It is an unfortunate reality that cyclists are extremely vulnerable to the actions of careless motorists when riding on the roadways of our nation. And, it should come as no shock to anyone reading this blog that a cyclist’s vulnerability can be increased by certain environmental conditions (fog, poor lighting, wet roads, etc.) and by the characteristics of a given roadway (blind curves, narrow shoulders, obstructions to view, etc.). However, have you ever stopped to consider how the ageof the cyclist may impact upon their vulnerability? If not, stop for a moment to consider the following story which high-lights this very phenomenon.
According to recent news, Shawn Brumbaug, a 13 year old boy from Akron, OH, was reportedly crossing a roadway after nightfall when he was struck by a speeding motorcyclist. The accident was so violent, that it severed the boy’s leg below the knee on impact, leaving him physically and emotionally maimed for life. The motorcyclist who hit him was reportedly ejected in the crash sequence, and subsequently slid under a moving vehicle. The motorcyclist ultimately died from his injuries. In a situation like this, it’s easy to look to the cyclist for blame. After all, by crossing a street he had entered the motorcyclist’s path when he was hit. But, as is often true with bicycle accident cases, one must set aside such knee jerk reactions and look more closely to get to the truth.
First, one must realize that bicycles have the same rights and duties as other motor vehicles in most jurisdictions, including New Jersey. This means that when attempting to cross another vehicle’s lane of travel at an uncontrolled intersection, bicyclists, like all motorists, must generally yield only where the approaching vehicle is so close as to constitute an imminent hazard. As such, provided Shawn began to cross at a point where it reasonably appeared safe for him to do so, it was likely he, not the motorcyclist, who had the right of way. In most circumstances, I would expect this issue to be the focus of the debate over responsibility. And it is possible that Shawn may even have been blamed in this tragic accident but for the existence of some rather rare proof. What proof you ask? Well, Shawn’s accident was reportedly captured by the surveillance cameras of a nearby convenience store. And that video revealed the following important facts: 1) Shawn, who was wearing relatively light-colored clothing, had reached the middle of the roadway before he was hit; 2) the motorcyclist was traveling at very high speed at the time of the accident. Couple this with the fact that, just minutes before the collision, two motorcycles were seen in the area traveling at very high speeds, performing wheelies and generally driving in a reckless manner and it’s not difficult to appreciate that it was likely the excessive speed of the motorcyclist, not any action on Shawn’s part, which was the root cause of this tragic accident and Shawn’s horrific injury.
One must also consider, however, that Shawn’s relative youth and limited life experience may have left him unable to fully appreciate the speed of the approaching motorcycle and the impact that increased closing speed would have on his ability to safely cross the road. As a parent, lifelong cyclist and bicycle accident lawyer, I find that real life examples, such as this case, serve as the best teaching tools to help enhance the safety of children while cycling. Share this story with your children and tell them to give an even larger buffer to approaching traffic, as they may not appreciate how quickly another vehicle may reach them. It’s also important to realize that in most circumstances there won’t be a video to confirm the truth of what occurred in a bicycle accident. Rather, what a victim like Shawn typically needs to secure justice is the immediate assistance of an experienced lawyer. If you, a loved one or friend have suffered an injury while bicycling, contact an experienced bicycle accident lawyer immediately. Doing so may well be the key to obtaining justice.