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Common Defenses Used Against Bicyclists Under Maryland Liability Law

Liability defenses often used by drivers against bicyclist involved in accidents in Maryland include:

A. Contributory Negligence
Maryland recognizes the defense of contributory negligence as a complete bar to a plaintiff’s recovery. In order to succeed in asserting this defense, the driver of a vehicle that strikes a cyclist would have to show that the bicyclist deviated from the standard of ordinary care. Usually questions of contributory negligence in Maryland are resolved by the jury. To justify withdrawal of a case from the jury on grounds of contributory negligence, “the evidence must show an act so decisively negligent as to leave no room for difference of opinion thereon by reasonable minds.” Heffner, 196 Md. At 473, 77 A.2d at 131.

Factors a jury might consider in deciding whether a bicyclist exercised reasonable care may include precautions that a reasonable bicyclist would have taken under similar circumstances. Though not codified by Maryland law, published safety guidelines may be relevant to an examination of whether a bicyclist exercised ordinary care. The League of American Bicyclists suggests that bicyclists wear reflective or brightly colored clothing and that they yield to traffic in the same destination lane.

B. Assumption of the Risk

In Maryland, an assertion of the defense of assumption of the risk requires a showing that (1) the plaintiff had knowledge of the risk of the danger, (2) the plaintiff appreciated that risk, and (3) the plaintiff voluntarily confronted the risk of danger. Piquette v. Stevens, 128 Md. App. 590, 739 A.2d 905 (1999). Whether a plaintiff has assumed the risk is generally a question for the jury, unless it is clear that the plaintiff must have understood the danger, and then it is determined by the court. Id. at 599. In Piquette v. Stevens, the Court of Special Appeals reversed a determination by the trial court that a bicyclist had assumed the risk of colliding with a motor vehicle by failing to come to a complete stop at a stop sign. Id. at 600. The bicyclist was aware of an approaching vehicle, but chose to roll through a stop sign and turn to the right. Id. at 600. The court reasoned that “it was not clear that [the bicyclist], certainly a person of normal intelligence, would have anticipated the risk of danger.” Id.

For more information on the the rights of injured bicyclists in Maryland, please contact me for a complimentary consultation.