Evidently, juries blame the bike-riding victims too

Maryland injury lawyer Ronald V. Miller, Jr. forwarded a couple of interesting links.

They show that while the average jury award in a bike case is $279,970, the median is only $50,000, thanks to a handful of high verdicts that skew the average. And they reveal that cyclists only prevail in 41% of cases — something that hasn’t significantly changed in the past 20 years.

In case you wonder why, you only have to look as far the comment section of virtually any online story about bicycling. There are people who just don’t like cyclists and don’t think we belong on the roads — and believe anything that happens to us as a result is our fault, regardless of what the law says.

And those are some of the same people you’ll find in jury pools.

To put it in perspective, motorcyclists injured by cars — hardly a popular group in our society — prevail in court roughly two-thirds of the time.

Which means we’re even less sympathetic to jurors than your neighborhood biker.

As Miller’s legal partner, Laura G. Zois, put it,

The motorcycle thing (that) drives our lawyers crazy is when we know our client is a motorcyclist who did the right thing and the defense lawyer is just using the bias against motorcyclists in a way that completely ignores the real facts. But I’m amazed this same bias also exists to bike riders.

Miller himself adds,

I think the relatively low success rate of bicycle accident cases at trial is a general bias against bikes that may be even stronger than the bias against motorcycles. Many jurors, who typically drive cars, simply think bicycles shouldn’t be on the road.

However, one place I disagree with him is that, like our mayor, he calls for a mandatory helmet law.

While I never ride without one — and credit mine for saving my life in the Infamous Beachfront Bee Encounter a few years back — I think making helmet use mandatory would be counterproductive.

As others have pointed out, despite the low rate of helmet use in many parts of Europe, the injury rate is also significantly lower, which many people ascribe to the greater number of cyclists on the road and greater emphasis on accident prevention. And there is evidence to suggest that the reduction in injury rates in areas with helmet laws is due to a decline in ridership after the law takes effect, rather than an actual reduction in the rate of injuries per mile travelled.

I think a program to encourage helmet use — such as a tax break for buying a helmet or a discount on insurance rates for using one — would do far more to increase the number of riders who wear one, as opposed to a more punitive approach that might only increase the percentage of helmet use, while reducing the actual number cyclists on the road.

On the other hand, one study I haven’t seen yet is the effect helmet use has on jury verdicts.

I have a feeling most jurors would look far more favorably on an injured rider with a skid lid than one without one.

And be far more likely to blame the helmetless rider for his own injuries.


I love this comment from Meghan Kavanagh on her Facebook page; made, she said, in frustration after nearly getting run over from both directions while in a crosswalk:

We should not have to educate seniors, pedestrians, and cyclists on how to deal with reckless drivers. We should stop the reckless driving.

Pretty much sums it up, doesn’t it?


Cyclist and attorney Ross Hirsch updates his webpage, and looks like the bike attorney he is. Mayor Villaraigosa’s bicycle proposals go before the Metro board on Thursday. Car-less Valley Girl finds her bike helmet a useful prop for social interaction. Stripes hit the L.A. River Bike Path through Elysian Valley. The Claremont Cyclist discovers the joys of the unexpected. Turns out the “don’t touch my junk” guy is one of us. Bicycle cops are the best bet for improving campus security. The San Francisco Bicycle Coalition gives out free lights to Ninja cyclists by the Bay. Cyclelicious demonstrates how to avoid the door zone; SF Streetsblog asks if you should say anything to riders who ride there.

An appropriately named Boulder, CO cyclist is arrested for biking under the influence with a BAC of .215. The ups and downs of bike commuting, and a look at Chicago’s Cocktail Party Ride. European car manufacturers are getting on the bike bandwagon; will Detroit follow suit? Can death and serious injury ever be eliminated from our roadways? An off-duty Connecticut police officer was drinking before he ran down a teenage cyclist, but fellow officers neglected to give him a blood test; link courtesy of Urban Velo. Advocacy group People for Bikes gathers their 150,000th pledge; you’ll find mine somewhere around 20,000 or so.

The lead investigator in the Lance Armstrong Inquisition meets with the French anti-doping agency. A London cyclist finds her stolen bike, only to have it slip through her fingers. Regular exercise, such as bicycling, is one of the best things you can do for your health.

Finally, after the year with no summer, this is what November looks like on the beach. And it turns out the reason we need a Subway to the Sea is that above ground rail has been permanently barred from Wilshire Blvd, as in forever.

A couple quick personal notes — a speedy recovery to Rach, who survived a silent collision with a Prius last night, and says she managed to capture a photo of the suspect. Welcome to Cheryl T, who recently bought a bike and joined the L.A. cycling community; remember, new girl buys the donuts. And happy anniversary to LAPD Chief Beck, who in one year has done more to improve relations with the cycling community than all the chiefs who came before.


