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Who Is At Fault In A Chicago Dooring Crash?

Offered by Keating Law Offices, P.C.

Chicago and Illinois traffic law makes fault clear, yet doored cyclists are regularly blamed for their injuries

Chicago has hundreds of miles of bike lanes, but many do not do enough to actually protect riders. Most have no physical buffer between fast-moving traffic and bikes. Some of Chicago’s most dangerous bike lanes are on Milwaukee Avenue, Halsted Street, Damen Avenue, Clark Street, and Wells Street. With nothing but paint and signage on many miles of bike lanes to impede cars, every year, hundreds of cyclists are injured in Chicago bike lane accidents. The City of Chicago announced plans to install protected bike lanes throughout the city in 2023, but as of yet, progress has been slow on that front. In the meantime, the city’s cyclists are left unprotected for long stretches.

Many of the most serious and fatal of these bicycle collisions are “dooring” crashes.

To reduce doorings, it is important for all Chicago road users to understand the city’s dooring laws, the challenges facing injured bicycle accident victims, and what it takes for a Chicago bicycle accident attorney to win compensation and justice for an injured cyclist or the family of a fatal bicycle accident victim.

What is dooring?

A dooring accident, or getting “doored,” is what happens when an occupant of a parked or stopped vehicle suddenly opens a door in the path of an oncoming cyclist. At this point, there are only two possibilities, both of which can be deadly. The cyclist may have no time to react and collide, usually at full speed, into a wall of hard plastic, metal, and glass. Other times, cyclists have a split second to try an evasive maneuver, but this is dangerous, too. Often, the only way to avoid the door is to swerve into traffic and get hit by a car. Some cyclists are even doored, flung from their bikes, then hit by another moving vehicle.

Opening a car door into a cyclist’s path is illegal in Chicago. And it is nearly impossible for a cyclist to be at fault in a dooring accident. Yet, too often, insurance companies, misconceptions about traffic laws, and a stubborn anti-cyclist bias among negligent drivers conspire to keep bad drivers from being held fully responsible for the devastation they cause. A statewide cycling safety group recently noted that drivers who hit Chicago bicycle riders rarely face penalties.

“The drivers involved in most cycling crashes — or the passengers if they doored a cyclist — were not arrested or cited despite overwhelming evidence they were at fault,” according to Illinois Answers and Block Club’s review of police records. This includes 13 hit-and-runs.

Dooring injuries

Dooring accidents cause severe injuries that can decrease a cyclists’ ability to work, bike, and enjoy life in general. Common dooring accident injuries include traumatic brain injuries (TBI) like concussions, spinal cord injuries (SCI), herniated discs, severe lacerations and contusions, fractures, soft-tissue damage, and injuries to the knee and shoulder joints.

Injuries like these are expensive to treat and may keep the victim out of work for a long time, not to mention other costs like ongoing medical care and in-home services. No bicycle accident victim should have to pay for these things out of their own pocket. It is the responsibility of reckless drivers and vehicle occupants to pay for the easily preventable damage they cause.

With stakes this high, victims need experienced bicycle accident lawyers to make sure they are compensated to the fullest extent of the law.

Chicago and Illinois dooring laws

Dooring accidents and the devastating injuries they cause are preventable. All it takes to avoid a dooring accident is for drivers and passengers to look before opening their doors. In Chicago and Illinois, it is the law that occupants must look for oncoming traffic before opening their doors. In Chicago, a vehicle occupant that doored a cyclist can be fined up to $1,000.

Around 2013, Chicago bolstered city codes that seek to protect bike riders from getting doored. City officials launched a campaign to educate drivers about the importance of looking before opening doors and how to use the “Dutch reach.” Instead of using the hand closest to a vehicle door to open it, an occupant should reach around with their other hand (usually the right) to open the door. This forces the person to turn their body and face oncoming traffic so they can spot nearby cyclists and other road users.

The Illinois Vehicle Code has a law in place that prohibits doorings throughout the state:

Section 11-1407 of the Illinois Vehicle Code states:
"No person shall open the door of a vehicle on the side available to moving traffic unless and until it is reasonably safe to do so, and can be done without interfering with the movement of other traffic, nor shall any person leave a door open on the side of a vehicle available to moving traffic for a period of time longer than necessary to load or unload passengers."

