Child Bicycle-Auto Accident: Who’s Responsible?

It’s a rite of passage for every child, learning to ride a bike.

Bicycle riding can foster family and peer relationships, boost self-confidence, help increase coordination and balance, and give a child a sense of independence.

Most often, children will ride their bicycles in the streets. We tell our children to “watch out for cars” in hopes of keeping them safe and preventing an accident. Despite our warnings, child cyclists can and do become involved in accidents with cars or trucks.

Consequences from bicycle accidents involving children can be catastrophic. The adult driver may be quick to place blame on the child.

Assigning responsibility in a bicycle-auto accident can get complicated. Fortunately, the law does offer guidance, especially when children are involved.

Bicycle Vehicle Accident: A Driver’s Responsibility

What is the Driver’s Responsibility in a Bicycle-Vehicle Accident?

A driver must exercise the highest degree of care (the degree of caution and concern for the safety of self and others) regardless of the cyclist’s age.

Missouri Revised Statute 300.410 provides that drivers of all vehicles “shall exercise the highest degree of care to avoid colliding with any pedestrian upon any roadway and shall give warning by sounding the horn when necessary and shall exercise proper precaution upon observing any child or any confused or incapacitated person upon a roadway.”[1]

A driver is expected to use this highest degree of care when they see children. This includes areas where children are presumed to be or frequently visit, including schools, parks, school bus stops, and residential neighborhoods.

A driver must also assume that the child may swerve or cross into a street while riding their bike with little to no warning regardless of the reason. Nor should a driver expect a child to use hand signals to indicate their intention to make a turn.

There are times when drivers are not always presumed negligent when a collision occurs with a child on a bike. Sometimes a driver can follow all the expected precautions and an accident still occurs. What then?

Bicycle Accidents: Children, Negligence, and Fault

As in all personal injury cases, fault must be determined.

Determining fault isn’t always cut and dry. When comparative fault is found, a portion of responsibility for the negligent actions that caused the accident is divided between the involved parties. In a bicycle/vehicle accident, a percentage of fault can be assigned to the cyclist and the remaining amount to the driver.

The insurance company might try to use comparative fault and suggest a percentage of the blame for the accident was the child’s fault. State laws vary widely on if children can be subject to comparative fault and a standard of care.  Fortunately, there is a case law an experienced personal injury lawyer can use to fight against the insurance company.

Suppose your child is under the age of four. In that case, most courts in America will conclude that your child is too young for someone to legally hold them accountable for their actions. There is nothing to say that a lawsuit cannot be brought against a child this young. However, the case would likely be dismissed by the courts. [2]

Now suppose a child is between the ages of four and 14; the law is different. A child of those ages may be held found negligent. However, the other party will need to prove that child was able to exercise care for their own safety and willingly and knowingly participated in behavior that resulted in the injury. More often than not, this defense is unsuccessful in the civil court system. [3]

Child Bicycle Accident Lawyer: Do I Need One?

As a parent, you most likely feel scared, angry and unsure about the law and your child’s legal rights. A personal injury attorney experienced in handling bicycle-auto accident cases can help you understand your child’s rights and how they pertain in a child bicycle accident.

[1]Rev. Stat. § 300.410

[2] Appelhans v. McFall, 757 N.E.2d 987 (2001)

[3] Fakhoury v. Vapor Corp., 507 N.E.2d 50, 55 (1987)

The information provided in this article does not, and is not intended to, constitute legal advice; instead, all information, content, and materials available are for general informational purposes only. The information provided should not be construed to be formal legal advice nor the formation of a lawyer-client relationship. The choice of a lawyer is an important decision and should not be based solely upon an advertisement