The Gluck Legal Takeaway - Bicycle vs Bicycle collisions: Is there liability?

By: 
Ronald Gluck

Most cyclists are careful riders. Some aren’t.  They take risks and sometimes endanger the lives of others.  Are these risk -taking riders liable for their careless and sometimes reckless actions? The short answer is yes.   This is not to say that an injured cyclist would choose to pursue a case against the individual who caused the collision. But what if the incident caused serious injuries, major loss of earnings and surgeries? It may be something that individual may want to consider.

Under these circumstances one critical question is whether the careless cyclist who caused the injuries is insured by a homeowner’s or renter’s liability policy. If they are, then there is a source from which the injured cyclist can collect fair and reasonable compensation without causing financial hardship for the at- fault cyclist. These liability policies provide protection for the liability of policy holders when they are riding their bikes, so long as they are not riding in the course of their employment.

The legal analysis begins with the fact that cyclists have a legal duty to use reasonable care in the operation of their bicycles.   The question that arises in these cases is whether the actions of the offending cyclist crossed the line from reasonable to unreasonable by virtue of the manner in which they operated the bike under the circumstances existing at the time of the incident.  That often leads to varying opinions as the standard is somewhat subjective. In some cases, expert opinions are needed to assist in establishing what the standards are for reasonable operation of a bicycle. In other cases, the manner of operation is objectively and clearly unsafe and no expert opinion will be required to prove that the cyclist violated that legal duty to use reasonable care when operating his or her bicycle.

In some cases, the careless cyclist is a teenager or a young adult who still lives with his or her parent(s). If the parent(s) own a home then it is highly likely there is a homeowner’s policy that will cover the actions of the young adult who caused the collision.  The parent will not be liable for the damages suffered by the insured cyclist because the careless cyclist was not their agent at the time of the incident but the insurance policy covers the actions of their child who is still living in their household.  Following this analysis, the personal assets of the parent(s) are not at risk or obtainable in the case brought by the injured cyclist.

An exception to this analysis may be found in the context of an organized bicycle race or event. In these situations, there is often a waiver of liability that all participants are required to sign in order to participate in the event. These waivers are typically legal and binding, preventing the injured cyclist from pursuing a case against the organizers of the race or event for any failure to use reasonable care in the operation and or planning of the event.   Whether the waiver also prevents a claim against a fellow cyclist who was participating in the event is a question that is answered after a review of the waiver form.  That said,  most waivers in these circumstances preclude claims against  all participants, sponsors,  and cities and towns where the event is taking place. 

It is important to note that the mere happening of an accident with another cyclist does not, in and of itself, give rise to any liability on anyone’s part.  Accidents can happen in the absence of carelessness or recklessness. 

Ride safely and enjoy the rest of the summer!

If you have questions about a particular incident or more generally about the subject matter of this column, feel free to contact Ron Gluck at gluck [at] bwglaw.com

Ron Gluck is a founder and principal at Breakstone White and Gluck in Boston. Throughout his 35 year legal career Ron has represented seriously injured individuals in a variety of cases including cycling accidents involving catastrophic injury and wrongful death. Ron is a CRW member.