Car-Bicycle Accidents: Can The Driver Be Sued?

If a motorist hits you while riding your bicycle, can you sue the driver for personal injury? Probably, but the driver isn't always at fault.

Updated by Stacy Barrett, Attorney · UC Law San Francisco

More and more people are riding bikes for exercise, to get to work, and for fun. Bicyclists have the same rights and responsibilities as drivers on the road. But bicyclists are much more likely to be injured in crashes than drivers of cars and trucks. In this article, we'll review your options if you've been hit by a car while riding your bike. You'll learn:

  • what to do right after the crash
  • how to make an insurance claim
  • when to file a civil lawsuit against the driver, and
  • how much your car-bicycle accident claim might be worth.

What To Do After a Bike Accident

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, nearly 850 bicyclists were killed and an estimated 49,000 were injured in traffic crashes in 2019. Your actions right after the accident can have a big impact on whether you get full compensation for your accident-related losses (called "damages"). Things you can do to protect yourself in the aftermath of the crash include:

  • assess the damage to yourself and your bike
  • call for help and get medical attention if you need it
  • call the police and tell them your side of the story (you'll want it in the police report)
  • get the driver's name, contact info, license plate number, and insurance information
  • talk to witnesses and get their contact info
  • take pictures of the scene of the accident
  • take pictures of your bike, helmet, and other equipment
  • document your injuries and keep records of all injury-related losses and expenses, and
  • talk to a lawyer (see below).

For more details, check out: Bike Accidents: What to Do After the Crash.

Make an Insurance Claim

The quickest and easiest way for you to get compensation after a car-bicycle accident is probably through an insurance claim. Most personal injury cases, including car accident claims, are settled out of court.

The Driver's Insurance

You might be able to file a claim with the driver's insurance (and potentially the car owner's insurance policy if the owner is different from the driver). This is called a third-party claim. You'll typically have to show two things: liability (the driver was at fault) and damages (how much compensation you should get).

You'll need to gather information (like police reports, photographs, medical documents) to back up your claim and include this information in a demand letter. A demand letter lays out your strongest arguments for why the driver is legally responsible for your injuries and asks for a lump sum to settle your claim. (Here is a sample demand letter for a bicyclist-hit-by-a-car accident.)

Your demand letter typically kicks off negotiations with an insurance adjuster. You might reach an agreement (and waive your right to sue the driver in exchange for payment) or you might need to talk to a lawyer about next steps.

Your Own Insurance

You might need to file a first-party claim with your own health and car insurers after a car-bicycle accident.

You can always use your health insurance to pay for your bike accident-related medical care. You might be able to recover your out-of-pocket expenses (like deductibles and copays) from the driver's insurer if the driver was at-fault for the accident.

Even though you were riding a bicycle at the time of the accident, your own car insurance policy might cover some of your losses. If you have personal injury protection (PIP) (because you live in a no-fault insurance state or because you pay for supplemental coverage), your medical expenses and lost wages will typically be covered regardless of who was at fault for the accident. Similarly, if you have optional "medical payments" (MedPay) insurance, your accident-related medical bill will be covered regardless of fault.

If the driver is at fault for the accident and doesn't carry insurance (or owner of the car if the owner is different from the driver), you can use your uninsured motorist insurance (UIM) to pay for your losses after a car-bicycle accident.

If you injure someone on your bike and you're at fault for the accident (see below), your homeowner or renter's insurance might help cover legal and medical expenses. Check your policy's personal liability coverage.

File a Personal Injury Lawsuit

If your insurance claim reaches a dead end, you'll have to decide if you want to drop the case or file a civil lawsuit. (You might be able to file your car accident lawsuit in small claims court if your claim is under a certain dollar amount set by your state.)

You'll start by filing a complaint. You'll have to show that the driver was negligent (careless) and the driver's negligence caused your injuries.

If you're thinking about filing a lawsuit, don't delay. Each state puts a strict deadline (called a "statute of limitations") on your right to file any kind of lawsuit, including car accident claims.

Learn more about what happens when a car accident case goes to trial.

Fault Might Not Be as Clear as You Think

When a car and a bike collide, the bicyclist is more likely to be hurt, but that doesn't mean the bicyclist can't be at fault for the accident. Bicyclists and drivers are required to share the road. Bicyclists who violate the rules of the road might not be able to get compensation for medical expenses, lost wages, and other damages (see below). They might even face a personal injury lawsuit if they harm pedestrians, fellow cyclists, or drivers.

For example, cyclists who fail to come to a complete stop at stop signs or red lights or who ride against traffic might not get compensation for their losses.

What If a Driver Hits Me and Runs?

Every state requires drivers to stop at the scene of a car accident to exchange insurance and give any needed assistance. Hit-and-run drivers can be criminally prosecuted and put in jail, sued in civil court for money, or both.

If you've been injured in a hit-and-run accident, you should never chase the hit-and-run driver. Call the police and provide them with as much information as you can about the fleeing vehicle and driver. Your options will depend on whether the driver is found and insurance coverage (your own, the driver's, and the car owner's if the owner is different than the driver).

How Much is a Car-Bicycle Claim Worth?

Each car-bicycle accident is different, so it's impossible to say how much your claim might be worth. But, compensation in these cases typically includes:

Talk to a Lawyer

If you've been injured in a car-bicycle accident, talk to a lawyer. A lawyer can help you figure out who is responsible for your injuries and how you can get compensation for your losses. A lawyer can walk you through the insurance claim process, help you negotiate a settlement, or represent you in court if the insurance company won't settle your claim for what it's worth.

Online resources like AllLaw offer free legal information and attorney directories to help you find car accident lawyers in your area. You can also fill out the form at the top or bottom of this page to connect with an attorney for free.

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