  1. anon says:

    While the percentage of successful bicycle plaintiffs vs. successful motor vehicle plaintiffs raises concerns, the other statistic you cite – the median jury award for bicycle plaintiffs – is useless without context. How does that compare to jury awards for motorists, both in terms of: 1) disparity between median awards for cyclists vs. motorists; and 2) disparity between the mean and the median for motorists? Without knowing these statistics it is impossible to draw the conclusion that you seem to be implying from the $50,000 median.

  2. For more on the attitude of the non-cyclist on bikes, read this story about a driver who hit and killed a boy on his bike and now is suing the boy’s parents because the boy had no helmet, http://www.grist.org/article/2010-11-15-driver-kills-boy-on-bike-sues-boys-parents. Never mind that the driver was going 83 mph in a 45-mph-zone, or that he had four convictions for DUI on his record. He’s still suing for the mental anguish caused by his hitting and killing this boy.

    • bikinginla says:

      Yeah, that case is just too bizarre for words. I hope the judge throws it out of court and charges him court fees for wasting their time.

  3. This is another reason why we need a national vulnerable user law similar to those in place in many bike-friendly countries (Denmark, The Netherlands) and in three states (Oregon, Delaware and New York). http://akpedbikealliance.wordpress.com/2010/08/30/%E2%80%A2-new-york-and-delaware-approve-vulnerable-user-laws-during-august/

    • bikinginla says:

      Agreed. I’m not a fan of vulnerable user laws that merely increase penalties for hitting a vulnerable user (cyclist, pedestrian, road worker, etc.). I just don’t think they act as an effective deterrent; after all, no driver thinks they’re going hit anyone. But I do support a modified version of the European strict liability laws, which would assign greater liability — and therefore, greater responsibility — to the operator of the more dangerous vehicle. For instance, truck drivers would have greater responsibility to operate their vehicle safely than car drivers, who would have more responsibility than cyclists, who would have more responsibility than pedestrians, and so on. I think that might finally get drivers to recognize that their cars are dangerous vehicles, and get them to drive more safely. And it might get cyclists to be a little more careful in crosswalks and on sidewalks.

  4. Jonathan says:

    Big difference between bicyclists and motorcyclists is that motorcyclists have insurance. One of the reasons why I keep a non-driver auto insurance policy is that in case I get in a crash and end up in court, I have an insurance company and a good lawyer on my side. How many bicyclists go to court pro se or with an inexperienced lawyer?

    • Bob Mionske wrote about bikes and insurance before, and says your automobile UM/UIM or PIP policy may cover you if you’re injured while riding your bike.

      I was talking with local lawyer Shaana Rahman about this a couple of weekends ago. She takes bicycle personal injury cases because she’s a cyclist and advocate, but it can be very difficult finding an attorney who will take a case because of the low success rate and low payouts.

      • bikinginla says:

        My car insurance covered me under the uninsured motorist part of my policy when I was injured in a road rage case a few years back. And as you note, I was unable to find a lawyer until one of my in-laws took the case on as a favor, even though he’d never handled a bike case, because the potential award wasn’t worth enough to justify an attorney’s time.

    • bikinginla says:

      Too many, Jonathon. As I learned in my case, even the most well-intentioned attorney can’t provide much help without an understanding of bicycling. Bikes don’t respond the same way cars do in collisions, and most people — jurors, judges and lawyers included — don’t know the fine points of bike law and safe riding techniques. And unless you find an attorney who does, your case isn’t like to go very far.

  5. […] of African Americans in cycling and a group that is seeking to change that pattern. Biking in L.A. reports that an analysis of rulings in jury trials involving injured cyclists shows a clear bias […]

  6. […] In LA covers this topic in more detail, outlining jury trial success rate and average and median awards when a cyclist tries to recover […]

  7. Cheryl T says:

    Thanks, Ted!

  8. Wow – you really hit the nail on the head with the impression that jurors would look more favorably on cyclists that are wearing a helmet while injured. It is always a focus of some frustration how many times a cyclist can get leg, arms, or ribs broken – none of which are protected by helmets – but if they were bare-headed at the time then somehow folks think their injuries are their fault.

  9. […] Evidently, juries blame the bike-riding victims too – There seems to be a lot of bias against cyclists. When they are involved in a court case they only win 41% of the time. […]

  10. Jim says:

    I’m not sure that a 41% success rate reflects jury bias–it may reflect optimism by cyclist plaintiff’s (or their lawyers).

    Cases where the outcome is obvious should settle, so we would normally expect that if the lawyers are all good forecasters, then 50% of cyclists and 50% of motorcyclists should win.

    The lawyers quoted seemed to expect a bias against motorcycles which was not borne out, which tells me that defense lawyers are failing to settle motorcyclist cases when they are more likely to lose than win, while bicycle plaintiffs are failing to settle when they are more likely lose than win.

    But this is only about 10% of the cases in either event. If we knew that the cyclists had a great case in 100% of the cases, then 41% would reflect a serious anti-cyclist bias. But we don’t know that at all More typically there is great ambiguity with both parties exhibiting less than perfect driving and a jury forces to consider whose error was the more serious, or whether the motorist or cyclist is more likely to remember whether the cyclist ran a red light.

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