Cyclists are vulnerable road users. Despite the requirement to wear a helmet while riding a bicycle in British Columbia, cyclists are prone to serious injuries if involved in a collision. Is the driver of the motor vehicle to blame? This depends on whether the driver was negligent in causing the collision. While not determinative of negligence, failure to comply with the rules of the road may indicate a failure to take appropriate care.
This article looks at some of the principles of negligence which are relevant when determining liability in a collision between a cyclist and a motor vehicle. We also look at a recent decision of the Court of Appeal for British Columbia in which a motor vehicle collided with a cyclist riding on the sidewalk.
In a negligence claim, the plaintiff must prove that the defendant owed them a duty of care, that the defendant failed to act reasonably (breached the standard of care) and that the defendant’s breach caused the plaintiff’s injury.
A cyclist injured in a collision with a motor vehicle can file a claim against the driver’s insurance policy, but they need to establish that the driver negligently caused the accident.
Both cyclists and drivers have to comply with the rules contained in the Motor Vehicle Act. While compliance with these rules is not determinative in a negligence claim, failure to comply may indicate a lack of care which will be relevant in the case.
Some rules potentially relevant in the context of collisions involving cyclists include:
- cyclists have the same rights and duties as drivers, and must not ride on sidewalks or crosswalks unless permitted by a bylaw or directed by a sign (section 183); and
- drivers need to stop before driving onto the sidewalk and yield to pedestrians, when emerging from an alley, driveway, building or private road (section 176).
In Orr v Graemond Holdings Ltd., the plaintiff cyclist was riding his bike on the north sidewalk of a busy road in Nanaimo, British Columbia, against the flow of traffic. While coasting downhill at a moderate speed, he approached the driveway of a car dealership. At the time, the defendant was driving a shuttle bus off the dealership, onto the road. Before the driver reached the exit, he saw the cyclist on the sidewalk to his right.
Unfortunately for everyone involved, a vehicle was driving along the road to the defendant driver’s left. The driver of that vehicle yielded, inviting the shuttle bus onto the road. The defendant accepted the offer and drove towards the road, colliding with the cyclist on the sidewalk.
The cyclist sued the driver of the vehicle and its owner. He flew across the hood, suffering injuries including chronic back pain.
The Court of Appeal confirmed that while riding one’s bicycle on the sidewalk is a breach of the Motor Vehicle Act, it does not “automatically establish that the plaintiff was negligent and therefore wholly or partially at fault for the accident and his resulting injuries.”
However, a cyclist riding on a sidewalk is under a heightened duty of care – they must exercise extra care and attention for their own safety. Furthermore, the vehicle’s driver is not held to a standard of perfection – they need only drive in the manner of an ordinarily prudent person.
The trial judge concluded that the driver was at fault for the collision. The Court of Appeal agreed with this assessment.
Unlike the situation of a driver surprised by a cyclist in an unexpected location, the driver in this case had seen the plaintiff approach on his bicycle. The defendant then saw the other driver stop, and without looking right, presumed he had enough time to turn in front of the cyclist or that the cyclist would ride behind his vehicle.
The defendant neglected to check that the cyclist was out of the way before proceeding. The Court found that it was open to the trial judge to decide that a reasonably prudent driver would have done so.
The trial judge also decided that the cyclist had satisfied the requirement of exercising a heightened degree of care for his own safety, which applied given that he chose to ride on the sidewalk and against the flow of traffic.
The Court of Appeal noted that the driver had seen the cyclist. However, it said:
“Having been seen did not make the cyclist the dominant driver. He was not entitled to require the [defendant] to give him the right of way while riding on the sidewalk against traffic. The duty to make way for those using the sidewalk and driveways in compliance with their statutory duties underlies the obligation to exercise a heightened degree of caution.”
The Court decided that the cyclist was partially responsible for the collision because he did not stop or slow down to ensure the driver yielded to him before riding in front of the vehicle. The Court decided that the cyclist was 25% responsible. The plaintiff’s contributory negligence served to reduce his damages award.
If you have been injured in a motor vehicle accident, or while riding your bicycle, the trusted personal injury lawyers at Meridian Law Group in Vancouver will provide you with the advice you need in order to determine the best path forward. Our lawyers recognize that obtaining compensation after an accident is often crucial to an individual’s ability to recover given accumulating medical bills or the need to take time off work. To arrange a confidential consultation regarding your personal injury matter, please call us at 604-687-2277 or reach out to us online.