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What the hell is wrong with drivers today? First three cars yell at me (one guy stopped and screamed that I'm not allowed to bike in the road, only on sidewalks), then greater greater washington posts about someone almost getting run over by a bus, and now this! WTF??

Nothing is "automatic" in DC. We have contributory negiligence, if the plaintiff contributes to an accident in any way he cannot recover. A cyclist, like any road user, has a duty of care to other road users. Certainly, if the accident unfolded in the way the lying motorist said it did the cyclist was negligent in his duty of care and would receive nothing.

Even if the motorist had opened the door directly in the path of the cyclist you could argue that the cyclist had contributed to the accident by riding dangerously close to a parked vehicle. Any cycling text will tell you to maintain a safe distance from parked cars. If a court were to agree that the cyclist had contributed even 1% to this accident, the cyclist would still get nothing.

Who says I always take the side of the cyclist?

This is one of the reasons that DDOT's door zone bike lanes are such a hot button with me -- they encourage unsafe behavior on the part of both drivers and cyclists. Interestly, in some states there are laws that say you have to maintain a distance -- usually 3 feet -- when passing parked cars. I feel such laws are pro-cyclist, because they codify the fact that it's unacceptably dangerous to ride close to parked cars, and can be used as a lever against those who want to shove cyclists to the edge of the roadway.

Sorry to hear about the accident, I hope Paul recovers soon.

Here's a link the StreetView: http://maps.google.com/maps?cbp=12,250.30397701673326,,0,13.035714285714286&cbll=38.906633,-77.037994&ll=38.906633,-77.037994&layer=c

of the approximate area for anyone else unfamiliar with this block.

Ouch. That sounds really painful. Unfortunately, I agree with Patrick. This is not as clear cut as you want it to be. While Clint's citation is right, you also need to look at the obligations of a cyclist too. Look at Section 1201.2(c)(3) below (excerpted here). While you should be to the far right of the lane, one exception is "when reasonably necessary to avoid conditions . . . INCLUDING VEHICLE DOORS THAT ARE OR MAY BE OPEN."

Knowing that section of Conn Ave well and having biked down it many times myself, there are parked cars on both sides of the road. I am always looking a couple of cars ahead to see if there are people in parked cars that might be opening their doors.

The key questions to ask yourself are: (1) how fast were you going? (2) did you see him in the car (or was the windshield tinted or otherwise was your view blocked)?

If you saw him then it might be deemed "necessary" for you to have moved off from the far right of the lane you were in. If you didn't see him you are going to have to explain why. Without a good explanation, you might be deemed to have not been paying adequate attention to your surroundings.

I can assure you, it isn't that I don't emphasize with what you been through -- it is terrible. But cyclists often incorrectly believe that if they are hit, it is always the driver's fault. Like the answer to most questions in life, the answer is, it depends.



1201.2 (a) A person operating a bicycle shall comply with subsection 2201.1 of this title requiring drivers to be on the right half of the roadway and shall not operate on the left facing traffic coming from the opposite direction except when authorized by that section.
(b) Except as provided in paragraph (c) of this subsection and in subsection 2202.9 of this title, any person operating a bicycle upon a roadway at less than the normal speed of traffic at the time and place and under the conditions then existing shall travel as closely as practicable to the right-hand curb or edge of the roadway, or as closely as practicable to the left-hand curb or edge of the roadway when on a one-way street.
(c) Any person operating a bicycle may move away from the positions described in subsection (b) as necessary under any of the following situations:
(1) When overtaking and passing another bicycle or other vehicle proceeding in the same direction;
(2) When preparing for a turn;
(3) When reasonably necessary to avoid conditions including, but not limited to, fixed or moving objects, parking or moving vehicles, vehicle doors that are or may open, bicycles, pedestrians, animals, surface hazards, or substandard width lanes that make it unsafe to remain near the curb or edge of the roadway. For purposes of this section, a "a substandard width "lane" means a lane or other area on the roadway that is too narrow for a bicycle and an overtaking vehicle to travel safely side by side within the lane. Any lane that is eleven 11 feet wide or less shall be presumed be a substandard width lane for purposes of this subsection;
(4) When necessary to comply with lane use restrictions; or
(5) When necessary for the bicyclist's safety.

