Alabama Bike Crash Law – Know the Legal Road

Alabama Bike Crash Law
Mark Wolfe – September 2021

It’s not surprising we represent dozens of injury and death claims related to cycling crashes every year. That’s because Alabama bike crash law and safety consistently falls near the bottom of the annual ranking by bike safety advocacy organizations. A lack of infrastructure allowing motorists and cyclists to safely share the road; weak legislation and enforcement; and general anti-bicyclist bias leave Alabama 45th out of 50 on the 2019 Bicycle Friendly State Report Card.

For the past 20 years I’ve taken part in bike races and triathlons as an avid part of the Mobile Bay-area bicycle community.  Groups of us gather on early mornings or late afternoons to ride together in large safe numbers, well-outfitted in safety gear and lights, following every safety rule of the road.  Still, most all of us can count some injury from an accident or crash involving a motorist.

A Seasoned Cyclist and an Everyday Danger

In a recent case, we recovered damages for a local cyclist hit and injured after a careless driver ran a stop sign.  Amy was riding in the mid-afternoon, wearing highly visible attire and a helmet with headlight.  She proceeded with the right of way when the driver failed to pay attention and drove right into her.   Fortunately, the helmet saved her from serious injury.  While not a high-profile or high-dollar case, we vigorously fought for the compensation she was due in not only a defense of her rights as a cyclist but a statement of advocacy for those who enjoy biking across Alabama.

Why Alabama’s Contributory Negligence Law Matters

First and foremost, it’s essential to understand Alabama bike crash law for all ages. Alabama bicyclists are required to follow the same traffic laws as any other driver.  When those “rules of the road” are violated or a bicyclist is negligent, the results can be tragic.  Alabama is one of just two states with a contributory negligence law. Contributory negligence means even in a crash resulting in injury or death, you may forfeit the right to pursue damages in a civil lawsuit if the other party can establish any negligence on your part. Alabama law regarding contributory negligence is especially tough. Essentially, if an injured person is just one percent at fault for causing an accident, they may be precluded from any recovery. For example, Alabama law requires a red rear reflector on bicycles for nighttime riding. Using “blinkys” (battery powered blinking lights) instead of a red rear reflector could be enough to establish that the rider was partially at fault, thus precluding any recovery of money for injuries suffered in the accident – even if the motor vehicle operator was 99 percent at fault for causing the accident.  Failing to follow basic Alabama traffic rules may impact your claim for damages and even result in criminal penalties of your own.   Make sure you understand the law.

Alabama Bicycle Law

Alabama Code applies all state traffic laws to bicyclists as well: “Every person riding a bicycle upon a roadway shall be granted all of the rights and shall be subject to all of the duties applicable to the driver of a vehicle by this chapter, except as to special regulations in this article and except as to those provisions of this chapter which by their nature can have no application.

Under the Code, it is illegal for a bicyclist to:

  • Transport more people than a bicycle is designed or equipped to hold;
  • Attach himself or herself to another vehicle while riding upon a bicycle;
  • Ride more than two abreast, unless doing so along a specifically designed bicycle path;
  • Share the road with other vehicles when an adjacent bicycle path has been provided;
  • Transport packages or articles that prevent him or her from keeping at least one hand on the bicycle’s handlebars;
  • Ride his or her bicycle on a sidewalk or sidewalk area unless it is to access a driveway.

Bicyclists are also required by law to:

  • Stay as far to the right side of the road as feasibly possible;
  • Equip their bicycles with a white light lamp on the front for nighttime riding, which can be seen by oncoming drivers from at least 500 feet away;
  • Equip their bicycles with a solid red reflector on the rear, which can be seen by a vehicle traveling anywhere from 100 feet to 600 feet behind the bicyclist;
  • Have their bicycles equipped with a brake capable of making a skid on dry, clean pavement.

