wait until the traffic is clear.

Last edited by GraysonPeddie; 04-20-10 at 04:33 AM. Reason: Sorry. Wrong quote.
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Old 04-20-10, 06:28 AM   #17
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I can't figure out the scenario from your post. But I do know that there are some tort laws that specify very little lee way with respect to contributory negligence. In other words, in some states there is no such thing as 90/10 per cent negligence, its either 100% or 50% to 50%.....

Its hard to believe from your description that being struck by a car can 100% the result of your actions, since the area IS an intersection. Good luck.
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Old 04-20-10, 06:37 AM   #18
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catturtle, be very careful about disclosure of events on the forums if you are seeking legal redress. If you don't think that lawyers don't look for this kind of thing on public forums, then you'd be thinking incorrectly. Don't say anything that may place your case in jeopardy.....limit disclosure. It just ain't that hard to track someone down behind their screen names. Think it through here.
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Old 04-20-10, 06:45 AM   #19
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I'm not clear on how many lanes in each direction for the cross traffic.
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Old 04-20-10, 08:15 AM   #20
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"No wiggle"

I'd have to agree. Sometimes things happen. There are millions of bad drivers out there. You need to avoid every one of them. That's tough. And sooner or later you make a mistake or they do and BOOM! Think of it from her perspective. She's driving legally. Even slow. And you pop out! From behind a stopped car. How many times were we told as youngsters that stepping out from behind a parked car is the worst thing we could do?
Gotta agree... the cyclist is 100% in the wrong, there is no issue of bad driver here... it is all about a cyclist trying to sneak onto a road in which he has no ROW. Perhaps the motorist should have been more cautious, but there is no law, and thus no "obligation" to back this up. You can drive at the speed limit next to a lane that is fully stopped. It may not be smart, but it is legal.

Cyclist made a bad decision, and was in the wrong.
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Old 04-20-10, 09:08 AM   #21
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I'm sorry that you were injured.

This sounds like there were multiple eastbound lanes, resulting in a multiple-threat collision. I infer that the first eastbound driver in an outside lane waved you to cross, but a second driver approaching from behind the first passed under conditions where you could not see each other until the moment you entered the second lane. If this is correct, then this is a very common type of collision, especially for pedestrians and other low-visibility users. A teen pedestrian was recently killed here in Raleigh when a driver waved her to cross mid-block on a multi-lane road and she entered the second lane where she and an overtaking driver did not see one another.

Liability may depend on the legality of the overtaking maneuver. If the road has multiple lanes and you are required to yield to the through traffic, the other driver is not likely to be liable. If, on the other hand, you were walking in a crosswalk (you weren't, but for the sake of argument) most states prohibit overtaking a stopped vehicle at a crosswalk. But despite the law, drivers often fail to realize that there is a crosswalk or crossing traffic under such conditions. This is why marked uncontrolled crosswalks on multi-lane roads have a poor safety record.

Two weeks ago I faced a situation similar to yours. I wanted to cross straight at an intersection where traffic coming from my left was stopped due to congestion. The road I was crossing was one wide lane in each direction with a raised center median and no striping. A driver stopped and waved me to cross; I looked both directions repeatedly and proceeded, only to encounter a motorcyclist passing the congested traffic up to a left turn ahead by riding in the space next to the median. He braked and I finished crossing, but it would have been close if he had not braked. All drivers should proceed slowly with caution when passing congested traffic, and all road users attempting to cross stopped traffic should look multiple times before entering each lane.

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Old 04-20-10, 09:28 AM   #22
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This is a common situation that affects motorists and pedestrians as well as cyclists. You can't trust another person's evaluation of the situation. Proceed only when you yourself can "look all ways first."
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Old 04-20-10, 10:01 AM   #23
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Sorry you were hit but it sounds like its your fault.

The lesson to take away from this is never, ever, rely on a car waving you through an intersectkion. Its a recipe for disaster.
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Old 04-20-10, 10:28 AM   #24
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Hmm, you mentioned being cited for "failure to yield". In Florida, we have the same language. My understanding is that Florida does not have a "right of way". The difference in language is important. People using the public thoroughfares are expected to do everything they can do avoid accidents. Even if the other guy "fails to yield", one has no "right" to hit them. One is supposed to avoid the accident if possible.

Now in FL and CA, I do not know if one person's failure to yield can mean the other person has partial liability. I think here in FL, it is an all or nothing state. But you may want to consult an attorney on this one. Most attorneys will consult for nothing or a very modest amount. Even if the motorist was not at fault, they may be partially liable for not avoiding an avoidable accident. But I just do not know. But given what you have said here, it sounds as if you are starting in the hole.
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Old 04-20-10, 04:08 PM   #25
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Thanks for all of your advice - it has been really helpful to get your feedback. I've contacted an attorney and will let you know how it goes. My insurance determined that the other party was 20% at fault - so at least that's something, but since they've found me to be more than 50% at fault they can raise my car insurance rates - which I'm sure they'll due at the next opportunity. One thing I've learned from all of this is that the next time I encounter this situation I'm going to get off of my bike and walk it across the crosswalk - that seems to be the only way to ensure that I am protected both physically and legally (actually I'm sure this woman would still have hit me even if I had been in the crosswalk, which was only about a foot from where she did hit me, but at least there would be no question of liability).
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