If you hit an open car door, it does not matter if you are driving a bicycle, a car, or any other type of vehicle. It also does not matter if you are pulling into a parking space or driving in the inside lane. The law for who is at fault if you hit an open car door is the same. This article will discuss when the person that opened the door has fault and when the person that hit the car door has fault. It will also discuss special open car door accidents with bicycles called “Dooring Accidents”. It will also discuss pulling into a parking space and hitting an open car door.
THE PERSON THAT OPENED THE CAR DOOR ALMOST ALWAYS HAS FAULT
The overwhelming majority of states have a law that assigns fault to the person that opens their car door. When you think about it this makes sense. The person that opens their car door is not moving and has the opportunity to look before opening their car door. On the other hand, the person that hit the car door is moving and depending on their speed may have very little opportunity to avoid hitting the door.
The law gives the person that opened the car door the following duties:
- not to open a car door unless it is reasonably safe to do so and can be done without interfering with the movement of other traffic.
- not to 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.
THE PERSON THAT HIT THE OPEN CAR DOOR MAY HAVE SOME FAULT
You will not have fault if you hit an open car door when there was no way to avoid doing so. But that is not always the case. Sometimes there may be an opportunity to avoid the collision with the open car door. If there is such an opportunity the person that hit the open car door will have some fault. This applies whether you are driving a motorcycle, a bicycle, a scooter, a car, a truck, or any other type of vehicle.
Assessing fault of the person that hit the open car door will depend on whether the person was traveling too fast for the road conditions and whether there was an opportunity to go around the open door by taking evasive actions.
Hitting an Open Car Door When Driving Too Fast for the Road Conditions
All drivers have an obligation to drive at a safe speed given the road conditions. This obligation exists regardless of the speed limit. This means that if the road conditions are such that you should be going slower than the speed limit, you have an obligation to do so.
In the situation where a driver hits an open door, if the road conditions warranted driving slower and driving slower would have given you the opportunity to miss the open door, then you will have some fault for doing so.
Hitting an Open Door After Failing to take Evasive Actions
All drivers have an obligation to take evasive actions to avoid a car accident when there is an opportunity to do so. For example, the driver that hit the open car door may have been able to move to the left and avoided hitting the car door. If they do not, then they may have some fault in the collision with the open car door.
WHO IS AT FAULT WHEN A BICYLCE IS HIT BY AN OPEN CAR DOOR?
Bicycle accidents that involve a cyclist hitting an open car door happen with so much frequency that is has been given a special name. It is called a dooring accident because the cyclist gets doored on impact.
The rules above apply to dooring accidents. But there are also some special circumstances when bikes are involved.
The Door Zone is the Death Zone
The door zone is the area within the width of a fully opened car door. Riding within the door zone is the surest way to get doored by an opening car door. This area varies depending on the length of the particular car door involved. Estimates range anywhere between 3 to 5 feet. As result, most cycling experts agree that riders should attempt to ride at least 5 feet away from parallel parked cars. Simply put, this is called riding in the safe zone. Unfortunately, it is not always possible to do so.
When There is No Bike Lane
When there is no bike lane, the cyclist is supposed to ride close to the inside curb. This puts them very close to opening car doors that are parallel parked. In fact, it may put them is the unsafe door zone because cars will often ride next to the bicycle rider. The end result is that the cyclist may have no real room to move to the left to avoid a car door that opens abruptly. Adding heavy traffic to the situation makes things even more difficult for the bike rider. Lastly, given all the things a cyclist has to pay attention to, there can be very little time to react. All of this is a recipe for disaster for the bike rider.
When There is a Bike Lane
There is a large push in urban areas to add bike lanes. This has been seen as an effort to make biking safer inside cities. Unfortunately, this effort may have increased the number of dooring accidents. The reason is that the bike lane is always between the inside traffic lane and the area where cars can parallel park. Often the bike lane is too narrow and as a result, the rider is forced to ride within the door zone. When a car door is opened into the bike lane, the bike lane is not wide enough to allow the rider to move to the left. The cyclist has no choice but to hit the open car door if they cannot stop in time.
WHO IS AT FAULT WHEN A CAR HITS AN OPEN CAR DOOR WHEN PULLING INTO A PARKING SPACE?
There are some special circumstances in determining who is at fault when a car hits an open car door when pulling into a parking space. The person that opens the car door will be under the assumption the parking space next to them is empty as they open the car door. In addition, the person that is pulling into the open car space is moving slowly and often will have plenty of time to see the car door opening. So, the person pulling into the parking space may have more fault.
But this is not always the case. If the car was most of the way into the parking space when the car door was opened, there would be no real way to avoid the crash. Under these circumstances, the person that opened the car door may have more fault.
The people involved will often have conflicting statements about the timing of the events. Sometimes, the damage to the car door and the location of the damage on the moving car can help decide the timing of the events.