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Assessing fault for car and bicycle collisions

The Maryland Highway Safety Office reports that there are approximately 816 bicycle crashes each year. About 80% of these result in serious injury or death. These generally fall into two categories — falls and collisions. The stakes of these crashes rise precipitously when it comes to collisions with motor vehicles. 

Although bicycle riders are more vulnerable than drivers, they are not always absolved of fault in an accident. 

Negligence and proximate cause 

Maryland, as FindLaw explains, determines fault in bicycle collisions with vehicles according to negligence in much the same way as a collision between two vehicles. Fault in a collision depends on both negligence and proximate cause. In other words, law enforcement and courts will assign fault based on whether each party was negligent, and whether this negligence caused the collision. 

Duty of care

Parties are negligent insomuch as they fail to exercise the duty of care they owe to the other party. Bicycle riders may be at fault by riding on the wrong side of the street or by disobeying traffic signs, among other things. Similarly, drivers may be at fault if they are driving recklessly, speeding or disregarding traffic laws. 

If either party failed to practice due care in his or her behavior, an officer or judge may assess responsibility for the resulting incident. When the rider is a child, the justice system holds a driver to a higher duty of care. 

Contributory negligence

Often, an injured party will want to bring a claim to court to seek damages. Most states recognize comparative negligence in these cases, meaning that the injured party may still seek compensation even if he or she was partially at fault for the collision. 

Maryland is one of only five states who instead subscribe to the doctrine of contributory negligence, or pure comparative negligence. Under this doctrine, Marylanders are ineligible for damages if they were in any way at fault for the collision. However, there are some exceptions to this doctrine. It is essential to carefully prepare a claim in Maryland.