Bike Helmets Are a Must

Alabama law requires those under 16 to always wear an approved helmet when operating a bicycle, or when riding as a passenger on any public roadway or path. Child bicycle passengers who are less than 40 inches tall or who weigh less than 40 pounds must be properly secured in a bicycle-restraining seat, in addition to wearing an approved helmet.  Parents may be liable if they knowingly allow their children to violate any of these laws.  Is your 13-year-old out riding without a helmet? You could face legal trouble.

Tips to Help Keep Cyclists Safe

As a bicyclist, or a parent of children who ride bicycles, it’s important to not only understand Alabama bike crash law but safety measures that can keep you and those you love safe.

  • Abide by the helmet law at all times. Even if your age does not require it, this safety feature is critical in helping riders avoid a serious head trauma in the event of an accident or collision. The most serious and potentially deadly cycling injuries involve head trauma. Wearing a helmet saves lives.
  • Never ride on sidewalks. Ride along the right side of the road, as close to the curb as possible, or along designated bicycle paths. This way you will not put unsuspecting pedestrians at risk.
  • Carefully observe parked vehicles. When riding past parked vehicles, move far enough to the left so that you can avoid colliding with an open door.
  • Make sure your bicycle has a working front headlight and red rear reflector.
  • Follow the rules of the road. If you are sharing the road with other drivers and vehicles, you must adhere to the same rules and regulations.
  • Be especially vigilant at driveways and intersections. While you may be able to see the other driver or vehicle, never assume they can see you.
  • Wear bright clothing whether riding during the day or at night. Reflective clothing and lights can also help you remain visible to vehicles traveling in any direction.
  • Keep your eyes on the road. Your senses of sight and hearing can save you from a tragic accident. Stay alert – headphones can be a distraction.
  • Use hand signals to indicate turns. Be sure to give yourself enough room to exercise your intended turn or lane change.

 

What is Alabama’s Three-Feet Law?

Alabama approved a “Safe Passing Law” in 2015, requiring motorists maintain a minimum 3-feet space between their vehicle and any bicycle it approaches and passes.    The problem? It only applies when there is a marked bike lane, on certain higher-speed roadways, or when a bicyclist legally rides within two feet of the right shoulder of a roadway. These limitations are severe and undermine the law’s ability to protect a cyclist.

Alabama is now putting federal dollars to work on several bicycling and walking projects – a trend in the right direction.  Laws that better encourage and protect cyclists and pedestrians; and a commitment to Complete Streets with future road planning would do much to improve Alabama’s dismal Bicycle Friendly report card rating.

What If I’ve Been in a Bike Crash?

First and foremost, we don’t call them bike accidents, and neither should you. The word “accident” implies the incident was “unavoidable.”  There’s a big difference in an accident… and a crash. Consider the safety tips below:

  1. Always carry a cell phone, personal identification, emergency contact and something to write with.
  2. Dial 911: call the police or an ambulance immediately. If you are unable to do so, ask for help.
  3. Always wait for the police to arrive and file an official report. A police report provides documentation detailing the incident, including the identity of witnesses.
  4. Get the business card of the officer.
  5. Leave your bike in the same state it was after the crash, if possible. It is best if the police see the accident scene undisturbed.
  6. Were there witnesses? Make sure to obtain their contact information.
  7. Immediately seek medical attention, either at the scene, the emergency room, hospital or doctor’s office. If in doubt, always go to the ER. Medical records are proof of your injuries and their extent.
  8. Take photos of injuries and your bicycle.
  9. Never negotiate with the driver of the vehicle, regardless of who may be at fault. Get the driver’s name and his or her insurance information, along with the names of any passengers.
  10. Make no statement to insurance until you talk to a lawyer.

 

Get Involved

The Alabama Bicycle Coalition provides an in-depth look at how the Alabama State Code applies to bicycles and bicyclists, along with advocacy programs and events statewide. There are plenty of ways to support legislation and awareness programs to make sharing the roads safer for all of us.

