Who Is Liable if a Bicyclist Gets Doored?

Bicycling around Nashville can mean encounters with lots of personal injury hazards – most of which come down to driver negligence. Distracted, drunk, and reckless drivers may cause bicycle accidents and serious biker injuries. One of the most common dangers a bicyclist in Nashville faces is dooring, or a passenger opening a car door into an oncoming bicyclist’s path. Dooring can eject the biker from the bicycle and cause severe injuries such as bone fractures, lacerations, and head or brain injuries. Determining who is liable for dooring a bicyclist can help the victim recover damages.

What Is Dooring?

Dooring can occur when a driver or passenger in a stopped vehicle fails to check for bicyclists that are passing close to the vehicle before opening the car door. An unexpected open door in the biker’s path could cause the cyclist to crash directly into it – often flying over the handlebars and landing on the pavement. Tennessee law does not require cyclists to wear helmets unless they are under the age of 16. An unhelmeted bicyclist in a dooring accident could suffer serious head and brain injuries if an impact to the skull occurs. Dooring can be a frightening and painful type of accident for unsuspecting bicyclists.

Tennessee has bicycle laws in place to try to prevent accidents such as dooring. Section 55-8-175(c)(3) of the Tennessee Code Annotated states that vehicles must maintain a safe distance of at least three feet of following and passing distance from bicycles at all times. Three feet will generally be enough distance to prevent a door from striking a bicyclist. Breaking this rule, therefore, could put bikers at risk of dooring. Many other bicycle laws restrict how and where cyclists can operate on the roadway, as well as how motorists must operate around them.

Driver Liability for Bicyclist Injuries

Liability for a dooring will depend on who broke a rule and caused the incident. If a driver negligently failed to check a bicycle lane for oncoming cyclists before opening the door, for example, the driver could be liable for injuries. If, however, the bicyclist had run a red light and ended up somewhere the driver did not expect, the bicyclist could be liable. Bicyclists have a right to the road in Nashville. They must stay as far to the right-hand side of the road as possible, except when making a left turn or avoiding hazards. A bicyclist has the right to switch lanes if a driver opens his or her door unexpectedly.

In most dooring cases, the driver of the vehicle will be liable for damages. It is a driver’s responsibility to sit in his or her vehicle, check all mirrors, and ensure the way is clear before opening the door. Failing to check for oncoming cyclists is negligence. A driver causing a dooring and related injuries may have to pay for damages through his or her auto insurance company. It will be up to the bicyclist to call the driver’s insurance company and file a personal injury claim.

Comparative Fault on the Bicyclist

A vehicle driver may not be responsible for dooring if the bicyclist was breaking a roadway rule at the time of the accident. If the bicyclist had enough time to dodge the door, for example, but was not paying attention to the road, the bicyclist could take at least some fault for the collision. Tennessee is a comparative fault state, meaning an at-fault victim could still recover partial damages. As long as the bicyclist was 49% or less at fault for the dooring, he or she could still receive a financial award.

It will be up to the bicyclist or his or her attorney to prove the driver’s majority share of fault. Otherwise, if the courts find the biker 50% or more at fault, he or she will lose any right to compensation. An attorney can collect evidence such as photographs from the scene, eyewitness statements, and expert testimony to reconstruct how the dooring happened. Then, the lawyer could re-create the accident in front of a judge or jury. Hiring a lawyer to represent your case is the best way to protect your rights after a Nashville dooring accident.