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Wrongful Death: Bicycle Accidents

Bicycle Accident Wrongful Death

Riding a bicycle is great fun and a good form of exercise. Unfortunately, this passion can sometimes end in disaster if a motorist fails to pay attention, hits the bicyclist, and causes their death. Every year, over 700 cyclists are killed by motorists in the United States – and these numbers are climbing. If you have lost a loved one in a bicycle accident caused by someone else’s negligence or recklessness, you may be entitled to compensation for damages.

Causes of Bicycle Fatalities

Bicyclists are vulnerable. They share the road with quickly moving vehicles, including large trucks, buses, and heavy equipment that can easily cause severe injury or death on impact. In most cases, bicyclists have the same right-of-way as other motorists on the road. Despite these laws, many motorists don’t give bicyclists the same care they extend to other vehicles on the road. As a result, bicycle accidents happen frequently. Some of the most common causes of bicycle fatalities include:

  • Misjudging bicyclists’ speed, turning in front of them, and colliding with them at an intersection
  • Turning right and hitting bicyclists in the crosswalk
  • Clipping cyclists by passing too closely
  • Dooring bicyclists by opening car doors while a cyclist is passing
  • Failing to yield to bicyclists
  • Colliding with cyclists as they remove their bicycles from a bus

Research indicates that most fatal bicycle accidents happen in the evening, between 6 pm and 9 pm. Approximately 75% of accidents occur in urban areas and only a quarter in rural areas. Tragically, alcohol is involved in over a third of these accidents, and men are eight times more likely to be involved in a fatal bicycle accident than women.

Bicycling in Massachusetts and New Hampshire

Over three-quarters of one million Massachusetts adults ride a bicycle at least once a year. In the wake of initiatives like Boston Bikes, which added dozens of cycling paths to the city, cycling has increased throughout Boston and the rest of the state. In Boston, there are over 38,000 bike rides every day. \While most of those rides are safe and uneventful, accidents frequently occur.

The Boston Globe reports that collisions between cyclists and motorists have increased by 15% over the last three years. Accidents have increased by 9% in the greater Boston area. In one three-year period, there were 14 accidents in a single Boston intersection. In New Hampshire, there are between nine and 13 fatalities every year. The state is committed to improving safety for all road users through its pedestrian/bicycle enforcement patrols.

Unfortunately, after most bicycle accidents, the driver is not held criminally responsible. However, the burden of proof in a civil case differs from a criminal case, and often, these careless drivers are held responsible in a lawsuit. You deserve justice. If you lost a loved one, nothing can bring them back, but you may be able to receive compensation to help with expenses and pain related to your loss.

Negligence in Bicycle Wrongful Death

To be considered wrongful death, a bicycle fatality must be caused by someone’s negligence. Often, the motorist is negligent, causing someone’s death by speeding, driving while distracted or intoxicated, or breaking other laws. If the motorist is driving a commercial vehicle or is on the clock for work, their employer may also be liable. Companies can be found negligent in bicycle wrongful deaths for failing to screen drivers, not properly training drivers, or other actions.

Some areas have additional safety laws designed to protect bicyclists. These may include requiring trucks to have side guards to cover the space between the wheels and the cargo area so cyclists don’t get swept up under the truck. Boston and Somerville both have ordinances to safeguard vulnerable road users such as bicyclists and pedestrians. They require city-contracted trucks and large vehicles to have convex mirrors to minimize blind spots. If trucking companies don’t comply with these laws, they may be considered negligent.

Comparative Negligence

Unfortunately, in many wrongful death cases involving bicycles, the defendant argues that the bicyclist was partially responsible for the accident. If a truck hits and kills a bicyclist and the family brings forward a wrongful death claim or lawsuit, the trucking company may argue that the bicyclist failed to yield or made other mistakes that contributed to the accident.

If the case goes to court and the judge or jury agrees that the cyclist was partially responsible, comparative negligence laws come into play. At this point, the courts apportion the fault to both parties. If the bicyclist is determined to be responsible for more than half of the accident, you cannot receive a settlement. If the bicyclist is responsible for less than half, the settlement gets reduced accordingly. For example, if the bicyclist is judged to be responsible for 20% of the accident, the settlement gets reduced by 20%.

Damages

In wrongful death lawsuits, you may be able to claim compensation for some damages. Here are a few examples of these types of economic and noneconomic damages:

  • Medical bills incurred by the decedent
  • Pain and suffering experienced by the deceased
  • Funeral and burial or cremation expenses
  • Emotional distress of survivors
  • Loss of income if you were dependent on the deceased
  • Loss of expected earnings
  • Loss of companionship, guidance, care, and nurturing

Depending on the circumstances of your case, you may be entitled to other compensatory damages, as well. In Massachusetts, courts can assign punitive damages in wrongful death lawsuits. While compensatory damages are designed to compensate victims for losses, punitive damages exist to punish the negligent party for their actions. Unfortunately, in New Hampshire, you generally cannot include punitive damages in wrongful death suits.

Hiring a Wrongful Death Attorney After a Bicycle Accident

Insurance companies, trucking companies, and other wrongful death defendants try to hide the cause of bike accidents. To ensure that you have the most successful outcome possible with your case, choose a quality bicycle accident lawyer who will work diligently to investigate the accident and establish your right to a settlement.

In Massachusetts, the statute of limitations for wrongful death cases is three years from the date of death. In New Hampshire, the statute of limitations expires six years after death. However, there are exceptions to these rules. Ideally, you should contact an attorney as quickly as possible.

To learn more, contact us at Mazow | McCullough, PC today. We can set up a no-cost case evaluation to talk about your loved one’s accident and help you decide on the next steps.

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