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What happens when a cyclist is partially at fault for an accident?

When a cyclist is partially at fault for an accident with a motor vehicle, this is called contributory negligence. In other words, the cyclist’s actions or inactions contributed to the resulting accident and injuries. Where a cyclist is contributorily negligent, their damages will be reduced by a certain percentage. This percentage corresponds to the degree of fault that they carry for the accident. So, for example, where a court deems a cyclist was 50% responsible for an accident, they will only be compensated for 50% of the assessed damages.

Note that even where a cyclist is contributorily negligent in an accident, they can still make a claim against the at-fault driver. It is worth speaking with an experienced personal injury lawyer following an accident, so they can evaluate your amount of fault and potential arguments for recovering the compensation you deserve.

  • Some reasons why a cyclist might be found partially at fault include:

  • Lack of reflective clothing or light while riding in the dark

  • Failure to wear a helmet, resulting in worsened injuries

  • Riding against traffic on the wrong side of the street

  • Turning abruptly without signalling their intent

The following case law provides some examples of instances where cyclists were found to be contributorily negligent:

Kulig v. Clayton, 2012 NSSC 252

A driver struck a cyclist while turning right at a T-shaped intersection in Yarmouth. The court found that both the driver and cyclist did not keep a proper lookout in the circumstances. The driver ought to have expected that there may be cyclists in the area, and the cyclist ought to have expected that drivers may turn right at one of the many intersections she passed on her route. Liability was apportioned 25% to the cyclist and 75% to the driver.

Pelletier v. Her Majesty the Queen, 2013 ONSC 6898

A cyclist was struck while traversing through a pedestrian crosswalk by a police cruiser who was on his way to a non-emergency call as back-up. The collision took place on an overcast night after dark, and the cyclist was not wearing reflective clothing or a helmet, nor did he have a light on his bicycle. The court apportioned liability as 40% to the cyclist and 60% to the driver, based on the presumption of negligence on the driver, the fact that the driver ought to have proceeded more cautiously into the intersection, and the cyclist’s actions in riding out into the intersection from a dark parking lot and not wearing anything reflective or highlighting his presence on a dark night. The presumption of negligence on the driver applies in this case because it took place in Ontario, a “reverse onus” province.

Dixon v. Cameron, 2001 CanLII 7075 (NB QB)

The cyclist was travelling along the sidewalk with a can of paint on her handlebars and approached the connection point between the Tim Hortons parking lot and Mountain Road. The driver was exiting the Tim Hortons parking lot, waiting for a break in traffic to turn right onto Mountain Road. The cyclist collided with the right side of the driver’s vehicle, flew across the hood of the vehicle, and landed on Mountain Road. The court found that liability should be apportioned 60% to the cyclist and 40% to the driver. The cyclist ought to have known she was travelling in a busy area with lots of vehicular traffic, and therefore should have been more careful. She was travelling at a rapid speed, indicated by where she landed after the collision. Further, balancing the paint can could have distracted her and prevented her from seeing the vehicle earlier and made it more difficult to manoeuvre out of the way to avoid a collision. As for the driver, he ought to have checked his right side prior to proceeding through the intersection onto Mountain Road.


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