There are few things better than getting out and riding your bike on a nice day. Maybe you are soaking in the sun or thinking about the things you need to do later in the day. Maybe you are not paying full attention to the parked car ahead. As you near it, the car door suddenly swings open. Without time to stop, you crash into the door. Who is to blame? You? The car-door opener? Both of you?
More importantly than the question of fault—are you OK? The injuries a bicyclist could suffer in being “door-ed” can range from general soreness and a bruised ego to serious and life-threatening injuries. When the injuries are significant, medical bills can add up quickly.
In Oregon and Washington State, the one likely predominantly at fault is the car-door opener. In Oregon (ORS 811.490) and Washington State (RCW 46.61.620), a person should not open a car door “unless and until it is reasonably safe to do so and it can be done without interference with the movement of traffic, or with pedestrians and bicycles…” [ORS 811.490]. Similarly, a person should not leave a car door open longer than is reasonably safe or necessary. Whether a car-door opener is a driver or a passenger—each owes a duty to bicyclists and pedestrians to make sure it is safe to open the car door.
Of course, the “Who is at fault?” question always requires a careful review of all the circumstances at hand. For example, a bicyclist who is paying zero attention at the time an incident occurs or who might be riding in a place where they are not allowed to be or if they are riding at night and failed to have lights or reflectors on their bike—these considerations could affect the analysis and outcome. Depending on the circumstances, a bicyclist might be found to be comparatively at fault or contributorily negligent. The bicyclist might be found to share in the fault, essentially. The total 100% of fault would be divided between the bicyclist and the car-door opener on a percentage basis in those circumstances (for example, 60% and 40% or whatever is appropriate).
One difference in a “door-ed” bicyclist personal injury claim when it is filed in Oregon versus Washington State is the potential effect of that division of fault. In Oregon, if an injured person is deemed to have contributed 51 percent or more in causing the incident, that person would be barred from receiving any compensation. In Washington State, however, an injured person can still recover whatever percentage of his or her damages caused by the car-door opener.
If you were injured while riding your bicycle in Oregon or Washington State and you have questions about whether anyone else might be at fault, contact one of our attorneys to discuss your particular circumstances.