Charleston, West Virginia Bicycle Accident Lawyer
Motor vehicle accidents often result in property damage and injuries. However, when a bicycle and vehicle collide, the potential for serious injuries is much greater. If a bicyclist is hit by a car, he or she is likely to suffer serious if not fatal injuries. It’s important to understand your rights and options in the event of such an incident. Conversely, if you were driving your car and collided with a bicycle, a seasoned Charleston, West Virginia bicycle accident lawyer can help you navigate the resulting legal proceedings.
West Virginia Bicycle Helmet Law
Wearing a helmet can help prevent serious injuries and is a good practice for all cyclists in general. However, some states have statutes on the books mandating the use of a helmet in certain situations. Nearly half of all U.S. states have laws requiring riders under a certain age to wear protective gear like a helmet, for example. Is West Virginia one of them?
Helmet Laws in West Virginia
West Virginia, like many other states, does not have a strict requirement regarding helmet use for adult riders. Under the Child Bicycle Safety Act, West Virginia law compels child riders to wear a helmet if they’re under the age of 15. The statute states that:
- It’s illegal for anyone under the age of 15 to be a passenger on, or ride any bicycle or its attachments on a public roadway or public right-of-way without a secure, well-fitting helmet.
- It is unlawful for any parent of a child under the age of 15 to knowingly allow the child to be on a bike or its attachments on a public roadway, bike trail, or right-of-way without a securely fitting helmet.
The parent or legal guardian of a child who does not wear a helmet could face a $10 fine or be required to complete 2 hours of community service in a child injury prevention program or both. In the case of a first offense, an officer may choose to waive the first penalty and provide the parent with enough time to obtain a secure, well-fitting helmet.
It’s important to note that while no statewide rule exists for adults, statutes may vary by municipality. Adults might be required to wear helmets in certain counties or cities throughout the state. Morgantown, for example, enacted a helmet law for all riders in 1993.
Why Pass a Helmet Law for Children?
As with most mandatory safety laws, the aim of the bicycle helmet statute is to save lives and prevent serious injury. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention:
- Over 1,000 bicyclists lost their lives in bike accidents in 2015, and an additional 467,000 suffered injuries.
- Both fatal and non-fatal crash-related injuries contribute to around $10 billion in medical costs and lost productivity.
Additionally, Safe Kids Worldwide found that 242,931 children required treatment in emergency departments for bike-related injuries in 2014. Each year, 26,000 children require treatment for traumatic brain injuries (TBIs) related to bicycle accidents.
Helmets are one of the simplest ways to prevent serious injuries in children. Injuries such as traumatic brain injury can last a lifetime and seriously impact a family’s daily life. Helmets provide a cost-effective method of reducing the likelihood of these impactful injuries.
The Helmet Safety Law and Personal Injury Claims
A natural question some parents have is if failure to provide a child with a helmet will preclude them from filing a civil claim. Under a Child Bicycle Safety Act, a violation of the helmet law does not constitute evidence of contributory negligence, nor does it affect any claim to damages. In other words, if a parent’s child suffers injuries in a bike accident without a helmet, he or she may still file a claim to compensate for economic or non-economic damages. Further, the fact that the child was not wearing a helmet will not play a role in deciding an award for damages.
Wearing a bike helmet is a good safety practice for all, but it’s compulsory for children under the age of 15 in West Virginia. To provide adequate protection for their children, all parents should provide riders with safe, secure-fitting helmets that fasten tightly with a chinstrap. This simple act is one of the best ways to prevent life-threatening injury.
Types of Bicycle Accidents
Bike accidents run the gamut from superficial afflictions to life-threatening injuries. The nature of the accident itself will influence the degree of injuries a biker sustains. Unsurprisingly, accidents involving motor vehicles are most likely to lead to serious injuries that can affect the victim for a lifetime. But how do these injuries occur? The following are the most common types of serious bike accidents involving motor vehicles.
Accidents at Stop Signs
Statistically, a bicycle accident is most likely to occur at an intersection – at a stop sign in particular. Stop sign accidents represent a significant portion of accidents at intersections, particularly when a cyclist has a stop sign and a motorist does not. After stopping at a stop sign, a cyclist rides out in front of a motorist that has no indication to stop. While it may seem like the cyclist is at fault, many factors may influence the assigning of fault in this case. For example, a speeding driver could be guilty of negligence, and accountable for the cyclist’s injuries. In some instances, it may be difficult for a cyclist to determine the speed of an oncoming driver, especially if the terrain is winding or landmarks block visibility. In the latter case, even the municipality could be partially to blame for the accident.
