Thomas G. WitkopLaw Offices

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Thoughts on Passenger Opening the Door and Injuring a Bicyclist

What can happen when a driver stops or vehicle in the traveled portion of the roadway adjacent into the left of the bicycle route and the passenger opens the door into that bicycle route? Well, obviously a bicyclist can run into the door injuring herself significantly.

Who is responsible? The driver? The passenger? The bicyclist? Some combination?

I think a proper legal analysis requires concentration on the facts.

This accident happened in Washington DC. In this case the driver stopped the vehicle in the traveled portion of the roadway. The obligation on the driver when stopping to let someone out would be to pull over as far to the right as is practicable. In this case the driver did not do so. The failure of her to do so led to the passenger opening the door causing the collision with the bicyclist. My opinion the driver was negligent for failing to follow the rules of the road and it was reasonably foreseeable that a cyclist would be coming from the right. I believe that the driver is responsible.

The analysis continues. The passenger has an obligation to use reasonable care when getting out of a vehicle. In fact in this case the passenger opened the passenger  door into adjacent traffic in violation of District of Columbia municipal regulation.  Rule 18-2214.4 states, “No person shall open any door of a vehicle unless it is reasonably safe to do so and can be done without interfering with moving traffic, bicyclists, or pedestrians and with safety to such person and passengers.”  Because of that negligence, because of that statutory violation, there was a collision between the bicyclist and the passenger door. I believe that the passenger is also responsible.

Under the common law when two or more people are responsible for their negligent acts they can be held jointly and severally liable for their negligence. In other words, claims would be made against both the driver and the passenger.

Yet the analysis continues. Is the bicyclist responsible? Historically, Washington DC embraced the common-law rule of contributory negligence which states that if the plaintiff is 1% at fault that would be a complete bar to recovery. In other words, if the cyclist was not paying full time and attention, was going to quickly, was intoxicated, was otherwise distracted, some fault could be attributed to the cyclist and it could be a complete bar to recovery.

In 2016 the law was changed in Washington DC.

§ 50–2204.52. Contributory negligence limitation.
(a) The negligence of a pedestrian, bicyclist, or other non-motorized user of a public highway involved in a collision with a motor vehicle shall not bar the plaintiff's recovery in any civil action unless the plaintiff's negligence is:

(1) A proximate cause of the plaintiff's injury; and

(2) Greater than the aggregated total amount of negligence of all of the defendants that proximately caused the plaintiff's injury.

(b) Nothing in this subchapter shall be construed to:

(1) Change or affect the doctrine of joint and several liability or the last clear chance doctrine; or

(2) Reduce the legal protections provided to pedestrians and cyclists under:

(A) § 7-1004; or

(B) § 50-1606.

The way I read this rule is that the bicyclist's claim is only barred if his negligence is greater than 50% of the negligence in the accident.

In my case the accident happened so suddenly that the cyclist had no chance to react. He was properly riding his bicycle, the cyclist had no clue that the door was about to pop open in his path.

I was able to persuade the insurance company insuring the driver of the merits of my client's case and we were able to resolve the matter favorably for my client.

I am a lifetime Washington Area Bicycle Association member and would be pleased to assist you in your bicycle accident related matters.
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