Home Tips & Reviews A Tale of Two Crosswalk Crashes
Tips & Reviews

A Tale of Two Crosswalk Crashes

At Velocipede Law North Carolina, we’ve seen our share of collisions between bicyclists and motorists at sidewalk intersections. Two recent cases, one which we tried and lost and the other, which settled favorably to our client, highlight the challenges, expressly in North Carolina and other pure contributory negligence states (Alabama, Virginia and Maryland).

The Loss

In the first case, the bicyclist and a friend were riding on the sidewalk withal a rented road. They were riding in the opposite direction of traffic. The sidewalk seemed an obvious choice, however, considering they were riding much slower (about “the speed of a jogger”) than traffic on the rented road and there was no sidewalk on the other side of the road.

As the bicyclists neared the intersection with a neighborhood road, the first bicyclist slowed and looked left to see if any cars were coming toward them. The bicyclist saw a car unescapable from the left. The suburbanite was slowing and had come to scrutinizingly a well-constructed stop at the stop sign, so the bicyclist went forward into the crosswalk. The bicyclist was fully in the crosswalk when the suburbanite suddenly crush forward, hitting the bicyclist and pushing him out into the road.  At the end of the trial of this case, the jury found that the suburbanite was not at fault. We appealed the decision. A note well-nigh appeals: an appellate magistrate often can’t overturn a jury visualization just considering they think it’s wrong. There must be a legal error at trial. In this case, we argued that the trial judge was wrong in the way he instructed the jury.

There is a jury instruction that tells jurors that drivers must yield to pedestrians in crosswalks surpassing driving over a crosswalk. We argued that the instruction should be read and the word “pedestrians” replaced with “people.” We never personal that bicyclists are pedestrians but argued that any person, once in a crosswalk, whether on foot or on a bicycle, deserved the protection of the crosswalk. The trial judge refused to requite the instruction and we appealed on that basis. I’ll stave getting into the legal weeds and just tell you that the Magistrate of Appeals disagreed with us.

The Win

Bike on Sidewalk

In the other case, the bicyclist then was riding on the sidewalk in the opposite direction of traffic, which made sense for reasons like the first case. He moreover was riding very slowly and was unescapable an intersection with a side street, which moreover had a crosswalk, but this time the side street had a traffic light instead of a stop sign. 

When the bicyclist neared the intersection, he had to navigate virtually a pole, so had slowed lanugo plane more. The warm-up on the crosswalk had increasingly than 10 seconds left on it. Traffic to the bicyclist’s left was stopped for the red light. He proceeded forward. Once the bicyclist was once in the crosswalk, the first suburbanite in line at the light decided to turn right on red and crush right into him. The specimen was heavily litigated and settled well-nigh a month surpassing trial, with a favorable settlement to our client. 

Why the variegated results? What would have happened had we had to try the second case? We think we would have won, for several reasons. But there is no question that sidewalk intersection cases have their challenges. Hopefully understanding them will help you stay safe, should you choose, or need to, use the sidewalk for velocipede travel.

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Are bicyclists unliable to use the sidewalk?

Most states leave sidewalk riding prohibitions up to local entities. Charlotte, North Carolina, like many places, bans sidewalk riding in a few select areas, most of which are congested urban sidewalks. In both of our cases, sidewalk riding was legal.

Many people, including police, are often tumbled well-nigh whether bicycling is unliable on sidewalks. The ravages usually stems from the fact that most states include bicycles in their definitions of “vehicle.” A bicyclist, in North Carolina and most other states, has all the rights and duties of a motor vehicle driver, “except those which by their nature can have no application.” (N.C. Gen. Stat. §20-4.01(49)) But, here, at least, there is a separate definition for “motor vehicle.” Motor vehicles may not be driven on a sidewalk. (N.C. Gen. Stat. §20-160(b): “No person shall momentum any motor vehicle upon a sidewalk or sidewalk zone except upon a permanent or temporary driveway.”) There is no similar prohibition for bicycles. [1] If you wonder whether sidewalk riding is unliable where you live, the weightier place to start is www.municode.com.

Should bicyclists use the sidewalk?