Another common occurrence is when a cyclist does not have a stop sign, but a motorist does and fails to stop. In this case, the cyclist has the right-of-way, which a driver fails to observe and causes the crash. Drivers who fail to yield the right-of-way are likely guilty of negligence and responsible for any injuries a biker incurs as a result.
A Car Turning Left
Another frequent type of car accident occurs when a cyclist turns left when they approach the intersection from opposite directions. Whether the cyclist is in a crosswalk or not, he or she has the right-of-way. In most instances, a driver will be liable for any damages the cyclist incurs.
Unfortunately, these types of accidents can be very serious, especially if they occur at high speeds. Taking charge of the whole lane while passing through the intersection is one way that cyclists can increase their visibility and reduce the risk of this kind of accident.
A Car Turning Right
Lastly, many bicycle accidents happen when a motorist turns right into a cyclist, which also goes by the name of a “right hook.” This type of accident may occur in several scenarios:
- A car tries to pass a bike, only to turn right in front of the biker and cuts him or her off
- The bike passes a slower car, but then the motorist turns into the biker because he or she does not notice the cyclist
- A car and bike both wait to turn at a red light, and a motorist turns as soon as the light changes, cutting off the biker.
In many right-turn accidents, the driver will likely be at fault for a cyclist’s injuries. Under West Virginia law, bikers and motorists have an obligation to “share the road.” A motorist must also exercise a high degree of care when driving around cyclists. Failure to observe this duty of care could lead to negligence and make the driver liable for any damages a rider incurs.
Cyclists can take some steps to prevent accidents, such as being aware of their surroundings and using hand signals to convey intention to drivers. However, sometimes this is not enough. If you recently suffered harm in a bike accident through no fault of your own, get in touch with a West Virginia bicycle accident attorney as soon as possible to learn more about your legal options.
Common Bicycle Accident Injuries
Bicycle injuries can lead to any number of injuries, and no two accidents are alike. On the other hand, some types of injuries are more common in bike accidents than others. According to a report in the American Family Physician, most bicycle injuries occur while riding at high speeds, while the most fatal accidents occur in accidents involving motor vehicles. Males are significantly more likely to suffer serious injury in bicycle accidents, but they can affect any sex or age group.
Some of the most common injuries sustained in bicycle accidents include:
Superficial Tissue Injuries and Musculoskeletal Trauma
The most common bicycle injuries suffered by riders of all ages involve superficial injury to the tissue, aka “road rash.” This condition can run the gamut from minor abrasions to penetration of full skin thickness to the muscle underneath. In some cases, victims may require the removal of embedded debris to prevent traumatic tattooing. In the most serious cases, victims may require surgical skin grafting to improve the function and appearance of the wound.
Strains, dislocations, and fractures – musculoskeletal trauma – are another common complaint suffered by victims of bike accidents. These traumas present with swelling, bruising, lack of function, and intense pain. In serious cases, treatment may require surgical intervention. Fractures and dislocations most often occur to the upper extremities during a bike accident but may affect any limb or area of the body.
Injuries to the head and neck can occur in 22% to 47% of injured riders, according to a study from the American Academy of Family Physicians. Head injuries also account for 60% of all bicycle-related deaths and the majority of all long-term disability related to bicycle accidents. Head injuries most often occur in accidents involving motor vehicles. On-road bicyclists have a 40% higher incidence of these life-threatening injuries compared to off-road riders.
Additionally, riders may incur trauma to the face following an accident, resulting from airborne particles and debris. Fractures to the face are rare but can occur. On occasion, these injuries require surgical intervention, both for functional and cosmetic purposes.
Trauma to the Torso and Core
Additionally, riders may suffer injuries to the ribs, back, and abdominal area. These most often occur when a bicyclist flips over the handlebars and hits the ground stomach first. These injuries can lead to serious and even life-threatening medical problems – examples include internal bleeding, collapsed lungs, and organ bruising.
