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Am I Liable for this Accident?
April 23, 2009 9:36 PM   Subscribe

Liability filter: I was involved in accident and need to know if I will be held liable.

I was sitting in a taxi in heavy traffic, but was very close to my destination. I told the driver I would just get out then and there. He said ok. I paid him, then opened the door and WHAM a bicyclist went flying through the air. He may have broken an arm, possibly dislocated a shoulder, and his bike was damaged. But he was conscious, and I don't think he'll require surgery. I saw no blood. An ambulance came. I gave his brother, who was riding with him, $80 for the ambulance, as well as my drivers license number and phone number. I want to help, but I also want to know where I stand: if I am liable, if I can have a claim filed against me, if I can be sued, etc. Presumably the cab company might be liable instead of me? I don't have insurance.
posted by anonymous to Law & Government (15 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
 
IANAL and I don't know where you live, but, where I live, the driver would be liable for what his car does. See this explanation. But, at the bottom of that page, there's an incident where a passenger opened a door and hit a cyclist. The wording is a bit unclear, but it sounds like the passenger (who fled the scene) was 100% at fault. Since you offered up money and your contact details, you should go see a lawyer, unless someone here can speak to the law in your jurisdiction (and you'd need to say where that is).
posted by acoutu at 9:45 PM on April 23, 2009


Well, anyone can be sued for anything. But which door did you open-- the one between the cab and the curb? Or the one out into traffic?
posted by Maisie Jay at 9:46 PM on April 23, 2009


IANAL and I'm sure that the particular insurance laws of your state/country differ, but in these sort of civil things, the lawyers will go after everyone possible to make sure that the victim here--presuming the bicyclist was himself not contributory--gets medical bills (at the very least) covered. That means you, the cabbie, the cab company, etc.

You say you don't have insurance, but are you talking about driver's/auto insurance? You weren't driving. I suppose some auto insurance cos. would cover that, but so will condo/home insurance. You don't have that either? Why?

Anyway, you can probably get better advice from someone licensed in your state as an attorney. Spot the $50-75 (or wait til May 1 when many cities have free ask the lawyer day!)
And the way these things go, whether judge or jury or arbitrator, they will figure out who was contributory and to what percentage (if at all) and split the damages accordingly.

Seriously. Check your homeowner/condo/renters insurance or call yr agent to find out if they offer any sort of legal coverage in this situation.
posted by beelzbubba at 9:49 PM on April 23, 2009


By liability I assume you mean civil liability? It's possible that you are 100 percent liable, it's possible that you are 0 percent liable, and there's a whole range in between. For instance, it might have been partially the cab driver's fault by failing to see the cyclist, etc, or it might have been partially the cyclist's fault for failing to yield. It's impossible to answer these sort of questions without knowing where this accident took place and what the laws are in that jurisdiction.

The more practical question is "will you get sued?" Do you have significant assets? If you don't, it is possible that the cyclist will never bother suing you and go after parties with money/insurance. Again, impossible to know for sure unless you actually talk to a lawyer about it. In the long-run, all these liability questions will be answered by whether or not you get sued and how that plays out.

IANAL and this is not legal advice. Go find a lawyer if you think you need one.
posted by Happydaz at 10:10 PM on April 23, 2009


IANAL too, but it seems to me you had a duty of care to not open the door without confirming there wasn't a cyclist moving rapidly toward it. It certainly seems to me that you've been negiligent in that duty. I don't see why the cabbie would come into it.
posted by pompomtom at 10:26 PM on April 23, 2009


Anyone can be sued - the question is will they have a chance of winning.

In a lawsuit, expect the focus to be on the parties with the deepest pockets (the taxi's insurer).

And the cyclist? I believe they 1) struck your taxi driver's stopped vehicle and 2) weren't in control of theirs.
posted by zippy at 10:47 PM on April 23, 2009


And the cyclist? I believe they 1) struck your taxi driver's stopped vehicle and 2) weren't in control of theirs.
I don't get angry on this site very often, so I'm just going to assume you've been fortunate enough to have never won any door prizes and wish you continued good fortune.

this book might cover this situation, or at least steer you towards an answer to your question. When you find out, please update this thread - I'm very curious.
posted by Acari at 11:05 PM on April 23, 2009


IANALY, and IANYL; this is not legal advice; etc. Just be cool till you know what posture the injured guy is taking against you. As to the question of whether you are liable, other posters have noted that we can't really say. This is an application of Rice's Theorem.
posted by grobstein at 11:15 PM on April 23, 2009


And the cyclist? I believe they 1) struck your taxi driver's stopped vehicle and 2) weren't in control of theirs.

I believe you have no idea what you are talking about. Obviously local laws vary depending on your location, but in, for example, New York (for some reason my gut is telling me this took place in NY, but it doesn't really matter-- many if not most cities have this sort of law), traffic code section 4-12 (c) states:
(c) Getting out of vehicle. No person shall get out of any vehicle from the side facing on the traveled part of the street in such manner as to interfere with the right of the operator of an approaching vehicle or a bicycle. [cite]
Now, we have no idea what the exact circumstances were surrounding this accident. Perhaps anonymous was getting out onto the sidewalk, and the bicyclist was whipping along the sidewalk at an unsafe speed. But that's not what it sounds like. Phrases like "sitting... in heavy traffic" and "get out then and there" sound to me like anonymous decided to get out of the cab in the middle of the street. If this is what happened, and it happened in New York, anonymous would be very likely to bear some legal liability for the cyclist's injuries and the damage to his bicycle.

