In the last issue, we took a look at several important safety considerations relevant to bicycling on multi-use trails. Sadly, cyclist vs. cyclist collisions do occasionally occur on these trails; and when that occurs, it is important to handle the situation thoroughly and correctly in order to best protect your rights.
Since Colorado has no state-wide statutes regulating multi-use trails, in the absence of any municipal ordinances that might apply, the conduct of each cyclist in a cyclist vs. cyclist collision will be viewed based upon standards of reasonable care. In other words, a cyclist is expected to operate a bicycle in a safe and careful manner, as would be done by any reasonably careful cyclist in the same or similar circumstances. While there are certainly instances where these collisions occur solely due to the conduct of one party, with the other party being completely fault free, there are also instances where both parties share some degree of fault. In Colorado, each cyclist’s conduct will be judged, and fault will be apportioned between the two cyclists. In order to successfully recover damages from another cyclist, you must prove by a preponderance of the evidence (i.e. more likely than not) that the other cyclist was 51% or more at fault. In a lawsuit, if a judge or jury would determine the fault to be 50/50, neither cyclist can recover damages from the other. This concept of comparative negligence also serves to reduce damages by the percentage of fault assigned to the party making a claim. In other words, if you could prove $10,000 in damages, but the adverse party was found to be 51% at fault, with you being 49% at fault, your net judgment would be in the amount of $5,100. The judge or jury, depending upon the circumstances, is allowed to consider all of the evidence concerning fault in determining the appropriate percentages.
Just as in an accident caused by the driver of a motor vehicle, it is imperative to gather as much information as possible in the immediate aftermath of a cyclist vs. cyclist collision. In cases of serious injury, where emergency medical assistance is needed, there will occasionally be law enforcement dispatched to the scene of an accident, even if it is on a multi-use trail as opposed to a roadway. There is always the possibility for a cyclist vs. cyclist collision on a roadway; however, in my practical experience, this is extremely rare. As a result of this, you cannot count on law enforcement to investigate, document and report a cyclist vs. cyclist collision in the same manner in which a motor vehicle vs. cyclist collision is done. Without this assistance, the burden of the investigation falls on the involved parties.
Today, many of us ride with our phones, which are almost always equipped with cameras. Using a camera to photograph and/or video the scene of an accident can be extremely helpful. This is particularly true if there is important physical evidence such as tire skid marks or crash debris that would help prove how and where the collision occurred. If not prevented by physical injuries, a cyclist should attempt to capture as much of this important evidence as possible. If physical injuries prevent you from doing so, enlisting the aid of a witness or third person to document the evidence through photographs can accomplish the same result. Gathering witness contact information is also extremely important. Again, while we do not always ride with pens and paper, our phones can store text information, make voice recordings, and even preserve videotaped instant accounts from witnesses relative to their contact information and what they saw at the scene. Simply remembering to utilize the technology available on your phone can be of great assistance in preserving this important information.
If you believe you were harmed by the negligence of another cyclist, you will ultimately be making a claim for injuries and damages against them. Often, it is only through the existence of homeowner’s liability or renter’s liability insurance coverage that a person has a meaningful way to respond to a claim for damages. Unfortunately, in my practice I have seen innocent victims of cyclist vs. cyclist collisions be put in situations where they were harmed by a cyclist who has no liability insurance through a homeowner’s or renter’s policy, and no assets from which to settle the claim. In those sad situations, there is really no practical way to pursue recovery. Unlike motor vehicle insurance that is mandatory in Colorado, there is no similar mandatory requirement for homeowner’s or renter’s insurance. Anyone who owns a home will almost certainly have applicable insurance. Renter’s coverage, however, is much less prevalent. The issues associated with the ability of an at-fault cyclist to respond to a settlement or judgment are often the most important practical considerations associated with making such a claim. Conversely, if you are notified by the other cyclist that they are holding you at fault for the collision, it is important to notify your homeowner’s or renter’s insurance company immediately. Delays in notification to your insurer of the claim can jeopardize your coverage. If a claim is made against you, your insurance company will not only indemnify you up to your policy limits, but provide an attorney to defend you if a lawsuit is filed. Where there is disputed liability and injuries to both cyclists, it is often the case that counterclaims are made, and the entire dispute is resolved within one proceeding. These types of disputes are very difficult to resolve in the absence of physical evidence or third-party witnesses. The importance of gathering and preserving that information cannot be overstated.
Hopefully you will never find yourself in a situation that requires you to follow these basic tips; however, they are important to keep in mind if needed. As always, I would be happy to provide a no-cost consultation if you ever need one.