Preventing Bicycle-Related Injuries
The injuries sustained in a bike accident can be severe, necessitating serious medical intervention or, at times, surgery. In certain instances, such as accidents involving motor vehicles, the consequences of a bike accident can be permanently disabling or fatal. Fortunately, bikers can take a few simple steps to reduce their risk of serious injury, including:
- Helmet use. West Virginia law only compels riders under the age of 15 to wear a helmet, but this is a good safety practice for everyone to observe. Wearing a helmet is the simplest way to reduce the risk of serious head injury and death.
- Other personal protective equipment, especially for road riders. Protective gear such as riding gloves and padded shorts can help prevent road rash and other types of soft tissue injury.
- Reflective clothing. Bikers who ride on the road, particularly in the evening hours, should wear Day-Glo or reflective clothing that alerts a driver to their presence.
Despite a rider’s best efforts, not all bike injuries are preventable. If you or a loved one recently suffered injuries in a bike accident and think someone else might be responsible, you may be able to collect compensation for your injuries, pain, and suffering. Reach out to a skilled West Virginia bicycle accident attorney to learn more.
Safety Tips for Cyclists in West Virginia
A bike accident can lead to serious injuries that require intensive medical care. Fortunately, cyclists can observe some basic safety tips to reduce their risk of accident and subsequent injury.
Drivers often learn to use defensive driving techniques to assure safety behind the wheel, and cyclists can follow suit. Some of the best defensive riding tips for bikers include:
- Avoiding the door zone. One of the biggest hazards for bikers, particularly in town, are car doors. Drivers can swing their car doors open into the space that riders occupy without even realizing it, which can lead to serious injuries. The best way to avoid this scenario is to assume that every door will open. Bikers should always leave a door-sized space in between themselves and parked cars to reduce the risk of injury.
- Always checking the blind spot. The right hook is another common bike accident scenario and occurs when a driver turns into a rider from behind. Though bikers technically have the right-of-way in this instance, they can take extra precautions by glancing over their left shoulders before crossing any intersection.
Use Exaggerated Hand Signals
Though bikers are under no legal obligation to use hand signals to convey their intention to other drivers, it’s wise to do so. The more exaggerated the hand signal, the better. For example, cyclists can indicate their intention to turn right by looking over the shoulder and beginning to drift in that direction while spreading their arms wide in the direction they want to go.
Similarly, while eye protection can be helpful for preventing injuries, avoid models with dark lenses. Communicating intention through eye contact can be a helpful way to prevent accidents.
Take the Lane
In some cases, particularly on rural roads, it might be better to take over the lane. Cities may have more traffic and congestion, but drivers are more likely to pay attention to riders. On a rural road, taking command of a lane will help improve your visibility. Additionally, riding to the center of the lane on narrow city streets can help prevent aggressive drivers from trying to pass. When in doubt, riders should ride toward the center of the lane to reduce risk of injury.
Always Ride with Traffic, Not Against It
Some riders erroneously believe that riding against traffic is the safer option, but it’s not. A few compelling reasons illustrate why:
- Cars pull out of driveways, intersections, and parking lots and don’t expect traffic (like the biker) to be coming toward them. They don’t see the biker and drive right into them.
- Making a right turn requires cutting across multiple lanes of traffic, which can be dangerous.
- Cars approach at a higher speed, since they aren’t looking out for things traveling toward them. On the other hand, cars are more likely to slow down for a biker riding on the right side of the road.
- Riding against the flow of traffic is against the law. Not only could a biker get a ticket for doing so, he or she could also be liable for his or her own injuries in an accident, at least partially.
In short, riding against the flow of traffic is far more dangerous than riding with it. Drivers are not attuned to hazards coming from this direction and are less likely to exercise care. Bikers who ride against traffic are more likely to be in accidents, which is why it’s illegal in West Virginia and many other states.
Bikers can take basic steps to protect their safety, but it’s not always enough. Despite a rider’s best intentions, he or she may suffer injuries in an accident involving a motor vehicle. If you were recently injured in an accident, consult a qualified bicycle accident lawyer in Charleston, West Virginia.
What to Do After a Bicycle Accident in West Virginia
Bicyclists can incur serious and life-threatening injuries following an accident, especially with a motor vehicle. Recuperation from these injuries can take a period of weeks, months, or even years. Even something as simple as a fracture could require surgery and months of physical therapy to regain full function of the limb. For this reason, bicyclists often face huge medical bills and other expenses following a serious accident.