As other have stated, lawsuits generally target those with deep pockets, and unless anonymous is an AIG exec rolling in TARP funds, the cab company likely has the deepest pockets. That said, the only way for sure anonymous can find out what his legal liability is in this situation is to consult a competent attorney who is familiar with this area of the law, and who practices in the jurisdiction in which the incident took place.
posted by dersins at 11:27 PM on April 23, 2009 [1 favorite]


I'd think that the $80 was a tacit admission of fault. IANAL, but at this point, I'd think the depth of your pockets and the good nature of the injured party would be the main criteria for whether or not you get named in the suit.
posted by BrotherCaine at 11:27 PM on April 23, 2009


I am not your lawyer.

1) Yes, you can get sued - in theory. The question is whether you can be held liable. That depends on both the law in your jurisdiction and the particular facts of your case (and, if this were to proceed to trial, how the factfinder would decide any disputed facts). I strongly recommend consulting with a local lawyer to get a better sense of these issues.

2) As zippy suggests, the parties most likely to get sued are those who lie at the intersection of a) capability of being held liable under the law and facts and b) having the deepest pockets. That could be the taxi company or its insurer. (Vicarious liability under the doctrine of respondeat superior probably means that the cab company rather than the driver would be liable if there is liability... but I certainly couldn't say for sure.) If you are wealthy, it might be you. Again, that would depend on the law & the facts, which is why again I'd advise consulting an attorney. The

2a) But hey, it's always possible that a non-deep-pocketed party gets sued, especially if, say, the biker doesn't have major injuries but winds up out a few grand on hospital bills and thinks you have the dough (and his lawyer thinks you can be held liable, or at least would cry uncle rather than fighting it out). Also, you don't mention whether the biker got the taxi driver's information. If he can't obtain that info, then you might be the only party he's aware of to sue.

3) Years ago, before I became an attorney, I served on a civil jury with facts somewhat similar to those you allege here. A woman in a parked car opened the driver's side door and a woman on a bike immediately struck it, went flying and was injured. The woman in the car admitted she had reached over to take her purse off the passenger seat and did not look before she opened the door.

We the jury also believed that the biker had been acting recklessly by biking too fast and by not wearing a helmet. We divided liability 50-50, which, under New York State law, meant that whatever damages we awarded to the biker, she only received half, since we deemed her halfway liable for the accident. (The question of how much damages is not relevant here because the alleged injuries appear to differ substantially.) Note that this system of assigning liability varies widely from state to state. I believe the defendant was insured (and that her counsel was provided by her insurer), but I can't say for sure, and in any case, whether the defendant had insurance was not something we were permitted to take into account in our deliberations, nor did we.

I would not be surprised if some folks (even or especially the OP) disagree (perhaps sharply) with the decisions made by the jury I sat on. All I can say is, you weren't in that courtroom, and my fellow jurors were smart and attentive (which is a lot more than I can say for the judge or lawyers). And again, the facts don't line up precisely with yours, though they are similar. But my point in describing this case is to demonstrate that it's very hard to know how a jury might assign liability. Another set of six jurors might have found the defendant blameless, or vice-versa. And if you aren't in the United States, the procedure could be so wildly different that none of this is relevant at all. I know I'm a broken record at this point, but just another reason to consult an attorney.
posted by DavidNYC at 11:31 PM on April 23, 2009 [2 favorites]


Regarding BrotherCaine's statement, the Federal Rules of Evidence, for instance, state the following:
Rule 409. Payment of Medical and Similar Expenses

Evidence of furnishing or offering or promising to pay medical, hospital, or similar expenses occasioned by an injury is not admissible to prove liability for the injury.
This is because the law does not want to discourage good-hearted (or guilt-ridden) souls from offering to pay for medical care for folks they might have injured because they're worried such payments would be held against them.

Now, these are just the federal rules. State rules, which would probably govern if a lawsuit was brought in state court, might vary. I would guess that most states have similar rules for similar reasons, but I definitely cannot say for sure, and we also don't know what state the OP is in.
posted by DavidNYC at 11:38 PM on April 23, 2009 [2 favorites]


More info from a lawyer who handles suits like this in Massachusetts:

No matter which side of the car the opened door is on, Fischer said, in about 40 states the law puts the presumption of fault on the motorist. However, Massachusetts has not adopted that provision of the Uniform Vehicle Code. Bike advocates have lobbied unsuccessfully for the Massachusetts Legislature to adopt the car door rule, which simply says: "No person shall open the door of a motor vehicle on the side available to moving traffic unless and until it is reasonably safe to do so."

Also, in my prev. comment, I was not wishing harm to the cyclist. I am a regular bike commuter and, while I haven't been doored, I have been in bike / car collisions.
posted by zippy at 11:46 PM on April 23, 2009


[comment removed - if you can't answer without eye rolling please don't.]
posted by jessamyn at 8:22 AM on April 24, 2009


It sounds to me like the OP is describing a situation where traffic was barely moving at all. So, does this mean that the cyclist was weaving through the stalled traffic? Would that change things? More detail would be nice.
posted by Jupiter Jones at 9:04 AM on April 24, 2009


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