Cycling in any city is risky, and with Long Island’s history of high accident rates and high speeding rates, it’s even more dangerous for bike riders in Long Island. Cyclists have the right to use the roads, but even the safest cyclist can still suffer injuries due to negligent drivers.
Dooring or an open-door accident happens when someone opens a motor vehicle door into the path of another road user. Dooring happens, for example, when the driver of a parked car opens their door and an on-coming vehicle smashes into the door.
In busy areas worldwide, including parts of Long Island, doorings are the more common and most hazardous bicycle-vehicle encounters. Of course, any passing vehicle can smash into a negligently open door or injure an existing occupant of the vehicle.
Who Is at Fault in an Open-Door Accident?
Most traffic laws require that a cyclist rides in a bike lane or to the right of traffic. Unfortunately, this places them very close to parked cars. The law requires drivers and passengers to look for bike traffic before opening a door, but they don’t always do so.
For example, under New York State law, opening a door on the traffic side and leaving it open when available to moving traffic for an extended period is against the law.
When a driver opens a door or leaves one open for longer than permitted, and a cyclist or motorcyclist hits the door, the driver can be liable for the injuries and losses of the victim. You must prove liability for your dooring accident, so always speak with a bicycle accident lawyer as soon as possible.
The Death Zone
Generally, bike riders try to stay more than five feet away from a parked car. Bikers prefer this distance because three to five feet is the width a door is likely to open on the rider. Therefore, riders call this area the “door zone” of the vehicle.
Further, according to bike riders, the three to five-foot door zone is the death zone for the bike riders. Riding within that zone is viewed as the surest way to get hit by an opening car door.
Person Who Opened the Door
Who is at fault is not always easy to determine in any accident. On the other hand, the person who opened the car door is virtually always at fault. Most states even say so as a matter of law. The law says that the parked person who opened the door isn’t moving.
For this reason, that person has time to check for someone in the lane before they open the door. The person who hit the door was moving and may have had minimal opportunity to avoid hitting that door.
To avoid dooring accidents, the law says the one who is going to open a door should:
- Not open a car door unless it is reasonably safe, and you can do so without interfering with other traffic.
- Not leave a door open on the traffic-facing side of a vehicle any longer than necessary.
- Not open a door within checking the mirrors first to ensure that traffic is clear and no vehicle or cyclist is heading toward the car.
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Driver/Driver Where Driver Hits Parked Car Door
Generally, when a parked car occupant opens the door, and the door gets hit by another car, the parked car will be liable because of the obligation to check for oncoming traffic. However, there are a few exceptions to this rule.
The factors that the courts will look at include:
- Right of Way – If the car or cyclists that hit the door had the right of way, the driver of the parked car should likely be liable.
- Checking Mirrors – Did the occupant check the mirrors before opening the door? They must do so and will be responsible if they don’t.
- Speed of Moving Vehicle – If the moving vehicle was speeding and the parked car occupant could not see the oncoming vehicle, that driver may bear liability for the accident.
- Distracted Driver – Distracted driving is the fastest-growing cause of accidents in the U.S. today. Often, the moving driver was distracted by reading or sending a text, eating, putting on makeup, or similar conduct. Such distraction argues that the driver may have had time to avoid the accident absent the distraction.
Driver/Cyclist Who Hit the Open Door
In some circumstances, however, the person who hit the door may share liability. Sometimes, there may be an opportunity for the moving driver to avoid hitting the door. If there was such an opportunity and the moving driver or cyclist did not take advantage of it, then the person who hit the door has some fault in the accident. Factors that can enter into this finding include whether that driver was going too fast for conditions (or above the posted speed).
All drivers must take evasive actions to avoid an accident when possible. If, for instance, the driver that hit the door could have moved to the left and avoided the collision, their failure to do so can allocate fault to them. Of course, whether there was such an opportunity is a matter of facts and circumstances, and the accident participants will likely have very different recalls of those facts and circumstances.
Open Car Door Hits Bike
Not only can the cyclist hold you liable in an accident where you open a door and hit a bike, but in many jurisdictions, you must pay a fine. Chicago, for example, imposes a fine of $150 on a driver whose open vehicle door interferes with a bike. If there is a collision, the fine goes up to $500.
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Bike Hits Open Car Door
When a bike is traveling on the road, the rider must stay to the right of traffic. This expectation means it will be in a bike lane or on the driver’s side of parked cars.
