Fatal Cambridge Bicycle Accident Exposes Safety Risks

A bicycle accident claimed the life of a cyclist on October 5 in Cambridge. A man was cycling in Porter Square when he was struck by a rented semi in an area known for frequent close calls between motorists, pedestrians and cyclists.

The accident left morning commuters shocked and community leaders looking for answers. Cambridge Director of Traffic, Parking and Transportation Joseph Barr told The Boston Globe the intersection was “a location of concern for some time,” while Cambridge City Councilor Craig A. Kelley said traffic improvements are needed.

Bicycle accidents killed 13 people in Boston between 2011 and 2015, according to data from The Boston Globe, which also found that accidents involving trucks caused the largest number of fatalities. Data on Cambridge bicycle accidents collected by the city showed a 29% drop in bicycle crash rates between 2004 and 2012. Cambridge notes that drivers pulling from side streets into bicyclists, turning left in front of cyclists and opening car doors into cyclists are the most common cause of accidents.

Taken together, these statements from Cambridge officials and data raise real questions about who is liable in bicycle accidents that result in death or serious injury.

Who is liable in bicycle accidents?
The Commonwealth of Massachusetts has written specific rules that protect bicyclists on city streets, specifically prohibiting motorists from making left turns when a bicycle is already in an intersection or making right turns when there is a bicycle to the right of a vehicle. Motorists who are cited for these violations may be subject to additional liability if a cyclist is injured or killed in a crash.

When are cyclists liable in bicycle accidents?
Cyclists must follow the rules of the road, which generally means riding on the right-hand side or in designated bicycle or share lanes, wearing safety equipment including a helmet, operating at a safe rate of speed, stopping at stop signs and red lights and using hand signals for left and right turns.

Cyclists who are violating these rules at the time of an accident may have some liability, but this will be measured against the liability of motorists involved in accidents. Unless a cyclist is behaving in a reckless manner, Massachusetts generally puts the burden of avoiding an accident on motorists.

Why don’t trucks have side guards to prevent bicycle accidents?

Massachusetts does not currently require side guards on trucks that prevent cyclists from getting pulled under the tires. The City of Boston requires all trucks over 10,000 pounds and tractor-trailers with a combined weight over 26,000 pounds to have side guards only if they are contracted by the City of Boston, which leaves no requirement for privately owned vehicles. New York City has passed a rule requiring side guards on all trucks, but this does not take full effect until 2024.

Unless a bicycle accident in Boston involves a city-contracted vehicle, there is no liability for the driver for failure to have side guards. There may be other liability involving a driver’s operation of a truck at the time of an accident, however.

Is there infrastructure liability in bicycle accidents?

If ample evidence exists of dangerous conditions that contributed to a bicycle accident, there may be liability on the part of the city or town where the accident occurred.

Massachusetts does not mandate bicycle lanes, though it does encourage them. Because no mandate is in place, cities and towns generally hold no liability for failure to provide lanes or specific infrastructure for bicyclists.

Dangerous conditions that are not addressed by cities and towns, such as potholes, faulty signal equipment, missing or loose manhole covers or installations that interfere with traffic flow may be a source of liability if a cyclist can demonstrate that the need to avoid these hazards was a contributing factor in an accident, or if the hazard was the direct cause of an accident.

What should I do if I’m in a bicycle accident?

If you are injured in a bicycle accident, or if someone you know is killed in a bicycle accident, you should speak with an experienced personal injury attorney as quickly as possible, so that any evidence of the accident, including photographs of the accident scene and security camera videos, can be captured and preserved. Documenting the exact conditions at the time of an accident is essential in personal injury and wrongful death cases, and an experienced attorney can sometimes provide additional coverage above and beyond what appears in official accident reports.

Sheff Law provides free consultations to people involved in bicycle accidents. We assign a full team of personal injury attorneys to each case, instead of a single attorney, so that our clients get the benefit of multiple points of view and a deep roster of personal experience in liability cases.

Call us at 1-888-423-4477 or contact us online for a free consultation.

Emergency vehicles at the scene of a fatal bicycle accident in Cambridge, Massachusetts

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