It’s a situation no bicyclist wants to experience: They’re riding along, enjoying a beautiful day, and then seemingly out of nowhere, a car door opens and slams into them, causing injuries. This is an accident known as “dooring.” It can be severe, causing significant injuries (some life-changing) or even death. While it may seem logical that the person in the car is liable, there are some situations where the bicyclist is blamed. Here’s what you need to know.

Is the Person Who Opened the Car Door Always Responsible for a Dooring Injury?

No. Even if the bicyclist is injured, they must prove that the person who opened the car door was negligent or careless. To succeed in court with a claim of negligence, the bicyclist must prove four things:

  • Duty. The person in the care owed you a duty of care. That means they were required to act responsibly. In this case, it meant they should have carefully looked out the car window before opening the door to make sure they wouldn’t hit anyone. 
  • Breach. When someone doesn’t act with due caution, they’ve breached the duty of care.
  • Causation. This is the part that tends to get the most attention in court. The breach of duty of care led to the accident and the resulting injuries. There are some situations in which the bicyclist may be found negligent, such as if they violated New York’s biking laws (see below). Causation has two parts, each of which must be proven in court.
    • Cause in fact: The injuries would not have happened if not for the person’s negligent opening of the car door.
    • Proximate cause: The injuries were something that could foreseeably have happened by the opening of the car door. 
  • Harm. The injuries caused financial damages (medical bills, lost wages, etc.).

What Are New York’s Bike Laws?

New York’s bike laws specify that bicyclists must ride in the street, not on sidewalks, unless the rider is age 12 or younger and the bicycle’s wheels are less than 26 inches in diameter.

They should use marked bike lanes whenever available, and they should ride with traffic, not against it. Violating any of those laws could cause a bicyclist to be held at least partly responsible for a dooring injury.

What Does New York Law Say About Opening Car Doors?

New York’s Vehicle & Traffic law Section 1214 mandates that people opening car doors into moving traffic are responsible for ensuring they will not obstruct traffic by opening the door in a reasonably safe way. They must not leave the door open any longer than necessary. No one should get out of a vehicle in a way that interferes with the right of way of any oncoming traffic, including bicycles.

What Are Other Reasons a Bicyclist Might Be Held Responsible for a Dooring Incident?

Besides breaking New York’s biking laws (above), if a bicyclist saw a vehicle was parked with its brake lights on, they could reasonably think a door was about to open and slow down or leave extra room when passing. If a bicyclist was seen veering in and out of lanes in a reckless manner, they could be held liable as well.

Because there are many interpretations of how an accident happens, if someone has been doored, they should prepare to defend their actions rather than assume they’ll be viewed only as a victim. Working with an experienced bike accident attorney is recommended to have the best preparation for court.

What Is Pure Comparative Fault and Does It Apply in New York?

Personal injury cases are subject to comparative fault in New York. That means the entire liability for damages may not go to just one person involved in the accident. Suppose a jury determines that both parties were partially responsible for the accident. In that case, they’ll assign each a percentage of the blame, which can affect how much damages the injured bicyclist will receive. For example, a bicyclist is doored on the street. But nearby security camera footage and eyewitnesses show the bicyclist was looking at their phone while biking. The jury could say that the bicyclist was also negligent and thus is 40% responsible for the accident. If the damages were to be $10,000, the bicyclist’s share would be reduced by 40%, giving them $6,000.

What Should I Do if I Was Doored While Riding My Bike?

First, see a doctor as soon as possible. Some injuries, including serious conditions, don’t always exhibit symptoms immediately. If you feel well enough at the time of the accident, call the police to file a report. If there are any witnesses at the accident site, get their names and contact information. It’s good to take a look around and see if there are homes or businesses nearby that might have security cameras that recorded the incident.

Then call us as soon as possible at 914-946-2500 to request a free strategy session with one of our White Plains bicycle accident attorneys. We are experienced and knowledgeable in “dooring” cases and will work to get you the best outcomes.

Something you should not do: Talk to the driver’s attorney or insurance representative. Their goal is to get you to take responsibility for the accident. If they try to offer you a settlement, understand that the amount they offer is likely much lower than the fair value of your injuries.

Do not sign any papers provided to you by the driver’s insurance company until you have spoken with a lawyer