These conditions mean that the bicycle has little room to maneuver to avoid an open door:
- Bike Lane Present – More and more urban and suburban areas are adding bike lanes to their roads. Unfortunately, this may have increased the number of dooring accidents because the cyclist using the lane is always between the inside traffic lane and the area where cars parallel park. Often the lane is narrow, forcing the cyclist to ride within the door zone. When a door opens into the bike lane, it doesn’t allow the cyclist room to move left, giving them no choice but to hit the car door.
- No Bike Lane – In this situation, the cyclist should ride near the curb. This puts the riders close to any parallel parked cars when the doors open. The rider has no place to move if a door suddenly opens. If there is much traffic, the rider, already trying to pay attention to many things, may simply have too little time and attention to get out of the way.
Car Hits Open Door When Pulling Into Parking Space
If a driver hits a car door while pulling into a parking space, the moving car is probably liable. First, the person in the parking space will have assumed no one was there because no one was when they pulled into the space. Moreover, presumably moving slowly, the moving driver should have many opportunities to avoid the accident.
However, if the moving car was well into the parking space when the door opened, that driver has no way to prevent the accident, and the parked vehicle may bear a more significant percentage of liability.
The participants in this kind of accident often have strikingly different memories of the event, not surprisingly usually favoring their lack of liability. Sometimes examining the damage to the car door and the moving car can make the timing somewhat more precise.
Common Injuries in Open-Door Accidents
Statistics relating to dooring collisions show that they are just slightly safer than other bike-car collisions. Unfortunately, that translates into an 80 percent chance of injury versus a 94 percent chance of injury.
There is not a marked preference between those numbers. Nonetheless, it might be worth considering since the most severe door-related injuries occurred to cyclists swerving to avoid the door.
Certain injuries are typical of dooring accidents. Bear in mind that, for bikers in general, their relatively unprotected status means that their injuries are generally severe.
Common injuries include:
- Whiplash – Whiplash is an injury to the neck’s soft tissues caused by rapid jolting and jerking of the head. While the injury may not be immediately apparent, whiplash can be a severe injury resulting in lifelong chronic pain and limitation of movement.
- Severe lacerations and road rash – Because cyclists do not usually wear much protective clothing, any accident can result in violent contact with the pavement and even dragging. This contact can cause severe lacerations and even tear away skin and muscle down to the bone. Scarring and loss of mobility can result from these injuries.
- Fractures and dislocations – The biker has no adequate protection from the weight and mass advantage held by the vehicle. The forces of the accident can throw the biker some distance, and the blunt force of the collision can be pretty significant. In either case, the bike rider is likely to suffer dislocated joints and broken bones.
- Internal injury and bleeding— – As noted, the mass and force of the collision are hugely in favor of the motor vehicle, not the bikers. The impact can cause internal injuries to vital organs and lead to internal bleeding, which can be fatal within a short period. Further, if a rib gets broken, the rider may suffer a punctured lung or other damage from the broken bone.
- Concussion and traumatic brain injury – Even though most serious riders today wear helmets, the possibility of traumatic brain injury is lessened, not eliminated. The TBI happens because your brain moves around inside your head. Although a skull fracture can cause TBI, a TBI doesn’t need to occur. Even seemingly mild brain trauma can result in potentially fatal complications. The “mild TBI” designation relates only to the initial presentation of symptoms and not to your overall prognosis. TBIs that medical professionals deem mild can still be severe injuries resulting in serious and lasting effects and complications. If you are diagnosed with TBI, you should remain on watch for any complications or lingering effects.
- Neck and spinal cord injury – Neck and spinal cord injuries are typical in dooring, mainly because of the significant weight and mass difference. Either can result in temporary or permanent paralysis, the severity of which will depend upon the location of the injury. High cervical spine injuries create quadriplegia; lower injuries may only cause paraplegia.
What to Do if You Are in a Dooring Crash?
First, of course, get medical attention as quickly as possible. Your health is the most critical concern, and you should not do anything else but seek treatment if you are not in a medical condition to do so.
Getting a diagnosis of all your injuries right away can help your physical recovery process and also the legal process. Your bicycle accident lawyer can use your initial medical records to prove the injuries you suffered and how they occurred.
When you can do something, your most important step is to contact a law firm or attorney specializing in cases like yours. Dooring cases have unique issues, and an attorney will better handle your case who knows the issues involved. Your attorney can gather evidence and obtain documents that you can’t and can contact persons listed in the accident report.
It is your turn to focus on your physical and mental recovery from your accident and injuries. Let a skilled attorney serve as your zealous advocate for the financial recovery and compensation you deserve.