Dooring a cyclist — what are the liabilities?

You just parked your car on the way to work. When you open the door, you hear a crash and see a biker lying on the street. Just like that, you could be liable for potentially thousands of dollars in damages as a result of accidentally dooring a cyclist.

Dooring, a collision that happens when a cyclist collides with an opening car door, represents 15.2% of reported cycling collisions in Vancouver. It is the most common type of reported cycling accidents tracked by Vancouver’s Cycling Safety Study. The report found approximately two-thirds of dooring accidents occur on streets such as Broadway, Commercial Drive, and Main Street. The common factor? Those streets don’t have designated bike lanes.

If you have an accident involving a cyclist, call us for a free consultation at 604-685-8889.

According to Vancouver’s director of transportation Lon LaClaire, about 10% of Vancouverites commute by bike. Bike lanes are a common sight, and the city is considering adding even more. The weather lets cyclists be on the road almost year round. But the relationship between drivers and cyclists remains frosty as ever. You don’t need to go far to hear either drivers or cyclists complain about the other. 

In the cases we looked at motorists take a lot of the liability for an accident with cyclists — especially in dooring cases. Damages to your vehicle or bike could be high, but if a cyclist is severely injured and you’re found liable, you could be chained to a significant amount of damages.

 

Dooring a cyclist can cost you thousands in damages

Drivers must accept a duty of care when operating their vehicles. This can stick you with hefty damages in the event a cyclist is severely injured as a result of an accident, dooring or otherwise. Under the Motor Vehicle Act, drivers must make sure it is safe before exiting their vehicle.

The Motor Vehicle Act says: 

203(1) A person must not open the door of a motor vehicle on the side available to moving traffic unless and until it is reasonably safe to do so.

But even if you take care and do an over-the-shoulder check before opening your door, there have been cases where drivers were still found liable. 

In Hagreen v. Su, cyclist Hagreen was injured after colliding with Su’s car door. Hagreen was wearing a helmet and estimated his speed at around 25–30 km/h when Su opened his door. The driver had deemed it safe to exit his vehicle after performing a shoulder check and opening his door slightly.

He saw a cyclist six or seven houses back but felt he had enough time to get out. When he opened his door and put his feet out, the cyclist hit his car door. Under cross examination, Su said he didn’t see the cyclist until the door was open and it was too late.

Hagreen injured his upper body and ankle as a result of the collision. He was an athlete and the accident limited his ability to play competitive sports. Hagreen also sustained injuries that required surgeries and physiotherapy, and had to switch to managerial work from his previous job in manual heavy labour.

The judge found Su wholly responsible for the accident: “The door was not opened by Mr. Su until the plaintiff was so close he had no opportunity to brake or to take evasive action.

The judge awarded Hagreen $110,000 for non-pecuniary damages as a result of the loss of enjoyment of life he experienced because of the accident. Hagreen was also awarded $30,000 for loss of income.

 

Leaving your door open to grab your phone can also make you liable

The Motor Vehicle Act also mandates drivers cannot leave their vehicle door open for any longer than necessary to load or unload passengers. In a case out of Vancouver from 2007, a driver parked his truck, turned off the engine, opened his door, and turned to grab his briefcase and GPS. While he was doing that, a cyclist collided with the door of his vehicle.

The driver contended that the door had been open for long enough that the cyclist should have seen it and avoided the accident, however, the judge found no evidence that the cyclist was riding without due care or attention, despite the fact that the cyclist was not wearing a helmet.

The judge instead ruled against the Claimant for infringing on the Motor Vehicle Act, which says:

203(2) A person must not leave a door open on the side of a vehicle available to moving traffic for longer than is necessary to load or unload passengers.

Here’s what the judge said:

The (driver) could have and should have retrieved the articles that he required from his vehicle from the passenger side of the vehicle while standing on the sidewalk. It is not necessary for me to determine whether this conduct was causative of the incident.  In the circumstances, there was no negligence established on the part of the (cyclist).

 

Increased fines for dooring cyclists on the horizon in BC

It should come as no surprise that the BC government is considering raising fines for drivers who door cyclists. In 2014, Global News reported police only issued 22 tickets for dooring between 2009–2013, despite ICBC reporting 370 dooring incidents during the same time period.

Currently, the fine in BC for dooring a cyclist is $81 and two driver penalty points. That’s less than a quarter of what it is in Ontario where the fine is $365 and three demerit points. 

 

What to do if you are door a cyclist or are doored by a motorist

There are a lot of factors to consider when dealing with dooring incidents. What was the speed of the bicycle? Did the driver perform a shoulder check before opening the door? Was the cyclist wearing a helmet? What kind of injuries did the parties sustain? What was the damage to the vehicles? If you were involved in a dooring incident, consider hiring an lawyer to argue the particulars of your case.

We deal with traffic accidents and ICBC claims all the time, whether you’re a motorist or cyclist, our help may be crucial in dealing with your claim. If you have an accident involving a cyclist, call us for a free consultation at 604-685-8889.

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