According to the Canadian Automobile Association (CAA), 7,500 cyclists are seriously injured in Canada each year and Statistics Canada reports approximately 60 fatalities annually. Cyclists are most often injured at intersections; however, the incidence of cyclists being ‘doored’ (injured when hitting an opened car door) is on the rise in many communities. Global News recently reported that 1,308 Toronto cyclists were hit by opening car doors between 2005 and 2013, most of whom were injured but one resulted in death. An increase in the volume of automobiles on Canadian roads along with a lack of designated bike paths are cited as the foremost reasons for bicycle collisions. Whatever the reason, cyclists who are injured in a vehicle collision need to be aware of their rights as an accident victim and steps they can take to ensure fair compensation for their injuries.
Bicycle accidents and injuries are underreported because vehicles hitting or dooring a cyclist sometimes leave the scene of the accident and cyclists often fail to report these ‘hit and run’ incidents even when injured. Disturbingly, Global News reports that police are laying fewer charges when dooring incidents occur in the Toronto area, despite the increase in these events.
In July 2014, a taxi pulled over and its passenger opened the door to exit directly in front of a cyclist who was driving properly beside the curb in downtown Toronto. The 24 year old cyclist sustained what were later determined to be non-severe injuries from her fall after striking the door but her bicycle was damaged beyond repair. After recording the facts of the accident, the officer concluded that it was the passenger’s fault but advised the woman against suing him for damages. No charges were laid against the man who opened the door. The injured woman later reported feeling frustrated at the lack of consequences for the person ‘at fault’ and also, for the unhelpful advice given by the traffic officer.
In a similar incident in 2008, another young woman was ‘doored’ when the driver of a parked car opened his door while reaching for something in his car. Although wearing a helmet, the fall rendered her unconscious due to a head injury, and doctors at Toronto Western Hospital diagnosed a concussion and broken collar bone. Her injuries required months to heal. In this instance, the driver could be identified and charged and there were many witnesses to the accident.
Unfortunately, many victims of bicycle accidents suffer injuries that are catastrophic and permanent. Dale Cox was struck by an unidentified vehicle while cycling in Burlington. Unfortunately, the vehicle did not stop when he fell to the ground; there were no witnesses; and his bicycle was damaged beyond repair. The damage to his bicycle was seen by family members before disposing of it in the garbage. The family was unaware that Mr. Cox may be eligible for accident benefits and that the bike was evidence. The incident was not reported to the police as the cyclist believed his injuries to be very minor and it was assumed that nothing could be done due to the lack of witnesses.
The next morning, the Burlington man was discovered unconscious in bed. Doctors at the hospital diagnosed Mr. Cox with a subdural hematoma which required a full craniotomy. The family made an accident claim with his insurer, Aviva Canada. Aviva acknowledged the injuries as catastrophic and paid some accident benefits, but denied other benefits disputing that Mr. Cox had been involved in an accident as defined in the Statutory Accident Benefits Schedule under the Insurance Act. The family was able to describe the damage to the bicycle to a forensic engineer whom they had retained and he concluded that the damage would have to have been caused by a motor vehicle. At the Arbitration hearing, the Arbitrator agreed that the victim’s injuries were the result of a collision with an automobile, as there was no other reasonable explanation for the cycling accident.
Cyclists who have been struck and injured by an automobile need to be aware of the appropriate steps to take to ensure they get proper medical treatment and deserved compensation. Even if injuries appear minor, accident victims should visit a doctor or hospital to determine whether there is more serious damage of which they may be unaware and which may develop into more severe complications. As in the case of the Burlington man, there is often a delay in the realization of symptoms resulting from head injuries some of which may result in death. Also, your record of medical treatment or medical assessment is important evidence if you are making an accident claim.
Damage to a bicycle resulting from a collision with an automobile may be claimed under the driver’s insurance policy, so it’s important to record the driver’s name, insurer and policy number. If the driver leaves the scene, record the license number of the vehicle, if possible. If there are witnesses to the accident, their name and address or phone number should also be recorded, particularly if they are unable to wait until police arrive. If police fail to come to the scene, perhaps because the cyclist does not appear to be injured, the cyclist should nevertheless fill out an accident report at a police station so that there is a record of the accident if injuries worsen or if compensation for a damaged bicycle is claimed. A cell phone is an excellent tool for providing a record of the accident, by taking pictures of the vehicle, license, bicycle, and yourself at the scene of the accident.
If you wish to apply for accident benefits, you must inform the liable insurance company within 7 days of the collision or as soon as possible. Ontario ‘no fault’ insurance applies when a cyclist claims injuries due to an accident. Accident victims who are insured as drivers first make an injury claim for accident benefits under their own insurance policy or if a dependent, under a family member’s policy. If uninsured, the cyclist can claim for accident benefits under the policy of the driver involved in the accident. In the case of a ‘hit and run’, the injured cyclist can make a claim under the Ontario Motor Vehicle Accident Claim Fund.
When injuries are severe, a cyclist may also sue the vehicle driver for damages. In such cases, an experienced personal injury lawyer will provide the necessary expertise in pursuing a successful claim. The Rastin and Associates team has years of experience helping individuals injured as a result of a collision, whether as a cyclist, pedestrian or passenger in another vehicle, to get the compensation and benefits they deserve and need for recovery.
Although motorists frequently blame cyclists of causing vehicle/bicycle accidents, an analysis of 2572 police collision reports for Toronto revealed that most of these accidents are due to vehicle driver errors, such as failing to stop at an intersection, proceeding before checking for oncoming traffic, or opening a car door in front of a cyclist (David Tomlinson “Conflicts Between Cyclists and Motorists in Toronto”). Cyclist error accounted for only 10% of accidents with vehicles. Clearly, as drivers we need to be more cautious and proactive with regards to watching for cyclists.
As an accident victim in any collision, remember that your priorities should be to seek immediate medical attention and report the incident. Collect as complete a record of the vehicle, witnesses and damage, as is possible. Finally, if severe injuries and/or significant damage to your bicycle were sustained, you deserve to make a claim for damages and/or benefits.