What To Do If A Loved One Was The Victim Of A Fatal Bicycle Accident
An Unexpected Accident
Early one morning just last summer, a married couple, who were champion tandem bicyclists and owners of a bike shop, were struck by a speeding vehicle while they were biking near Lake Havasu City. The wife was killed instantly. The husband was seriously injured and despite the best efforts of his doctors, he died from his injuries about a week after the accident. The couple each had about 40 years of experience bicycling competitively and were known to always wear helmets and protective gear. Even so, when they were hit by the car, they lost control of their bike and their protective gear proved useless in preventing their deaths.
According to the Arizona Department of Public Safety, the driver was cited for “traveling at a speed unreasonable to prevent an accident.” Troopers found no evidence that the driver was impaired by alcohol or drugs and did not cite her for that violation.
Losing a loved one to death is always a sad experience. When the death is due to the negligent acts of another, the loss may be overwhelming. In the case of the husband and wife who were killed, the citation of the driver for traveling at an unreasonable speed will be evidence that she was negligent and can be used against her if the survivors decide to file a wrongful death lawsuit.
Although most all bicycle accidents are caused by negligent drivers, there are other negligent circumstances that result in bicyclists suffering fatal injuries. For example, if bicyclists unexpectedly hit a pothole, they may catapult over the front of the bike and land on their head suffering fatal injuries. Or, the loss of control of the bike may send bicyclists into the path of an oncoming car or down a hillside.
There are also rare cases where the bicyclist is the one at fault. If your loved one was killed in a bicycle accident, you need to consult with a personal injury attorney who will review the circumstances surrounding the accident and determine if you have a wrongful death claim and, if so, who you should include as defendants in your lawsuit.
Why File a Wrongful Death Claim and What You Have to Prove to Win
In 1967, two psychiatrists, Thomas Holmes and Richard Rahe, were concerned about how stress affects people’s lives. They studied 43 different life events and, based on survey answers of thousands of people plus their review of medical records, the doctors ranked the events according to the stress each one caused. The list became known as the Holmes-Rahe Stress Scale and is still used by psychiatrists and psychologists today. On that scale, the death of a spouse is the number one stressful live event. The death of a family member is number five on the scale.
In addition to the stress and pain and suffering survivors experience when a loved one dies, they frequently suffer economic losses. When these losses are due to the negligent acts of another person, the person who caused the death of the bicyclist, survivors deserve to be compensated for their losses.
The general law applying to wrongful death claims apply when the wrongful death is due to a bicycling accident. According to Arizona law, if the person who died had lived, and could have brought a personal injury lawsuit based on a wrongful act or negligence of another, then survivors of the deceased may bring a wrongful death lawsuit. The lawsuit must be filed no later than two years after the death which was caused by the accident.
The survivor or survivors who bring the lawsuit must prove that the death of their loved one was caused by the negligence of the person or entity they are suing. If the driver was cited for a violation, such as in the case of the husband and wife killed in Arizona last summer, the burden shifts to defendants to prove that, despite the citation, they were not negligent and did not cause the accident.
In addition to proving negligence, survivors who bring a wrongful death law suit they must also prove they are suffering a loss for which they can be economically compensated.
Main Causes of Fatal Bicycle Accidents
Some of the main ways drivers are found to be negligent in causing the wrongful death of bicyclists include:
- Driving at a speed unsafe to prevent an accident even if complying with the posted speed limit.
- Driving over the posted speed limit.
- Running a red light.
- Making an unsafe turn.
- Weaving into the bike lane.
- Distracted driving.
If the negligent act is not only negligent, but reckless or rises to the level of intentionally disregarding the safety of others, criminal charges may also be filed by the state.
Who Can Sue for Wrongful Death
Each state has its own rules for who can bring a wrongful death lawsuit. Arizona limits such lawsuits to:
- A surviving spouse.
- The children of the deceased.
- The parent or guardian of the deceased.
- The personal representative of the estate of the deceased.
- If a person entitled to file a wrongful death lawsuit, files the suit and then dies while the suit is pending, the personal representative of that person may pursue the action. In other words, the wrongful death lawsuit does not go away just because the person who brought it then dies.
Arizona does not allow live-in companions to bring a wrongful death lawsuit no matter how many years the survivor may have been together with the deceased nor how close their relationship was. Siblings are also denied the right to bring a wrongful death lawsuit.
Who Can Be Sued
Whoever was at fault for the accident that claimed the bicyclist’s life may be included as a defendant in the wrongful death lawsuit. This includes:
- The driver of the vehicle who was at fault for the accident.
- The governmental entity who was responsible for maintaining the roadway, such as the municipality, city or state, when the death was caused by negligence in allowing dangerous road conditions to exist.
Defenses that May be Used by the Defendant to Avoid Liability
Bicyclists are required to follow the rules of the road, which gives drivers who are sued for wrongful death a chance to claim the deceased bicyclist was the negligent one who was at fault for the accident. They may claim the bicyclist ran a red light, turned abruptly into their pathway or were riding the wrong way on a one-way street. A bicyclist is not considered negligent for failing to wear a helmet or other protective gear.
Damages in a Wrongful Death Case
There are two categories of damages that are available in a wrongful death case. One category goes to the decedent’s estate. The second category goes to the family members.
Damages that Go to the Estate
These are losses suffered by the estate due to the wrongful death. They include:
- Payment of all medical expenses incurred by the decedent including costs of emergency care.
- All burial expenses.
- Future wages that would have been earned by the decedent if he or she had not been killed.
- The pain and suffering endured by the decedent between the time of the accident and death.
Damages that Go to the Survivors
The actual damages that are paid depend on the role of the survivor who is the plaintiff. Surviving spouses may collect damages for the loss of handyman or household services. All may collect for their specific loss of the decedent’s companionship and their own pain and suffering they experienced due to the loss.