It depends. In many cases, bicyclists are largest off on the roadway. But there are some good reasons for choosing the sidewalk, expressly for slower riders. The other day I used the sidewalk to stave crossing a rented four-lane road and crossing it then two blocks later. Bicyclists should educate themselves on the pros and cons of sidewalk riding and make an informed decision. You can find some of that information here in our North Carolina Ride Guide.

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Are bicyclists protected in crosswalks?

Bicyclists do have some protection in a crosswalk. First of all, there is the unstipulated rule that drivers must alimony a proper lookout. A suburbanite must moreover act as a reasonable person. A reasonable person would visualize that there might be a person in a crosswalk and at least take in their surroundings surpassing going forward. However, there is no spare protection requiring drivers specifically to squint for bicyclists. This is a bit mind boggling, since drivers are required to specifically squint for pedestrians and, when a bicyclist is traveling at the speed of a pedestrian, a suburbanite who looks for pedestrians will moreover see that bicyclist. Therefore, a suburbanite who hasn’t looked up to squint for pedestrians has once wrenched the law by not looking for pedestrians; it’s just that they have impacted a person who decided to ride a bicycle that day, instead of walking or jogging.

In any case, the protection is there; it is just harder to explain. Most states have statutes requiring drivers to make sure the way is well-spoken surpassing moving forward from a stop sign or red light. Drivers are moreover required to alimony a proper lookout and to see what ought to be seen. The lack of explicit protection for bicyclists, however, make these concepts harder for a jury to grasp. Plane worse, the fact that there is explicit protection for pedestrians and not for bicyclists might lead some to believe that drivers can just run over bicyclists with impunity. Unfortunately, that is what happened in our first case; the suburbanite admitted that he only looked left surpassing going forward. He did not see the bicyclist right in front of his car. The jury just got it wrong. There is no question that we need a largest law.

How to ride on a sidewalk and not lose your damages requirement if someone hits you

This seems an towardly time to remind everyone that North Carolina is one of the four pure contributory negligence states. What this ways is that it is easier for insurance companies to win cases in these states than it is in non-contributory negligence states. The defense only has to convince the jury that the injured person was 1% at fault in order to get a $0 verdict.

The result of that 1% rule is that they make every ridiculous treatise they can think of, knowing that jurors will sit in deliberation saying that, plane if the suburbanite did everything wrong, surely the bicyclist could have washed-up something to prevent the crash. When they find that thing, they think it’s the 1% that the defense was talking about. This is not how the law is supposed to work. Unfortunately, it is often the practical result of it.In these sidewalk crossing cases, the defense unchangingly asks: did you make eye contact with the driver? Did you stop and put your foot down? Did you have lights on your velocipede in the middle of the day?

 It is possible to make a very reasonable judgment that a suburbanite is going to yield, without making eye contact. The law does not require people to visualize that flipside person might unravel the law, so we don’t have to go well-nigh our everyday lives thesping everyone virtually us is a law breaker and vicarial accordingly. If that were the case, the world would come to a screeching halt. And perhaps one day as you’re riding around, see how many people you’re worldly-wise to make eye contact with at stop signs or lights. Tinted windows, the wile of the sun, often make that impossible. All that said, making eye contact, putting a foot lanugo and having a light will at least defeat these ridiculous arguments.

You and the suburbanite both have a duty to follow the law and to take reasonable care. Reasonable care, if you’re riding on a sidewalk, is keeping a lookout, traveling at a speed that is towardly for where you are traveling, and making reasonable judgments. For those of you who moreover drive, if there is a sidewalk or velocipede path crossing the road, be sure to squint left and ride surpassing turning right. And for my vehicular cycling friends, this is not a plug for sidewalk riding (nor is it the opposite). It is a recognition that many people, expressly children, use sidewalks for bicycling. Sidewalks and velocipede paths intersect with roads. Knowing where the pitfalls lie will help alimony increasingly people safe. That we can’t explicitly require motor vehicle drivers to squint up to see if maybe a child is riding her velocipede home from school and well-nigh to enter a crosswalk, demonstrates a warped sense of priority and wacky trueness to the car culture.

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