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Bicycle Accidents in Ontario: Who’s at Fault?

By Matt Lalande in Bicycle Accidents on September 10, 2021

Bicycle Accidents in Ontario: Who’s at Fault?

Since COVID started in 2020, our Hamilton Personal Injury Lawyers have seen a substantial rise in the amount of bicycle accidents in the Burlington and Hamilton areas, particularly this past summer. Also, the injuries that we have seen in 2021 traffic-cycling accidents seem to have resulted in quite severe injuries (more severe than usual) – particularly serious head injuries, facial injuries and sadly, fatal head injuries.

Normally, in our experience, a typical bicycle crash does not usually result in whiplash. Typical bike crashes, in most cases, result in serious orthopedic injuries in the upper and lower extremities. Knee and ankle joint fractures are common, as are broken clavicles and shoulder injuries.

Broken wrist bones, as well as wrist injuries (which are rarely seen in car crashes) are also very common in bicycle crashes, as a cyclist commonly reacts by putting out his or her hands to break the fall from the bike. Other common injuries in bicycle accidents also involve superficial trauma such as abrasions (“road rash”), contusions and lacerations. Surgery is often needed in serious crashes to remove debris which is embedded in the skin to prevent what is (quite harshly in our opinion…) called “traumatic tattooing”.

Head injuries are also common in bicycle crashes, despite the highly protective mitigation effects of wearing helmets. In our practice, and despite our clients wearing helmets, we have seen skull fractures, concussions, brain contusions, intracranial hemorrhages, facial fractures and injuries to the jaw and mouth.

Over the past 30 years, countless peer reviewed studies have demonstrated the efficacy of bicycle helmets, showing a lower risk of injury and death for bicyclists wearing helmets compared with unhelmeted cyclists – but one thing remains common – head, brain, and severe brain injuries for bicyclists are still by far the most common bicycle injury that we have seen in our years of practice.

Some Common Bicycle Accident FAQ

  1. My child was hit by a car while riding her bike – should I call a lawyer?

    Absolutely – if your loved one suffered injuries while riding her bicycle you should call our bicycle accident lawyers today. We can ensure that your child's rights are protected and that she obtains the compensation that she deserves.

  2. Is it free to talk to your bicycle accident lawyers?

    Absolutely. Our Hamilton bicycle accident lawyers have been representing victims since 2003 and we would be happy to inform you of your legal rights if you have been hurt in a bicycle accident. We NEVER ask our client for money upfront, under any circumstances.

  3. What laws in Ontario apply to bicyclists?

    Most of the bicycle related laws are found within Ontario's Highway Traffic Act, although municipal bylaws also apply to bicycling as well.

  4. What compensation can you claim in a bicycle accident case?

    If you or a loved one has been hurt in a bicycle accident, you are entitled to claim damages for pain and suffering, loss of enjoyment of life, loss of amenities, lost wages, future economic losses, loss of housekeeping capacity, future health care costs that are outside of OHIP. Family members are also entitled to claim compensation as well.

  5. How do I hire bicycle accident attorney?

    This is not an easy question to answer. We would recommend meeting several lawyers referred through friends or family if you can. A referral through a friend, family, a family lawyer (like your real estate lawyer) or medical providers is always a good way.

  6. Is a bicycle considered a vehicle?

    Yes, under Ontario's Highway Traffic Act (HTA), a bicycle is a vehicle, just like a car or truck.

What are some common bicycle accidents in the Burlington and Hamilton areas?

Contrary to common fears, a rear-end collision, where the motorist rapidly approaches and hits the bicyclist from behind, is extremely rare. In fact, it is perhaps the least common type of bicycle crash reported. Rather, in Ontario, three of the most common car-bicycle collisions are the right hook, the left hook, and being “doored.”

The right hook – this is both the most feared and most common vehicle-bicycle crash, but one that insurance adjusters never seem to understand. Generally, the car is traveling faster than the bike. The car passes the bicyclist, then turns right, cutting the cyclist off without warning.

Often, the motorist makes the turn so quickly after passing the cyclist that, even if the motorist had activated the right turn blinker, the car is already next to the cyclist, so the cyclist can’t see the warning blinker.

In most cases, the motorist either doesn’t see the cyclist at all or makes a bad estimate of the bike’s traveling speed and decides, for some reason, that he/she can make the right turn before crossing the bicycle’s path. The scenario normally does not end well for the cyclist.

The left hook: a variation of the right hook – It is basic law in every Province that a left-turning motorist must yield to oncoming traffic before turning left. Somehow, adjusters do not realize that this applies to bicyclists as well. A left hook bicycle accident happens when a car turns left without yielding to a cyclist who is coming from the opposite direction. Often, left hook accidents occur with the motorist is moving at a high speed relative to the cyclist, leading to significant injuries or fatality for the bicycle rider.

Dooring – the bane of all urban cyclists is being “doored” – or getting hit by a car door that opens suddenly in the cyclist’s path. A cyclists can suffer very serious injuries or death when involved in these types of accidents. Dooring crashes occur when someone in a car opens their door into the pathway of a cyclist who is approaching from the rear. In most cases, the bicyclist ends up flying over the door after hitting it and suffers severe injuries. This type of accident is usually caused by someone in a car who is distracted, inattentive or not watching the roadway when opening their door.

Who’s at Fault in a Bicycle Accident?