Parts of the Chicago Municipal Code meant to prevent dooring include:

  • Section 9-40-060: “The driver of a vehicle shall not drive, stand or park the vehicle upon any on-street path or lane designated by official sign or markings for the use of bicycles, or otherwise drive or place the vehicle in such a manner as to impede bicycle traffic.”
  • Section 9-30-035 of the Chicago Municipal Code (and 625 ILCS 5/11-1407 of Illinois Vehicle Code) states that “No person shall open the door of a vehicle on the side available to moving traffic unless and until it is reasonably safe to do and can be done without interfering with the movement of other traffic.”

Laws are there to protect bicycle riders, but they don’t do much good if no one enforces them. Injured bicycle accident victims cannot rely on the criminal justice system to make things right. Criminal courts punish wrongdoing, but they don’t order awards that make victims whole. That's what civil courts are for.

Only an insurance injury claim, injury lawsuit, wrongful death lawsuit, or another type of legal action taken by an experienced Chicago bicycle accident attorney can collect maximum compensation for a victim’s medical expenses, lost wages, pain and suffering, and other losses.

Vehicle occupants are at-fault in dooring accidents, yet cyclists are regularly blamed

Liability for dooring accidents generally falls on the person who opened the vehicle door into the path of the bicyclist. To get out of paying what they owe to seriously injured accident victims, however, the at-fault party’s insurance company may try to claim that the cyclist caused the dooring.

Defenses used by reckless people and insurance companies seeking to avoid liability include:

  • Claiming the cyclist had time to avoid the crash.
  • Asserting that the cyclist was riding too close to vehicles.
  • Arguing that the open door was within the "door zone." Some “buffer-protected” bike lanes are painted on both sides and provide a 3–4-foot door zone between parked vehicles and moving bikes.
  • Claiming the cyclist was not observed by the vehicle occupant because the cyclist was not following the rules of the road.
  • Asserting the cyclist was impaired or intoxicated and this alleged inebriation caused the crash.

Insurance adjusters go to great lengths to avoid paying full value to bicycle accident victims. That's why injured bicyclists need a lawyer to investigate the collision and develop a strong case that proves who is at fault, even in circumstances like doorings where it seems obvious.

How a lawyer can help

Personal injury attorneys who understand the insurance industry’s bias against bicycle riders – and how to overcome it – can make the difference between a too-small settlement and maximum compensation.

Bike accident lawyers keep claims and lawsuits moving forward while injured victims focus on healing. Among the things a lawyer can do for a pedalcyclist injured in an accident are:

  • Answer accident-related legal questions.
  • Use investigation techniques designed for the unique circumstances of bicycle accidents.
  • Obtain any available video footage from surveillance cameras, dash cams, or other sources.
  • Interview witnesses.
  • Highlight relevant traffic laws as well as legal precedents where cyclists’ rights were upheld.
  • Identify all liable parties in addition to the person culpable for opening the door.
  • Calculate a compensation package that places the highest value on past, current, and future injury-related medical expenses, losses, pain and suffering.
  • Retain expert witnesses if necessary.
  • Negotiate aggressively for the best outcome.
  • File a civil lawsuit against the at-fault party or parties, if necessary.

A bicycle accident lawyer can also push back, hard, against attempts to blame the victim.

Dooring Accident Case Results

$212,976.85 verdict Chicago

$212,976.85 verdict for a bicyclist who was doored in the Washington Street bike lane in Chicago and suffered a concussion, contusions, and other injuries. The crash scene was right outside of the Daley Center Courthouse, where the injured bicyclist ultimately obtained justice. The Cook County jury awarded her over 400% of the insurance company’s “best offer” in finding the driver and their passenger 100% at fault for causing the crash. This verdict was profiled in an article on Block Club Chicago. Keating Law Offices obtained this verdict for the victim.

Not just any lawyer can get results

Only the right lawyer can get bicycle accident victims the right results.

Lawyers with extensive experience handling dooring cases and other bicycle accident claims are up to date on Chicago’s changing bicycle regulations. They understand the evidence that is unique to bike accidents and how to obtain it. The best bike accident attorneys maintain long track records of results for injured cyclists.

If you were injured or a loved one died in a dooring or another type of bicycle accident, contact a Chicago bicycle accident lawyer for a free case evaluation. At no cost to you, a legal professional can estimate your claim's value, explain your compensation options, and help you decide what to do next.

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