According to the National Highway Traffic and Safety Administration (NHTSA), Louisiana is the second most deadly state for bicyclists, next to Florida. Experts blame lack of education for drivers about how to operate motor vehicles safely around bicyclists, reasoning that drivers are more likely to cause serious harm because they fail to provide bicyclist with proper room on the roads, keep a look out for cyclists, or understand how bicyclists follow the rules of the road.
Another reason for the high frequency of bicycle accidents in New Orleans may be the lack of dedicated bike lanes in most areas. On many busy New Orleans roads, bicyclists are forced to share lanes with drivers. This exposes the bicyclists to many dangers including drunk drivers, distracted drivers and people speeding or failing to keep a proper lookout.
Bicyclists are also more likely to be seriously hurt in “dooring” accidents when drivers in parked cars open their doors without looking, accidentally opening them right in front of or into passing cyclists. Dooring accidents are a serious threat to bicyclists. Each year, they are responsible for causing multiple fatalities and serious injuries.
Recent New Orleans Bicycle Fatalities
On March 2, 2019, a drunk driver struck nine people on Esplanade Avenue in New Orleans, fatally injuring two victims. The driver, a son of a NOPD officer, was held in custody and charged with vehicular homicide and vehicular negligent injury, with bond set at $510,000.
The section of Esplanade Avenue where the bicyclists were killed has a designated bike lane, but there were no barricades or other physical barriers separating the bike lane from motor vehicles. Bicycle advocates are urging the city of New Orleans to take measures to prevent such accidents from happening again in the future, arguing that if barricades had been placed next to the bike lanes, the victims may still be alive today.
Two years before this accident, another drunk driver, with a blood alcohol content level of 0.232, hit 32 individuals in a crowd that was watching a Mardi Gras parade.
In addition to facing criminal charges, drivers who hit and injure bicyclists also typically face civil claims for the damages they cause. Most of these claims are based on a theory of negligence.
A driver is negligent when they act or fail to act as a reasonably prudent driver would under the circumstances. Negligence can include mistakes as simple as forgetting to turn on your lights at dusk, driving over the speed limit, or failing to use your turn signal when required. In other accidents, like the instances of drunk driving described above, the driver’s negligence is a gross deviation from the conduct of a reasonably prudent person.
If you are injured as a bicyclist by a negligent driver, there are several elements you will have to prove in order to win your claim. As the plaintiff, the injured bicyclist, you must be able to prove each and every one of these elements by a preponderance of evidence. This is somewhat of a high standard, but not as high as the standard of proof required in a criminal case: “beyond a reasonable doubt.”
Let’s take a look at the specific elements you will need to prove to win your bicycle injury case:
1. The driver had a duty to drive safely.
This is generally the simplest element to prove. Every driver has a legal duty to drive as a reasonably prudent person under the circumstances. This means following the speed limit, obeying traffic signs and laws, reducing your speed appropriately for weather conditions, and exercising reasonable judgment in driving actions and choices.
If you can establish that the defendant in your case was driving a motor vehicle, then they had a legal duty to drive as a reasonably prudent person. Taking the example of the recent fatal bike accident in New Orleans in early March, the driver of the vehicle who hit the bicyclists had a duty to drive as a reasonably prudent driver under the circumstances.
2. The driver did not drive like a reasonable person would have.
Next, you will need to establish that the driver’s conduct deviated from that of a reasonably prudent person under the circumstances. This is the element that establishes that the driver’s conduct was negligent.
Drunk driving is an example of conduct that, in addition to being expressly prohibited by the law, clearly deviates from the standard of care required when operating a motor vehicle. However, in order to be found negligent, a driver need not engage in such grossly negligent conduct like drunk driving. A driver may fail to act as a reasonable prudent driver by not stopping at a stop sign, driving at an excessive speed on icy road conditions, or attempting to pass a driver in a manner not permitted by the law or safe under the circumstances.
There are several types of evidence that may help you prove this element of your case. The police report of your bicycle accident should detail how the accident occurred and the damage to both your bike, the driver’s vehicle, and any other property that was damaged in the crash. Witness testimony is also very helpful in establishing the driver’s negligence. Some cases, like drunk driving, may also be supported by test and lab results demonstrating that the driver was operating a motor vehicle while under the influence of drugs or alcohol.
3. The driver’s failure to drive reasonably caused your injuries.
The third element you must prove in your case is known as “causation”—that the driver’s conduct was the actual and proximate cause of your injuries. Typically, this is where you will need to produce evidence of medical records and, possibly, expert medical opinions.
Many of the defense arguments you may encounter in your case will be related to this element of your claim. It is very common for a defendant to try to argue that you or someone else is responsible for your injuries, your injuries preexisted the accident in question, or you suffered your injuries after the accident occurred. They may also argue that even if you were injured in the accident in question and even if they drove negligently, an intervening event actually or proximately caused your injuries.
You may need to obtain the opinion of a medical expert in your case. It is not uncommon for insurance companies representing a negligent driver to get an expert medical opinion and, if causation is at issue in your case, they are likely to provide an opinion that the driver’s conduct was not the cause of your injuries. It may be very important to your case, including the strength of your position in settlement negotiations, to have a strong opinion from a medical expert that outlines why the evidence clearly indicates that your injuries were sustained as a result of the accident in question and, specifically, the defendant’s conduct.
4. You suffered damages as a result.
The last element in your bike injury claim requires you to prove your damages. This includes proving the nature of each and every one of your injuries, the extent of each injury (how bad it is), the costs you incurred in medical bills, value of all property damage caused by the accident, and the amount of wages you lost due to being off from work because of the accident.
Usually, you will have to produce medical records that detail your symptoms, diagnosis, and treatment. In addition, you should gather any documentation of medical bills you incurred as a result of the accident.
If the accident caused you to suffer temporary or permanent disability, you should also produce an expert medical report that provides an opinion on the degree of your disability. This information will be used to determine the amount of compensation you are entitled to.
You may also be entitled to recover compensation for sick leave and vacation leave that you were forced to use after the accident due to your injuries, as well as lost wages that you would have earned had you not been injured in the accident.
Moving Forward After Tragedy
Bike advocates around New Orleans have expressed their dedication to ensuring the city provides proper protections for city bicyclists. While tragic accidents are possible even with the most thoughtful protections in place, increased education of drivers and more visible physical barriers next to bike lanes may help to make New Orleans bicyclists safer while they ride.
If you or a loved one have been insured in a bike accident in New Orleans, it is time to team up with a knowledgeable and experienced bike accident lawyer who will help you pursue your claim with skillful dedication.
Unfortunately, insurance companies can often turn personal injury cases into a bit of a game. If you are not represented by an experienced personal injury lawyer, insurance companies and the bicycle accident attorneys that represent them may try to take advantage of you. They are likely to initially deny your claim outright or try to settle your case for substantially less than your claim is worth.
For a complimentary consultation of your case, contact us today. We work on a contingency fee basis, which means that we do not get paid unless you get paid, and our complimentary consultations require no commitment.
Let’s help you get the compensation you deserve and put your bike accident behind you, so you can move forward with your life.