This week’s question comes from Jim C. in Concord who asks:
Q: “I was walking down the sidewalk in the same direction of travel as the cars along side of me, when I was hit from behind by a person on a bicycle. I was badly injured. The bicyclist told the police that he didn’t see me before hitting me because he was balancing a box on the handlebars which blocked his view. What is the law on bicycles on the sidewalk and who is going to help me pay for my injuries?”
A: Jim, I wish I could say that pedestrian-bicycle collisions are infrequent, but as the weather gets better, more pedestrians and bicycles are out and about. The issue of whether bicycles are allowed to ride on sidewalks is one of local regulation.
First, bikes must follow all of the same rules of the road as other “vehicles.” California Vehicle Code Section 21200 states: “(a) A person riding a bicycle or operating a pedicab upon a highway has all the rights and is subject to all the provisions applicable to the driver of a vehicle by this division. …
California Vehicle Code Section 21650 states: “Upon all highways, a vehicle shall be driven upon the right half of the roadway, except as follows: (a) When overtaking and passing another vehicle proceeding in the same direction under the rules governing that movement.” It goes on to say that “ this section does not prohibit the operation of bicycles on any shoulder of a highway, on any sidewalk, on any bicycle path within a highway, or along any crosswalk or bicycle path crossing, where the operation is not otherwise prohibited by this code or local ordinance.”
I did a cursory search of the Concord Administrative Code and found the following regarding the operation of bicycles on sidewalks. Concord Municipal Code Section 10.45.120 states that bicycles are permitted to ride on sidewalks so long as they ride in single file and follow the provisions of California Vehicle Code Section 21200. Section 10.45.120 states that “Persons riding or operating bicycles in the city shall not ride more than two abreast, except on paths or parts of a roadway set aside for the exclusive use of bicycles; provided, further, that persons riding bicycles on the sidewalk shall do so in single file.”
A 1993 Opinion authored by the California Attorney General states that people riding bicycles on sidewalks are subject to the same Vehicle Code requirements that apply to persons riding bicycles on roadways and may be subject to additional local regulations.
California Vehicle Code Section 26708 prohibits vehicle operation with blocked or obstructed forward vision. Although this references windshields and objects blocking the view for a drivers looking forward, it can be extrapolated to bicyclists with blocked vision as they must follow the same regulations as other vehicles. Regardless of any statutory guidance on the subject it is axiomatic that someone should not be driving or operating a vehicle, whether it is a bike or a car, when they can’t see past an obstruction which they have placed in their field of vision.
Therefore, it appears that liability of the cyclist is clear. The bigger question is who will pay for your injuries. As there is no law requiring that bicyclists carry liability insurance, it is often the case that they have no liability insurance. The exception is when the bicyclist is working or if they are a homeowner. If they are working at the time of the incident then their employer’s insurance may provide coverage for your injuries as the law holds employers liable for the harms caused by their employees while engaged in the employer’s business activities. If the bicyclist is a homeowner they may have a type of insurance called “umbrella coverage” which simply means that insurance follows them rather than it is attached to their property or their vehicle.
So, if they have umbrella coverage, they may have insurance coverage for the harms flowing from this negligence.
Try contacting the cyclist and see if they were either working or have insurance. Unfortunately, when contacted following an accident like this, most people “clam-up” and refuse to answer these questions or suddenly claim that they are not at fault. If that happens, you will need to obtain the services of a contingent fee trial lawyer who can represent you in exchange for a portion of the recovery.