Unlike a typical car accident, where the injured person has the onus to prove both that the person who hit them was at fault (liability) and damages (a right to compensation), the law in Ontario states that, a motorist who hits a pedestrian is already “presumed negligent” unless he or she can prove otherwise.

In addition, our Courts have repeatedly stated that a driver who hits a pedestrian cannot discharge their onus (of being presumed negligent) by showing that a pedestrian’s loss or damage was caused in part by their own negligence.

Discharging the reverse onus can only be done by the motorist showing that there was no negligence or misconduct on his part, which he or she can argue throughout the course of the proceedings.

Therefore, a driver must therefore establish in court that they acted reasonably and properly in the circumstances and that there was no negligence or misconduct on their behalf. Conversely you as the plaintiff, must only prove that a collision occurred and that the collision caused his/her injuries.

In short – the law “shifts” from you having to prove that the person who hit you was negligent, to the driver automatically being “presumed” negligent. The rationale for the “shift in blame” was to create extra incentive on drivers in Ontario to be more careful and watchful of pedestrians – who are extremely vulnerable to serious injuries if hit be vehicles. Also, since pedestrians who suffer serious injuries often can’t recall the circumstances surrounding how the accident occurred, the reverse onus or shift in blame compensates for this practical disadvantage.

What obligations are placed on drivers in Ontario?

Hamilton and it’s surrounding towns and communities are home to hundreds of thousands of people – and drivers – who co-exist daily with many cyclists on the road. Understandably, not every bicycle accident can be avoided, but motorists should have a basic understanding of their obligations in relations to accommodating both cyclists and pedestrian on Hamilton’s roads. Our Courts have stated time and time again that:

  • Drivers must keep a proper lookout for other users of the road, including cyclists and pedestrians;
  • Drivers need to exercise particular and additional care when in areas where pedestrians are known to be present, such as residential areas, school zones, and areas of heavy pedestrian use;
  • Drivers must pay attention to their surroundings, at all times;
  • Drivers must ensure that their vehicles are in fit mechanical condition, which includes ensuring that the windows are not obstructed and the mirrors are in the right position;
  • Drivers must travel within the limits of their competence and according to the state of their health;
  • Drivers should never drive while distracted by their passengers, by using electronic devices, eating or drinking, or being engaged in some other task;
  • Appreciate cyclist vulnerability – in a collision involving a 5000lbs truck vs a 20lb bike, the odds are not good for the bike;
  • When making a turn, either left or right, be extra careful about cyclists who are riding beside you, or are crossing the intersection in your opposition;
  • Yield to cyclists and pedestrians who enter the intersection; and
  • Make sure to obey all traffic signs and signals.

What are the expected obligations of a cyclists in Ontario?

Under the Highway Traffic Act of Ontario, a bicycle is a vehicle, has the same rights and responsibilities as other motorists and must have a responsibility for their own safety. Like motorists, cyclists must also be conscientious and vigilant of other drivers on the road. Cyclists must also keep a proper lookout, for example, for traffic turning left or right before entering into an intersection.

Cyclists must also avoid proceeding into intersections when it is unsafe to do so. For example, a cyclists can be accused of not taking reasonable care for his or her own safety if they ride their bicycle across the path of a car that is clearly exiting a parking lot.

Another issue could be when a cyclist fails to dismount at a crosswalk. A cyclist can be held partly at fault for riding his or her bicycle into a crosswalk, contrary to the provisions of the Highway Traffic Act.

Can a cyclist be liable for his or her own safety is he or she is wearing airpods? The answer is perhaps. In the case of Ormiston (Litigation guardian of) v. Insurance Corp of British Columbia, a cyclist was riding down a steep hill, while listening to music on his iPod. A car veered into his path as he was passing it on the right-hand side. Although the Court mostly focused on the fact that the cyclists passed the vehicle on the right contrary to the applicable
legislation, his use of the iPod as a distraction was considered – and his contributory negligence was assessed at 30%.

Other obligations imposed on cyclists in Ontario include:

  • making themselves visible;
  • having proper reflectors or lights if riding at night;
  • obeying traffic signals;
  • not wearing dark clothing if cycling at night – or rather – wearing reflective clothing;
  • crossing at a crosswalk if a crosswalk is reasonably close by;
  • like motorists, cyclists should also maintain proper lookout and;
  • yielding to vehicular traffic with the right of way.

If I’ve been hurt in a bicycle accident, should I hire bicycle accident lawyer?

If you have suffered injuries in a bicycle accident in Ontario, you may want to hire an experienced Hamilton bicycle accident lawyer to help protect your interests. Remember, the insurance company will be doing everything it can to minimize the claim, avoid providing the appropriate no-fault benefits and avoid paying fair compensation to cover the injured bicyclists’s expenses, damages, and future needs. Don’t not try to litigate your case alone. Ontario insurance laws are extremely complex and the litigation process is long, expensive and requires substantial investment. It’s extremely important that you hire an experienced bicycle accident attorney to handle your personal injury claim, especially when the injuries are serious or permanent or when they involve significant scarring and/or disfigurement.

Our Hamilton bicycle accident lawyers have been representing injured cyclists in Hamilton, Burlington and throughout the Southern Ontario region since 2003. If you or your loved one has suffered a bicycle accident injury, call is today at 905-333-8888 and we will be happy to speak to you and inform you of your legal rights.

Remember, we NEVER ask our clients for upfront fees and we only get paid, if you get paid.

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