Bicycle – motor vehicle related accidents

Bicycle – motor vehicle related accidents

BICYCLE – MOTOR VEHICLE RELATED ACCIDENTS

Motor vehicle related bicycle accidents are the most common form of injury producing bicycle accident in New York City.

When a bicyclist is involved in an accident with a motor vehicle there are two separate claims. The first is a No-Fault Claim, which provides basic coverage regardless of fault. The second is a liability bodily injury claim, which seeks compensation for economic and non-economic losses (pain and suffering and loss of enjoyment of life) based upon fault.

NO-FAULT COVERAGE:

No-Fault coverage is statutory required coverage afforded to the injured cyclist (the same as a pedestrian) from the vehicle that came into contact with the bicyclist.

The No-Fault claim is seperate from the liablity bodility injury claim. For example, if one were operating a motor vehilce and in an accident with another vehicle, No-Fualt benefits would be collected from your own insurance company. However, when on a bicycle, No-Fault is provided by the vehicle that you were in contact with regardless of fault.

No-Fault specifically provides coverage for “necessary medical expenses” and a portion of lost earnings ($2,000 per month or 80% of your income, which ever is less). Minimum coverage in New York State is $50,000 per individual.

The No-Fault claim must be timely filed with the insurance company for the vehicle involved within thirty (30) days from the date of accident. All medical bills must be submitted for payment within forty-five (45) days of given treatment.

No-Fault coverage in a motor vehicle related accident is primary over all other forms of medical coverage, so therefore it is important to timely and properly file and secure the No-Fault claim and coverage.

A common mistake by cyclists in motor vehicle related accidents, is to give your regular heath insurance to the hospital or ambulance. If there is a determination that the accident arose out of the use or operation of a motor vehicle, your insurance should properly deny the claim, as No-Fault is primary over all other coverage in a motor vehicle – bicycle related accident.

It is also important that your medical providers bill No-Fault pursuant to an assignment of benefits form. This allows the medical provider to bill No-Fault directly. If a medical proider has billed pursuant to an assignment of benefits, the patient is not responsble for non-payment, unless there is a denial for failure to cooperate in the No-Fault claim (not attending a physical examination or Examinatioin Under Oath, if requested).

If the motor vehicle involved does not have active coverage, then you would qualify for an uninsured motorist claim. Please see our separate page on this topic. If the accident involves a hit and run and the offending motor vehicle remains unidentified, please see our separate page on “hit and run” motor vehicle related accidents.

LIABILITY BODILY INJURY CLAIM:

The liability bodily injury claim is the claim that seeks to obtain compensation for all economic losses, and non-economic losses (i.e. pain and suffering and loss of enjoyment, past and future). This claim is usually the subject of the actual law suit. The claim does require that the bicyclist proves that the vehicle involves was negligent and/or that there was a violation of statute that was a substantial factor in the cause of the accident.

New York State recognizes pure comparative fault. In other words, the trier of fact makes a finding of fault as to a matter of degree to the extent that the finding of fault was a substantial factor in the cause of the accident. The percentage of fault, if any, allocated to the plaintiff cyclist, would serve to reduce the damages award to the same degree.

A finding of fault can be based upon the reasonable care standard of negligence, which simply is the required degree of care that reasonably prudent person would exercise under similar circumstances. This is typically a factual question for a jury to determine to the extent that the defendant does not concede liability.

The other basis of fault is a statutory violation, which must be a substantial factor in the cause of the accident. A statutory violation is even stronger, as the jury is instructed that if they find that the applicable statute was violated, then they must find negligence.

There are numerous potentially applicable statutory violations for a given pattern of facts.

For a list of statutes, please take a look at our page of relevant statutes (hyper link).

Each set of facts can be different, and accordingly, it is the judge that makes the final determination of the applicable statutes that may be given to the jury for consideration.

Serious Injury Requirement:

In motor vehicle related bicycle accidents, in addition to the burden of proving fault, the plaintiff must also prove a serious injury as defined by the No-Fault law. What the No-Fault law gives by way of basic coverage, it also serves to take away the right to maintain a case in the court system for bodily injury to the extent that the plaintiff cannot prove a serious injury as defined by the No-Fault law.

The plaintiff bicyclist must have sustained a “threshold injury”, which means that if any one injury meets one or more of the serious injury categories, then all the injuries are compensable, whether serious or not.

In many type of accidents, the serious injury category can be established as a matter of law. If so, the jury when presented with the case will not even consider the serious injury category.

The recognized separate categories for a threshold injury are as follows:

  1. A fracture;
  2. A significant disfigurement;
  3. A permanent impairment of the use of a bodily organ, member, function or       system;
  4. A significant limitation of the use of a bodily organ, member or function or system, that must be significant, but need not be permanent;
  5. At least 90 of the first 180 days immediately following the accident, completely unable to carry out in your usual occupation, subject to what a reasonable person would do given the injuries involved;
  6. Death;
  7. Dismemberment;
  8. Pregnant – loss of a fetus.

Certain categories, such as the permanent impairment and significant limitation category can be the subject of dismissal by the court after all discovery is complete on what is known as a “threshold motion.” There is a significant line of case law interpreting these categories and the defendants are free to make a motion to dismiss based upon summary judgment at the conclusion of discovery in the case. It is then up to the plaintiff to come forward with sworn to records that at the very least establishes a question of fact. Even if the plaintiff prevails on the threshold motion, the jury is still charged with the threshold requirement and must make a finding of a serious injury before they can award compensation.

Again, some injuries such as a clear fracture are an automatic threshold injury, and in such cases the threshold requirement is not an issue in the case.

DAMAGES:

Once there has been a finding of negligence and the serious injury requirement has been met, then the jury is directed to determine damages. There are separate categories of damages in a personal injury case. The first is economic losses i.e. the costs of medical treatment, both past and future and the loss of earnings, both past and future (if unable to work – or capacity diminished). The other category is non-economic damages, which is compensation for pain and suffering, both past and future (to the extent that the plaintiff has a degree of permanence associated with the injury). Future pain and suffering is awarded based upon the loss of expected enjoyment of life and corresponding limitations over the life expectancy of the plaintiff.

Every case is different when it comes to a damages award. The determination of damages in a personal injury action is a difficult task. The economic considerations differ from one individual to the next. The level of impact upon ones normal course and enjoyment of life differs with respect to the extent of injury and corresponding impact upon normal levels of activity.

Much of our firms representation and effort goes into proving the damages portion of a case in the most effective and persuasive manner to secure the best recovery we can for our clients.

Please contact our office for a free, no obligation consultation.