You know that a driver who hits and injures a bike rider can be held liable for paying the crash victim’s medical bills and providing compensation for pain and suffering. You most likely also understand that a pedestrian can have grounds for filing insurance claims after a bike rider crashes into them.
What may come as a surprise is that the ability to secure an insurance settlement following a crash involving a bicyclist depends greatly on where and how the bicycle was being ridden. The rules on this are based on state law, but they also vary from city to city. Here, I’ll focus specifically on scenarios in Virginia Beach. My personal injury law firm colleagues and I advise and represent bike accident victims all across Virginia, so we can answer specific questions from those in Norfolk, Chesapeake, Suffolk, Portsmouth, Hampton, Newport News and elsewhere during a free consultation.
The Underlying Problem of Contributory Negligence
Virginia (and its neighbor to south, North Carolina) is one of the few states that still follows the outdated and unjust rule of contributory negligence. In its most basic formulation, the rule states that a person who does anything to cause harm to themselves has no legal right to hold anyone else accountable for harming them.
- Laws Virginia Drivers Must Know About to Share the Road With Bike Riders
- Tips on Riding a Bicycle Safely From a Virginia Beach Personal Injury Lawyer
- Pedestrians Hit and Injured by Bike Riders Can File Insurance Claims
Applied to a crash involving a bicycle, the contributory negligence rule makes it impossible for a rider to file and collect on an auto insurance claim if the rider was violating a local ordinance regarding where bikes can be ridden. Similarly, a pedestrian who steps into the path of a bicyclist forfeits their right to seek compensation if the pedestrian violated the bicyclist’s right of way.
State law does carve out one major exception to the contributory negligence rule for bike riders. While section 46.2-906.1 of the Virginia Code calls on bicyclists of all ages to wear helmets and requires use of the protective equipment for riders younger than 14 years of age, the statute also stipulates that “violation of any such ordinance shall not constitute negligence, or assumption of risk, be considered in mitigation of damages of whatever nature, be admissible in evidence, or be the subject of comment by counsel in any action for the recovery of damages arising out of the operation of any bicycle.”
Roadways, Bike Lanes and Sidewalks
General Rules for Riding Bikes in the City of Virginia Beach
In neighborhoods and most business districts, bicyclists can use sidewalks. Bike riders should stick to bike lanes and bike paths where those are available. Lacking those options, riders should stay on the road and keep as far to the right as possible. But, when safety and traffic conditions make riding on the road dangerous, the sidewalk is a legal route for a bicyclist.
However—and this is a big “but” —bike riders must always yield to pedestrians on sidewalks and at crosswalks. Section 7.59(c) of the city ordinances further specifies that any bicyclist who rides on a sidewalk “shall give an audible signal before overtaking and passing such pedestrian, and shall dismount and walk the bicycle … when necessary to avoid physical contact with any person.”
Violating this ordinance and striking a pedestrian makes a bike rider subject to a fine. It also creates potential civil liability for compensating the crash victim.
Rules for Riding Bikes at the Oceanfront and on the Boardwalk
Bicyclist must stay off the beach, off the Boardwalk proper, off the sidewalks, and off Atlantic Boulevard during the months between Memorial Day and Labor Day. The city created bike lanes throughout the resort area. A bicyclists who rides outside a marked lane can be fined and be found to have been negligent even if a driver hits them while committing a moving violation.
Town Center Bike Rules
Stay off the sidewalks and out of the plazas when riding a bicycle around Town Center. Section 7-59.4 of the Virginia Beach Ordinances define “Town Center” as “the area bounded by and including the sidewalk on the south side of Virginia Beach Boulevard, the Norfolk Southern Corporation property line, the sidewalk on the east side of Independence Boulevard, and the sidewalk on the west side of Constitution Drive.”
One Final Note
Virginia Beach prohibits the use of earphones wile riding a bicycle. The relevant city ordinance, Section 7-64, defines “earphones” as meaning “any device worn on or in both ears that converts electrical energy to sound waves or which impairs or hinders the person’s ability to hear, but shall not include any prosthetic device that aids the hard of hearing.”
Rick Shapiro has practiced personal injury law for over 30 years in Virginia, North Carolina, and throughout the Southeastern United States. He is a Board-Certified Civil Trial Advocate by the National Board of Trial Advocacy (ABA Accredited) and has litigated injury cases throughout the eastern United States, including wrongful death, trucking, faulty products, railroad, and medical negligence claims. During his three-decade career, Shapiro has won client appeals before the VA Supreme Court, VA Court of Appeals, NC Supreme Court, SC Supreme Court, WV Supreme Court, TN Supreme Court, and three times before the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit, underscoring Shapiro’s trial achievements. In addition, he and his law firm have won settlements/verdicts in excess of $100 million. His success in and out of the courtroom is a big reason why he was named 2019 “Lawyer of the Year” in railroad law in U.S. News & World Report's Best Lawyers publication (Norfolk, VA area), and he has been named a “Best Lawyer” and “Super Lawyer” by those peer-reviewed organizations for multiple years. Rick was also named a “Leader in the Law, Class of 2022” by Virginia Lawyers Weekly (total of 33 statewide honorees consisting of lawyers and judges across Virginia). And in September 2023, Rick was selected as a recipient of the National Board of Trial Advocacy (NBTA) 2023 President’s Award. Although many nominations were submitted from across the country, Rick was just one of eight attorneys chosen by the prestigious National Board which certifies civil trial attorneys across the U.S. Rick was also recently named to Virginia Lawyers Weekly 2024 Virginia’s Go To Lawyers Medical Malpractice. The attorneys awarded this honor are nominated by their colleagues and chosen by a panel from the publication.