A bicycle accident personal injury claim can help victims of crashes compensate for the damages they suffered. However, a cyclist must take certain steps to protect his or her right to compensation under West Virginia law. Take the following steps after a bike accident to help the claims process.
Wait for the Police to Arrive, If Possible
The police report is an essential piece of evidence that every bicyclist will use in the process of filing a personal injury claim. A police officer will come to the scene and create a report that details what happened, personal information of all parties involved, and eyewitnesses to the accident. It even makes an initial designation of fault. If an injured cyclist is able to do so, it’s imperative to give his or her version of events to the responding officer.
In some cases, a cyclist’s injuries will be too severe to wait for the police to arrive. In this case, call the police department that responded to the scene and ask to provide a statement for the report as soon as possible.
Get Appropriate Medical Care
Some cyclists think they feel fine after a crash, and don’t need to see a doctor. However, it can take hours, or even days, for the full symptoms of an injury to manifest. Rather than taking a wait-and-see approach, it’s imperative for riders to seek medical treatment as soon as possible following a crash.
Getting appropriate medical care serves two important purposes: first, it helps ensure that injured riders get the care they need and get onto the road to a full recovery sooner. Secondly, it provides an official record of the extent of a cyclist’s injuries, which is essential for filing a personal injury claim.
Don’t Sign Any Paperwork from a Driver’s Insurance Company
If a driver’s insurance company accepts responsibility for an accident, it will likely send a claims adjuster to gather additional information from the accident. Specifically, a claims adjuster may ask the injured rider for permission to record a statement or sign a medical release for more information regarding the accident. It’s important that riders only agree to these terms if instructed by a West Virginia bicycle accident lawyer. Signing a medical release too soon, for example, could result in a lower settlement since a medical record has yet to contain the full extent of a cyclist’s injuries. Similarly, a recorded statement could serve as proof in court that a biker’s injuries are not as extensive as he or she is making them out to be, as claims adjusters and defense attorneys can twist a biker’s words to their advantage.
Contact a Bicycle Accident Attorney
Bicycle injuries can lead to a range of negative side effects that may persist over weeks or months following an accident. In some cases, bike accidents can even lead to permanently life-altering or fatal injuries. An injured cyclist may incur thousands of dollars in economic damages, not to mention the pain and suffering associated with the experience.
A West Virginia bicycle accident lawyer will help the injured biker protect his or her right to compensation under the law. A bike accident claim can compensate for both the material and the intangible losses a cyclist suffers in an accident, such as medical bills, lost wages, pain, suffering, and loss in life quality.
Filing a Bicycle Accident Lawsuit in West Virginia
If you’ve been injured in a bicycle accident, your first steps should be to seek medical attention and alert the police. Your doctor will provide you with a medical report that details the extent of your injuries, their treatments, and any potential side effects or lasting damage from the incident. The police report for your incident will provide more details about the accident. Once a physician has addressed your immediate medical concerns and you have a police report of the incident, retain a reliable and experienced West Virginia personal injury lawyer experienced in bicycle accidents.
Claimable Damages in a West Virginia Bicycle Accident Case
West Virginia allows victims of bicycle accidents to bring a claim against other motorists for any injuries they received in a bike accident. Your attorney will help you build a case and seek compensation for damages including:
- Medical expenses – such as emergency service bills, hospital bills, prescription costs, and any necessary subsequent surgeries or ongoing treatments.
- Pain and suffering – your attorney will call in expert witnesses to provide the court with a clearer understanding of the physical pain and psychological distress your accident caused.
- Property damage – such as a destroyed bicycle or other damaged belongings.
- Lost wages – if you are forced to take time off from work due to your injuries, you can sue the defendant for the income you would have earned had you been able to work.
Tiano O’Dell, PLLC | Bicycle Accident Attorneys in West Virginia
If you’ve been in a bicycle accident in West Virginia, reach out to the legal team at the law firm of Tiano O’Dell, PLLC by calling our office at (304) 720-6700 today. We offer free initial case evaluations, so get in touch with us as soon as possible to start reviewing your options with a knowledgeable West Virginia bicycle accident lawyer.