Dooring Accidents: Who is Liable?
It is a common scenario: someone is getting in or out of a parked car, and they open their door. When the door opens, it hits a bicyclist, or else, the door swings out into oncoming traffic, and impacts a vehicle or causes an accident. Sometimes, an open door to a car just stays open for too long, long enough that an oncoming cyclist or car hits the door.
There is actually a name for these kinds of accidents: it’s called “dooring,” and it can create a lot of legal issues when it does happen.
Why Dooring Accidents Happen
People, once parked, tend to open their door automatically and without thinking. If the car is adjacent to a lane of traffic, people may pay a bit more attention, but if not, people rarely look out for bicyclists.
Some of today’s cars do have technology that will warn someone opening a door of an adjacent object coming in their direction, but not all cars have this, and the technology is not the most reliable. That means that dooring accidents still happen.
Cases Can be Difficult
When they do, there is often a lot of finger pointing as to who is liable. The parked car will say a bicyclist should have observed the door opening, and maneuvered around it. Conversely, the bicyclist or other vehicle will say that the person getting out of the car, should have looked, and waited, before swinging their car door open.
Making these cases even more complex is that in some cases, it may be impossible not to swing a door open into oncoming traffic or cyclists. Many streets with parallel parking, simply aren’t designed to give cyclists the clearance that they need to safely open doors. Conversely, with cyclists, even if they did see, and observe a car door swinging open, there isn’t much a cyclist can do—many times the only option would be veering into traffic, or onto terrain that would end up upending the bicycle anyway.
Dooring accidents can be especially dangerous because a bicycle can be knocked over with even slight force. Even just a swipe or incidental contact with an opening door, can land a bicyclist on the ground.
Who is at Fault?
In Massachusetts, dooring accidents start off with the assumption that the occupants of the vehicle are at fault—the law says that people who open doors can only do so when it won’t interfere with traffic or bicyclists. Massachusetts is one of only 40 states that have dooring laws.
But that is a presumption that can be overcome; dooring accidents are judged on a case by case basis. And cyclists who ride without helmets are especially vulnerable to being blamed for their own injuries.
Were you injured by a door swinging open or by a parked car with its door open? Call the Boston personal injury lawyers at The Law Office of Joseph Linnehan, Jr. today at 617-275-4200 for help if you have been injured in a dooring accident.