Fatal Bicycle Accident in Severna Park in Dark Lighting Conditions

Police are investigating a fatal bicycle crash that happened the evening of Friday, October 7, 2011 in Severna Park, Maryland. A 40 year-old cyclist sustained fatal injuries after a car struck him from behind on northbound Veterans Highway. The collision drove the man into the car’s windshield. Police responded shortly after 7:30 p.m., and the cyclist was pronounced dead after arriving at the hospital by helicopter.

The initial investigation has not shown any evidence of speeding or alcohol use as a factor in the accident. Police named “bicyclist visibility” as the accident’s cause, noting that the cyclist was dressed in dark, non-reflective clothing and that the accident occurred in a dark area of the highway. The driver of the car apparently simply could not see the bicycle, according to the investigation.

The Maryland Department of Transportation reports that there were 686 reported bicycle crashes in 2009, the most recent year for which statistics are available. Of those, there were 10 fatalities and 578 injuries. The Department notes that 40% of all bicycle crashes and 57% of all fatal crashes occur between 4:00 p.m. and 8:00 p.m. The cyclist was found to be at fault in 86% of all fatal Maryland crashes and 52% of the total crashes. “Fault” in bicycle accidents is determined the same way as in accidents involving only automobiles.

Maryland law treats bicycles the same as automobiles. Cyclists must take reasonable safety precautions, and car drivers must give the same consideration to a bicycle as they would to another car. For an automobile, reasonably safe driving in the evening or at night involves the use of head- and taillights and extra attention to surroundings that may be obscured by darkness. For cyclists, reasonably safe operation involves not only lights but some form of reflective clothing. Riding a bicycle at night is particularly dangerous, given the difficulty of seeing bicycles in the dark. Maryland law only requires helmets for people under the age of 16, but it applies all the same rules of the road to bicycles as to cars. Bicycles must obey traffic lights and signs, and cyclists may not wear headphones while riding.

From the standpoint of liability for injuries, courts will look at how both the injured party and the allegedly negligent driver behaved. If a court or jury concludes that the injured person did not behave reasonably safely, any award of damages may be reduced to compensate for the injured party’s own negligence. This is known to lawyers as contributory or comparative negligence. Juries will often make a proportional determination of liability when determining damages. For example, if a jury finds that a cyclist struck by a car was not operating the bicycle in a safe manner, the jury may determine that the cyclist was 25% at fault, and they would reduce the damage award to 75% of the total. An injured party found to be greater than 50% at fault would receive nothing, but usually would not automatically end up owing money to the defendant. In the case of the accident in Severna Park, it is too early to say how liability might be assessed, but it raises issues of everyone’s responsibility to drive or ride safely, regardless of who ends up injured or worse.

Maryland injury lawyers Lebowitz & Mzhen represent people injured in accidents on the roads, and help to maximize the determination of the other party’s liability. For a free and confidential consultation, contact them today.

Web Resources:

Bicycle Safety Summary, Maryland Department of Transportation, State Highway Administration
Bicycle Safety, Choose Safety for Life Campaign

More Blog Posts:

The Fight Against Distracted Driving: Baltimore County Lawmaker Pushes for Tougher Cell Phone Driving Law, Maryland Accident Law Blog, February 16, 2011
Family of Baltimore Bicyclist Settles Maryland Tanker Truck Accident Lawsuit Over His Wrongful Death, Maryland Accident Law Blog, December 2, 2010
New Laws to Prevent Maryland Bicycle Accidents Take Effect, Maryland Accident Law Blog, October 11, 2010

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