If you or a loved one has been involved in a bicycle crash, make sure to consult an attorney seasoned in Alabama bike crash law.  We’re passionate about the rights of cyclists and ensuring your compensation when another driver is at fault. Please call us for a no-fee no-pressure consultation: 251.433.7766.

Estate of Pierce v. Monumental Life Ins Co., Claim Number 07003142

Type of Case: Wrongful Denial of Life Insurance Benefits Facts: This claim involved a denial of accidental death benefits. After Mr. Pierce was killed in a motorcycle accident, his family made a claim for accidental death benefits under a life insurance policy issued by Monumental Life Insurance Company. The claim was denied based upon an “exclusion” in the policy. BF&W was retained by the family to investigate the denial of benefits. Mark Wolfe asked that the denial of benefits be reconsidered and he submitted supporting documents and legal citations which clearly showed the exclusionary provision cited by the company in its original denial was not applicable based upon the facts of the underlying accident. After reconsideration, the benefits were paid in full without need of litigation.

F&S Marine LLC v. Indemnity Insurance Company of NA, et al., CV 2009-900715

Type of Case: Wrongful Denial of Insurance Benefits Facts: This insurance benefit case involved a significant loss claim for F&S Marine LLC (F&S) at a shipyard job site in South Carolina. F&S submitted the claim for the loss and it was denied because the insurance company claimed F&S was not covered for the loss. Mark Wolfe of BF&W was retained by F&S to investigate and prosecute this matter. Pre-litigation attempts at resolution were not successful and a lawsuit was filed. Shortly after filing the lawsuit, a confidential settlement was reached in the matter.

Estate of Rose Clark v. Hartford Life Insurance Company, Claim Number: ADD-10900 49-59141

Type of Case: Wrongful Denial of Life Insurance Benefits Facts: This claim involved the denial of accidental death benefits. Ms. Clark died from a cerebral hemorrhage ten days after she had a fall at her house. At the hospital, and before her death, medical personnel indicated to her family that the cerebral hemorrhage appeared to be trauma related. Based upon these observations and comments, her daughters who were beneficiaries under an accidental death policy issued by Hartford, submitted a claim. After six months the claim was denied by Hartford because their adjuster did not believe the cerebral hemorrhage was of an “accidental origin.” Mark Wolfe of BF&W was retained to prosecute the appeal of the denied benefits. In support of the appeal, BF&W submitted a full set of relevant medical records including the digital CT scan related to the cerebral hemorrhage as well as affidavits from a radiologist and a neurosurgeon. Both doctors testified that based upon the medical records and the CT scan, the cerebral hemorrhage was of traumatic origin and consistent with a head trauma. After reviewing the documents and material submitted by BF&W, Hartford reversed its previous denial and paid the full amount of life insurance benefits owed along with accrued interest.

Gradford v. Nicholas Concrete

Type of Case: Personal Injury & Workers Compensation Facts: Mark Wolfe took over the appeal of this case after a jury returned a verdict in favor of the Defendant. (The lawyer who had represented the vicim at trial did not want to file an appeal.) The case was reversed and remanded by the Alabama Supreme Court based upon an incorrect jury charge and was settled in mediation for $220,000.00 in advance of the new trial.  Read the full opinion here.

Voivedich v. Douglas CV 01-1630

Type of Case: Motor Vehicle Collision Facts: This case involved a motorcycle collision with a small farm tractor. The accident happened when Mr. Voivedich ran his motorcycle into the back of a small farm tractor being operated by the Defendant on a rural Mobile County road. Mr. Voivedich received extensive injuries including the loss of part of his right foot. There was a dispute as to the lighting conditions at the time of the accident. The tractor was being operated without any lights or reflective warning devices but the Defendant contended that it was dusk and there was enough light that Mr. Voivedich should have seen the tractor. Mr. Voivedich stated it was dark at the time of the accident and his testimony was later verified by an independent witness. The case then settled for the full policy limits of the Defendant, $301,000.00. Mark Wolfe handled the case for the firm.

