Semian v. Ledgemere Transp., Inc. – Comparative Fault in Cycling Accidents

Bicycling in Montgomery has gained speed in recent years, with the area boasting some 1,380 miles of trails specifically for biking. In addition, numerous events, races and club rides are organized every year, with many participants choosing to make cycling part of their everyday commute, exercise or recreation. Montgomery is an ideal place for this year-round, given our great climate.

Cyclists must be sure, however, to follow the rules of the road. This is true everywhere, but it’s especially true in Alabama, where liability of a motor vehicle driver who collides with a cyclist will be eliminated if the cyclist shares any percentage of fault.

Alabama is one of just five states in the country that follows the “pure contributory negligence” system in civil courts. Per the rulings issued by the Alabama Supreme Court in Ala. Power Co. v. Schotz in 1968 and John Cowly & Bros., Inc. v. Brown in 1990, a plaintiff making a claim based on negligence will lose entitlement to damages if plaintiff is at all negligent.

This kind of legal interpretation would be especially troublesome in a case like Semian v. Ledgemere Transp., Inc., which was decided in Maine in December. This was a bicycle accident case in which the cyclist was found to be 25 percent at fault, while the driver of a bus that struck her was 75 percent at fault.

Our Montgomery bicycle injury attorneys know such a finding here in Alabama would result in a plaintiff losing the case. However, in Maine, courts recognize a model of modified comparative fault with a 50 percent bar. That means damages attributed to defendants will be reduced by a plaintiff’s own negligence – assuming plaintiff negligence does not exceed 50 percent.

While the fairness of state law is a matter to be debated, the bottom line for us as injury lawyers is that we must fight especially hard on behalf of our clients to prove absence of fault by the injured party.

In the Semian case, plaintiff was a 20-year-old Romanian student who arrived three months prior to the accident. As she rode her bicycle on a public road one morning, she encountered a school bus owned by a private company/the defendant. Plaintiff was initially behind the bus, but caught up as the bus stopped at an intersection, straddling the straight and right turn lane. The bus began to move forward and then stopped momentarily. Because the bus had initially proceeded straight, the cyclist assumed the bus would continue straight. Thus, she proceeded to try passing the bus on the right. However, the bus did not go straight, it turned right. Unable to stop, the cyclist hit the side of the bus and fell underneath, suffering serious and extensive injuries when the wheels ran over her torso.

Cyclist sued for damages. Defendant argued cyclist assumed risk when she passed the bus on the right, and thus the company should not be held liable for her injuries. The court rejected that reasoning, but did find plaintiff 25 percent liable. Thus her recoverable damages were reduced from $1 million to $750,000.

Although defendant appealed to the Maine Supreme Judicial Court, the verdict was upheld.

While we do recognize the majority of bicycling accidents are the result of careless or inattentive motor vehicle drivers, it is imperative that cyclists ride defensively and always abide by the rules of the road. This way, if there is ever an accident, chances for recovery of damages in Alabama are greatly improved.

Call Allred & Allred P.C. at 334.396.9200 to speak with a Montgomery personal injury lawyer.

Additional Resources:
Semian v. Ledgemere Transp., Inc., Dec. 16, 2014, Maine Supreme Judicial Court
More Blog Entries:
Grant v. Wiley Sanders Trucking Lines – Deciding Estate Representative for Alabama Wrongful Death Lawsuit, Dec. 30, 2014, Montgomery Bicycle Accident Lawyer Blog

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