WABA might be able to help. They've probably dealt with DC police regarding lying drivers in witnessless crashes before. BTW does anyone have bike insurance?


I'll concede that a speeding cyclist has less of a claim in the case of a dooring, but I reject the notion that a cyclist's responsible for knowing which cars they are riding past have a person in the driver's side and which do not (if such a responsibility even exists) is greater than the responsibility of the door opener to be aware of an oncoming vehicle.

But I agree that DC's Contributory Negligence standard makes this a tough case to win.


My wife is an insurance lawyer and she claims that I'm covered under our automobile insurance. If you don't have auto insurance, she's recommended an umbrella policy, but make sure that it will cover you in a bike accident.

Wash --

Is that for liability or collision/injury?

I would think automobile/umbrella for liability, medical for my injuries, homeowner's for the bike. My homeowner's covers personal property (other than street-legal motor vehicles) that is regularly kept at my home, even if it is damaged or stolen away from home.

What's missing from Jim's analysis is that there is a difference between what is permitted and what is required. Under DC law, you are permitted to keep a distance from parked cars but not required.

However, everyone has a "duty of care." Basically that means you have to avoid running into other people, even if you're in the right. DC courts have historically been rough on cyclists in applying the duty of care standard.

I'll ask the misses.

Basically that means you have to avoid running into other people, even if you're in the right.

It seems pretty self-evident that any cyclist with enough time to see an open door in front of him would immediately try to get out of the way - I'm having a hard time coming up with a scenario where that wouldn't be the case. Unless the cyclist was doing something to distract himself (not likely on a busy street during rush hour, when riders tend to be paying close attention), to see a door is to avoid it.

Right I see things the way Erica does. If the cyclist were speeding or on the phone then they may be at fault, but I think every cyclists will avoid a car door if they can. Ergo, if they hit a car door, it was because it was suddenly opened into their path (barring the types of other causes mentioned above).

The time I saw a dooring it was two cars. The driver being doored was fine of course, while the door itself was ripped off (hopefully nothing else). I wonder if anyone questioned who was at fault. I seriously doubt it.

If the cyclist were speeding or on the phone then they may be at fault, but I think every cyclists will avoid a car door if they can. Ergo, if they hit a car door, it was because it was suddenly opened into their path.

There are two flaws with this reasoning. First, it's not true. Cyclists run into things all the time. Roughly 85% of bicycle accidents requiring medical treatment involve no person other than the cyclist. Cyclists fall off their bikes, they run off the road, and yes, they ride into parked cars. This study (http://www.tfhrc.gov/safety/pedbike/ctanbike/41.pdf ) suggests that about 1,000 cyclists a year in the US are injured by riding into parked cars.

The second flaw in your reasoning is legal. A basic axiom of the law is that each case is tried on its merits. A case is not about what usually happens, or what is more likely to happen, it's about what actually happened. Isn't saying that "every cyclist will avoid a car door if they can" just like saying "every motorist will avoid hitting a cyclist if they can." So shouldn't are all accidents involving a car and a bicycle are the fault of the cyclist? No, each case is tried on its own merits, testimony is taken, physical evidence is gathered, and the trier of fact sorts through it and makes a decision about what happened.

Well, in theory at least.

Sure, every case is different. I'm trying to generalize, so yes, you can accuse me of generalizing. It's like when people say that if you rear-end someone you're at fault. That's not always true, but generally true.

As for cyclist crashing into things I was waiving those off as part of my incomplete list of things that a cyclist could do to be at fault. It was not meant to be exhaustive. I know, I'm basically saying that when a cyclist isn't at fault, they aren't at fault. Not exactly Sherlock Holmes stuff.

I think the term I'm thinking of is "presumptive fault". I seem to remember that if you rear-end someone you have presumptive fault - and would need to show their brake lights don't work or something. I thought dooring was the same way.

"every motorist will avoid hitting a cyclist if they can."

Not true, check tonight's post.

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