Dooring, a collision between a cyclist and the door of a motor vehicle, is a very serious issue. What may at first seem like a minor incident can have massive and long-term consequences for the cyclist. When a dooring accident occurs, there are a number of steps you should immediately take, regardless of whether you're the person on the bike or behind the car door.
Tips for the dooring victim
If you're a cyclist and you’ve just been hit by a car door, paying attention to detail in the aftermath might be easier said than done. But it can also be very important.
In the event of a dooring incident, if you're able, first get yourself – and anyone else – out of further harm's way and move your bike off the road. Certainly, if you're seriously hurt and concerned about potential spine injuries, don't move. If you require medical attention, call an ambulance (or have someone else, such as the motorist, do it). It's key to call the police to report the incident, too.
While you wait for the police to arrive, ask for the details of the person who doored you; this may be a driver or a passenger. It's important to get the following:
- phone number
- driver's licence number
- car registration
- insurance information.
If there were any witnesses, you’ll also want to find them and exchange contact details with them. Getting a bystander's take on the incident can be crucial later, especially if it comes down to your word against the motorist’s.
Next, be sure to take some notes and photographs. Record the time and location of the dooring and jot down any other information you have from the incident scene. Take pictures of any damage to your bike or the other vehicle, as well as of your injuries (if there are any).
When the police arrive, tell them your version of what happened with as much detail as possible. Be sure to get a copy of the police report.
Once you've spoken to police, seek medical attention if necessary. As soon as possible, visit a bicycle shop for an assessment and estimate of your bike’s damage.
Following the incident, you have a number of options. You can:
- do nothing
- request payment of damages directly from the motorist
- seek legal advice.
Tips for the car driver or passenger
Much of the advice for bicyclists applies to motorists in dooring incidents as well. The motorist should:
- first and foremost, check the cyclist for injuries and call the police and an ambulance if necessary
- exchange contact details with the cyclist and any witnesses
- take notes and photos.
Proving a driver or passenger is at fault
With dooring, the basic assumption is that the driver or passenger didn't take due care when opening the door. But, as always, there are two sides to every story. The person in the motor vehicle may say, "My door was open; you rode up and weren’t looking", whereas the cyclist may say "You opened the door too quickly; I didn't have a chance to stop". This is why the timing of the door opening becomes critical in determining who should have taken more care.
The contact details of the driver or passenger at fault become very important if a cyclist wants to lodge a property-damage claim after a dooring incident. If you or a witness don’t get those details, you unfortunately have no avenue to pursue a property-damage claim, because it’s a claim directly against that person.
Peter: A case study
My client, Peter, came to us after being doored by a motor-vehicle passenger while cycling on Lygon Street in Melbourne. The passenger, who was unaware that there are road rules against dooring, denied liability at the scene. Peter's injuries weren’t immediately apparent, so he just went home. A short time later, not feeling well, he rang Victoria Police, who told him to report the incident in person. At the station, the police declined to write up a formal report, as he didn't look injured and didn’t seem to have much property damage.
Peter decided to seek legal advice. He went to hospital the next day and shortly afterwards learned he would need a shoulder reconstruction. Peter had injured his dominant arm, and because he was an architect who required fine motor skills for his job, he was unable to work for months. From a legal perspective, this case concerned us because Peter might have chosen not to report the incident to police. Luckily, he did eventually report the dooring and the car passenger was found at fault.