Lockwood v. Hicks and Nationwide Ins. Co., CV 05-4256

Type of Case: Motor Vehicle Collision & Workers Compensation Facts: At about 6:30 am on April 18, 2005 the Defendant lost control of is car. His car went off the roadway at over 50 miles per hour and across an apartment complex parking lot. The car hit a van parked in front of the Plaintiff’s apartment. The force of the impact launched the van into the Plaintiff’s apartment where the Plaintiff was sitting on his living room sofa having a cup of coffee and checking his morning office e-mail on his laptop. The van partially landed on the Plaintiff shattering his collar bone and severely injuring his foot as well has hurting his back and neck. The Defendant claimed he blacked out because of a sudden medical emergency, which is a defense to a claim of negligence under Alabama law. During the discovery phase of the lawsuit, it was determined that the Defendant’s “black-out” was caused by his misuse of medications.  Mark Wolfe represented the victim in his liability case as well as his workers’ compensation case.  A policy limits settlement was reached in the liability case and the victim received a Permanent Total Disability award on the workers compensation claim.

Westbrook, et al v. Jones, CV-00-1173

Type of Case: Wrongful Death-Motor Vehicle Collision Facts: This tragic accident occurred on June 20, 1999 in Mobile County, Alabama when a drunk driver ran a red light at a high speed and crashed into a van occupied by the Westbrook family and friends as they were returning from a trip to Disney World. Four year old Joia White was killed in the accident and her grandfather, Elmore Westbrook, Jr. died about two weeks later from complications of his injuries. Because there was limited insurance coverage available, Mark Wolfe did not charge a fee for his services. A 2.5 million dollar judgment was obtained against the drunk driver for the victims and their families.

Holmes v. Progressive Halcyon Insurance Company, U.S. Federal District Court No.1:07-487

Type of Case: Motor Vehicle Collision  Facts: On July 29, 2005 Dewana Holmes of Mobile was driving in Montgomery. As she was stopped in traffic her vehicle was rear-ended by another driver. At first, she did not think she was injured bad enough to require a trip to the emergency room. However, after a few days the pain complaints in her lower back had gotten worse and she sought follow up care from her family doctor in Saraland. This began a long and arduous course of care and treatment which ultimately required surgery for a herniated disk in her lower back. The surgery did not fully relieve her pain complaints and she ultimately had to stop her work as an insurance billing clerk for an area dentist. The insurance company for the at-fault driver eventually paid the limits of their liability insurance coverage, but that amount was inadequate to compensate Dewana for the totality of her injuries. Because of this she filed a lawsuit against her own automobile insurance carrier (Progressive)for underinsured motorist benefits. Progressive vigorously denied her claim for benefits and aggressively defended the case. At trial, the Progressive attorney told the jury that Dewana and her husband were trying to “put one over” on their insurance company. The jurors did not believe that and after only 30 minutes of deliberation they returned a verdict for Dewana in the amount of $205,721.07 which was the exact amount requested by BF&W attorney Mark Wolfe in his closing argument.

Tyler v. WillBros Group Inc., CV 08-900951 – Mobile County

Type of Case: Motor Vehicle Collision Facts: Early on the morning of November 27, 2007 Mr. Tyler was on his way to work. He was traveling on St. Stephens Road when a vehicle coming the opposite direction suddenly swerved into his lane of travel striking his vehicle head-on. The vehicle that struck Mr. Tyler was being operated on behalf of the Defendant, WillBros Group, Inc. Mr. Tyler suffered numerous injuries including a complex fracture to his hip that required surgery and hardware to repair. He was out of work for almost a year recovering from his injuries. Mr. Tyler, through his hard work, was able to return to his pre-collision employment with no physical restrictions. He was also lucky enough to have an employer who held his job open for him during his recovery and rehabilitation. Mark Wolfe of BF&W represented Mr. Tyler in the matter. A settlement of $650,000.00 was reached shortly after the mediation and a few weeks before trial.