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A Legal Take on Getting Doored

Car doors can be lethal weapons if you’re a bicyclist riding in the door zone. It’s a wise cyclist—not a cynical one—who assumes that a person behind the wheel of a parked car will exit without giving a thought to someone approaching on the left. In fact, “getting doored” accounts for up to eight percent of bike-car accidents, according to John Forester, author of “Effective Cycling.”  Generally speaking, the operator of a car will be legally at fault when he suddenly opens a car door, without warning, striking an oncoming bicyclist who had no ability to stop or avoid the impact.

We covered how to avoid a door prize in a previous article. This time we’re going to tackle the 'getting doored' subject from a legal perspective

The subject of cars doors and bicycle riding is addressed in the following three sections of the California Vehicle Code:

21202 Operation on Roadway—(a) Any person operating a bicycle upon a roadway at a speed less than the normal speed of traffic moving in the same direction at that time shall ride as close as practicable to the right-hand curb or edge of the roadway except under any of the following situations.... (3) When reasonably necessary to avoid conditions (including, but not limited to, fixed or moving objects, vehicles, bicycles, pedestrians, animals, surface hazards, or substandard width lanes) that make it unsafe to continue along the right-hand curb or edge....

21208 Permitted Movements from Bicycle Lanes—(a) Whenever a bicycle lane has been established on a roadway pursuant to Section 21207, any person operating a bicycle upon the roadway at a speed less than the normal speed of traffic moving in the same direction at that time shall ride within the bicycle lane, except that the person may move out of the lane under any of the following situations.... (3) When reasonably necessary to leave the bicycle lane to avoid debris or other hazardous conditions....

22517 Opening and Closing Doors—No person shall open the door of a vehicle on the side available to moving traffic unless it is reasonably safe to do so and can be done without interfering with the movement of such traffic, nor shall any person leave a door open upon the side of a vehicle available to moving traffic for a period of time longer than necessary to load or unload passengers.

 “In essence, sections 21202 and 21208 state that you don’t have to keep within the boundaries of a bike lane, particularly if it’s safer to ride to the left to avoid a car door, pothole or any other kind of obstacle,” says Personal Injury Attorney Howard Krepack, a partner in the law firm of Gordon, Edelstein, Krepack, Grant, Felton & Goldstein, LLP and an avid cyclist.

“When it comes to Section 22517, it is clear that the law demands responsible use of a car, including when the car is stopped and the operator has to open the car door.  Depending on the facts of the case, there are a number of issues that have to be considered in terms of fault for an accident.  If a judge or jury finds that the defendant (driver) is in violation of the statute, the plaintiff (bicyclist) has basically met his legal burden to prove his case. Without any other information or evidence, the driver is presumed to be at fault. 

“The burden of proof is on the defendant to provide evidence to defeat the ‘presumption’ of negligence, which could be tough to do. In some cases, the defendant might have evidence of fault (negligence) on the part of the plaintiff that ‘contributed’ to the accident. For example, in a given case, the bicyclist might not be able to hear because of wearing earbuds. Or, he might be riding at night with no lights or might be going too fast. The judge or jury weighs all the evidence and decides not only the fault of the defendant, but also whether the plaintiff is at fault (comparative negligence) and, if so, what percentage to allocate to the plaintiff and what percentage to allocate to the defendant.

“When it comes to the last part of section 22517, which refers to a door being left open for a period of time, the burden of proof could shift to the defendant car owner. Bicyclists need to be attentive to dangers on the road, including a door left open, and do their best to avoid it.”

Regardless of how careful you are when bicycling, there is always a chance that you may be involved in an accident. Because knowing what to do in the immediate aftermath can make a difference in how well you protect your rights, Krepack has created the following 10 Things to do After a Bicycle Accident:

  1. Wait for the Police to Arrive
  2. Never Negotiate with the Motorist
  3. Obtain Driver Information
  4. Obtain Witness Contact Information
  5. Document What Happened
  6. Make Sure the Police Take Your Report
  7. Seek Immediate Medical Attention and Document Your Injuries
  8. Preserve Evidence
  9. Never Negotiate with Insurance Companies
  10. Seek Advice from a Professional

Remember that as a bicyclist you have the same rights and responsibilities as motorists. Drivers need to respect the rights of bicyclists and be mindful of sharing the road and avoiding accidents.  But if there is an accident, it is very important that the bicyclist take the proper steps after the accident to protect his or her legal interests.

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