Evaluating Fault in Auto Crashes Involving Reckless Bicyclists

When a bicyclist is injured or killed as a result of being struck by a motor vehicle, the initial assumption may be to place fault on the motorist. But what if the bicyclist was distracted by the use of a mobile device—or—was carrying a package that obstructed their view—or—was bicycling under the influence—or—the accident occurred at night and the bicycle was not equipped with reflectors and a headlamps, as required by law—would any of these factors alter your view on fault? What if the bicyclist runs a red light, and an oncoming motorist is unable to stop in time and hits the cyclist, or stops abruptly in an attempt to avoid a crash, which then causes a rear-vehicle to collide to with that motorist—would either of these scenarios impact your opinion regarding which party is at fault?

Although some may be inclined to side with the bicyclist, this view is often based upon sympathy and compassion for the more vulnerable road user, as opposed to an evaluation of the facts and applicable law. As injury lawyers, we certainly recognize that bicyclists are more susceptible to harm, but we also recognize that sympathy should not play a role in assessing fault. Consider this concept from the perspective of a motorist that is involved in a crash caused entirely or partly due to the actions of a negligent or reckless bicyclist. To ignore the bicyclist’s contributory fault would not only be unfair to the motorist, but could also allow the bicyclist to recover damages that they would not have otherwise been entitled to.

Illinois follows a modified rule of comparative negligence, which can either bar or limit recovery based upon each party’s degree of fault. Under this rule, if the actions of the Plaintiff were the primary factor (i.e. > 50%) in causing the accident, recovery is barred. But if the Plaintiff was not the primary factor in causing the accident, recovery shall be based upon a comparison of each party’s degree of fault. Given that liability is premised upon the Plaintiff’s level of contributory fault, these principles can be misinterpreted when applied to a collision between a motorist and a cyclist. This is because many automatically assume that the victim in such crashes would be the bicyclist.

However, the motorist, their passenger, or even another party (i.e. a third motorist/passenger or a pedestrian) can also sustain harm when a vehicle strikes a bicyclist. In some cases, the bicyclist is not even harmed, but their negligence causes a rear-end collision, or other type of accident between two or more vehicles. Furthermore, there may be other factors that potentially contributed to the crash (i.e. a traffic signal was not functioning properly; a pothole caused a bicyclist to fall; a motorist’s vehicle malfunctioned due to a defective component). Consequently, in addition to the initial complaint, it is not uncommon for a case to also involve counterclaims, cross-claims, and/or third-party complaints. Because each claim extends from the same incident, all will typically be consolidated into one, and what ultimately matters is the degree of fault attributed to each party involved.

Given the range of possibilities in accidents of this nature, it is important that victims fully understand their legal rights, including potential remedies and/or defenses, prior to arriving at any conclusions, particularly those regarding fault or liability. Seldom are issues of fault as clear-cut as a victim initially assumes. Moreover, fault is something to be considered by the jury. As experienced trial lawyers, it is our job to assist the jury in making a determination regarding fault by presenting sufficient evidence and ensuring that the jury is properly instructed regarding the law.

If you or a loved one were involved in an accident which may have been caused due to the negligent, unlawful, or reckless actions of a bicyclist, we encourage you to contact the Chicago Injury Attorneys of Zneimer & Zneimer P.C. to discuss your case.

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