Dooring accidents happen when the occupant of a vehicle opens a door without looking to see who or what is passing their vehicle. Dooring accidents affect cyclists and motorcyclists more than any other road user. A cyclist who is thrown off a bicycle because of a door being opened suddenly in front of him or her can be seriously injured or even killed. The opening of any vehicle door without regard to approaching traffic is illegal in California and injured cyclists are justified in claiming adequate compensation for the cost of injuries they have incurred.
Bicycle dooring accidents predominantly happen when a vehicle, usually a car, is parked on the side of a street and either the driver or driver side passenger opens the door without properly looking to see who is coming up behind. You would think that common sense would prevail and this sort of accident would be very rare. If an occupant of the car really doesn’t bother to look around before opening their door, what’s to stop the door being ripped off by another vehicle, let alone being hit themselves if they get out of the vehicle still without looking?
Unfortunately, this sort of careless attitude is still all too common. The obvious difference between a cyclist hitting an open door and another vehicle is that the cyclist is far more likely to be hurt. There is an attitudinal problem here in that many motorists fail to think that a cyclist could be affected when they open their door suddenly.
Cyclists are quite aware that the safest way to cycle is on a properly designed cycle path. But there are many places in California where either bicycle lanes do not exist or they are not well planned and in practice cyclists are forced to ride very close to both moving traffic and parked vehicles. Many cities around California have few or no bike lanes at all, making the chance that a bicycle dooring accident is likely to happen just that much higher.
It is important for both motorists and cyclists to be aware of the law on dooring accidents. It is a state law (California vehicle Code 22517) that any occupant of a vehicle who intends opening a door on the side of moving traffic must do so when it is “reasonably safe to do so and can be done without interfering with the movement of such traffic.” Anyone who has gained a California driver license should know the law as it applies to opening a door in this way. If the occupant of a vehicle does fail to check for traffic, including nearby cyclists passing them, and a dooring accident occurs this could make that person liable for any injuries that occur.
The law is intended to deter the occupants of vehicles from hurting other people or causing property damage if an accident occurs. It is not in itself designed to help compensate an injured cyclist who has suffered an injury because of a bicycle dooring incident. However, an injured cyclist can use the law to help argue their case for fair and adequate compensation.
The seriousness of a bicycle dooring accident depends on how fast the cyclist was traveling when the door was opened and how good their reflexes were when the door opened. Unfortunately, even slow moving cyclists can be seriously injured in a dooring accident. The typical response is for the cyclist to be thrown off their bike or over their handlebars. It is the suddenness of the accident that can lead to serious injuries, such as:
The fact that an injury has occurred because of the negligent and illegal opening of a door makes it easier to sue that person for damages. Typical damages sought in a bicycle dooring accident claim would include:
The immediate family of a cyclist who has died as a result of a dooring injury may be entitled to make a wrongful death claim against the person at fault. In addition to any medical expenses before death incurred, funeral expenses and compensation for loss of income may be sought.
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It might be expected that a defendant in a personal injury lawsuit may use the defense that the cyclist was partially or wholly to blame for the accident. The usual argument is that the cyclist had adequate room and was too close to the vehicle when the door was opened.
This is why it makes sense to use a personal injury attorney who understands the significance of dooring accidents and has had previous experience in winning a solid settlement for a bicycle dooring claim for injured cyclists who have been the victims of dooring. It is important to rebut vigorously unfair allegations of fault made against the cyclist.
In the event that a cyclist is eventually judged to be partially at fault, it is important also to realize that California’s comparative negligence rules mean that compensation will still be paid, but in proportion to the perceived fault of both the defendant and the cyclist.
We’ve all seen rideshare passengers, distracted by phones or conversations with their friends, throw open the passenger doors of vehicles operating on the Uber or Lyft apps. Unfortunately, those doors often open into moving traffic, and cause accidents for passing bicyclists. Like any other driver, the driver of an Uber or Lyft will be liable for a bicyclist’s injuries if the driver throws open the driver door, causing a collision with a bicycle. In that case, the bicyclist can make a claim with the driver’s auto insurance and Uber or Lyft's insurance for fair and adequate compensation.
On the other hand, when a rideshare passenger throws open one of the car doors, things gets a bit more complicated. The passenger could be at least partially at fault for the collision, which means that the driver’s insurance (or Uber or Lyft) may not cover the accident. Instead, you may need to look into whether the responsible passenger has auto insurance or even potentially homeowner’s insurance. If the driver pulled over very suddenly, however, or blocked a bike lane, the driver may still be liable for the passenger’s action. In a scenario like this, you would definitely want to recruit the help of a bicycle accident lawyer to help you determine who is at fault and who is going to pay for your injuries.
Keep in mind that some cities have their own regulations regarding appropriate pick-up and drop-off zones for rideshare drivers: for instance, in San Francisco, rideshare drivers are not permitted to pick up or drop off passengers on downtown Market Street, but must instead proceed to a permitted boarding zone.
If possible, make sure to get the rideshare driver’s insurance information, and, if it was the passenger who opened their door on you, get their information as well. At the very least, try to get the driver’s license plate number (snapping a quick photo is easiest), in case he or she drives away after the collision. Note the location of collision (e.g. Market Street, outside of an appropriate boarding zone), and take photos of the car and the accident scene if possible. You or a bystander should call the police and make a report, especially if you are seriously injured.
It is not good enough to simply claim that a door was opened suddenly and the person who opened it did not look. Any personal injury claim depends on adequate evidence. If you have hit an opened door and are able to do so, it is to your eventual benefit to record as much evidence as possible. This might include damage done to your bicycle, the circumstances of the accident, your injuries and contact details of any willing witnesses who saw what happened.
If you have a cell phone that hasn’t been broken in the accident you may be able to use it to take photos and even record witness statements at the time. However, if you suffer serious debilitating injuries, you will not be able to gather up all required information on your own.
Cyclists who are victims of a dooring accidents are fully entitled to claim fair compensation with the help of a dedicated and experienced bicycle accident attorney.