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Can a Drunk Cyclist Sue for Crash Injuries?

Cape Coral bicycle accident lawyersDrunk driving has long been a serious problem on Florida roads, but increasingly, so is drunk bicycling. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reports alcohol intoxication was a factor in 37 percent of all deadly bicycle crashes in 2017. That includes both motorists and cyclists.

As our Cape Coral bicycle accident lawyers can explain, not only can bicyclists be arrested for DUI just like drivers, the fact of a bicyclist’s intoxication can hurt the chances of securing a favorable verdict or settlement in the event of a crash with a car.

That is not to say it is impossible for a cyclist to win a bicycle accident lawsuit if he or she consumed alcohol prior to a crash. Frankly, it can make for a tougher case resulting in a reduced damage award. It is a fact that can alter your attorney’s strategy during settlement negotiations and at trial, so it is important to be forthright with your lawyer early on when discussing your legal options.

Recently, Law.com reported a nearly $11.5 million verdict in a Florida bicycle accident lawsuit is in jeopardy after the Fla. 4th District Court of Appeal sent the case back to the trial court for reconsideration, based on the intoxication level of the cyclist. With a reported blood alcohol concentration of .23 (well above the .08 per se threshold for drivers), the plaintiff was found 40 percent at-fault for the crash. His attorneys had argued his alcohol consumption was not a significant contributing factor in the collision.

The Palm Beach County resident was badly hurt when he was struck from behind by a work van in Coral Gables. It was 6 a.m., still dark out, and the defense noted he had neither lights on his bicycle nor reflective clothing. His boot heel, defense lawyers asserted, would have covered the reflective striping on the pedals of the bicycle, making him difficult for drivers to see. (Florida bicycle regulations are spelled out in F.S. 316.2065.)

The bicyclist later sued both the company that owned the van and its employee for negligence.

Impaired Bicycling Hurts Chances of Compensation if a Crash Happens

Both defendants denied liability for the plaintiff’s injuries, with expert witnesses for their team arguing that a person with that BAC would be uncoordinated and dizzy, likely struggling with balance, swift reaction time, depth perception and decision-making.

The jurors set the plaintiff’s damages at $11.4 million but determined he was 40 percent at-fault, meaning he is only entitled to collect $6.9 million.

But the defense appealed, citing the trial court’s grant of plaintiff’s motion for a directed verdict and later jury instructions that the bicyclist’s consumption of alcohol did not cause or contribute to the crash. The judge did this will also asking the jury to determine if the plaintiff was negligent and the extent if any to which that negligence might have contributed to his injuries. This, the 4th DCA ruled, was an error, particularly in light of Florida Statute Section 768.36.

This statute is an exception to Florida’s pure comparative negligence standard. As our Cape Coral bicycle accident lawyers can explain, Florida allows victims in a crash to recover compensation for their injuries even if they were partially at-fault. Even if a victim was 99 percent at-fault, the pure comparative negligence standard allows them to collect the remaining 1 percent from the at-fault defendant. But F.S. 768.36 holds that if a plaintiff was alcohol-impaired and that intoxication resulted in the plaintiff being more than 50 percent to blame for their own injuries, he or she will not be entitled to any damages.

Here, the 4th DCA panel ruled, it was the jury’s duty – not the judge’s – to determine the plaintiff’s negligence before tackling the damages portion of the trial because that element was a matter of fact, not law.

Appellate justices also ruled that the court failed under the Daubert standard of scientific evidence to properly vet a plaintiff expert witness who argued the plaintiff could not have been impaired to the extent the defense argued because if he had, he would have been “all over the roadway, maybe up on the sidewalk…” This did not reflect an accurate reconstruction of the events before and after the bicycle accident in question.

For these reasons, the case will have to be retried.

Cape Coral Bicycle Accident Lawyers Are On Your Side

The plaintiff, in this case, could still be awarded compensation but there is always a risk that the outcome of the trial will be different. As injury lawyers, we fight for our clients to receive full and fair compensation. While riding a bicycle under the influence of alcohol is never a good idea (especially for your own safety), that fact alone will not necessarily prohibit you from collecting damages if a crash occurs. What it does mean is that your injury attorney will need to be prepared to show your alcohol consumption was not a key factor in your being struck by a car.

If you are injured in a bicycle incident in Cape Coral or the greater South Florida area, contact our injury attorneys at The Garvin Firm at 800.977.7017 for a free initial consultation.

Additional Resources:

Cyclist’s $11.4 Million South Florida Verdict in Peril Over Alcohol Claims, Oct. 4, 2019, By Raychel Lean, Law.com

More Blog Entries:

A Deadly Year for Motorcyclists in Fort Myers, Cape Coral, Oct. 13, 2019, Cape Coral Bicycle Accident Lawyers’ Blog

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