While most bicycle trips go off without a hitch, accidents do happen, and if you’ve been involved in one, you may be entitled to compensation. An insurance claim or payout of damages from a lawsuit can cover your medical expenses, property damage costs and other accident-related losses, including pain and suffering.
State bicycle laws and personal injury claims
It is critically important to determine who was at fault when handling any insurance or personal injury claim. Bicyclists are required to follow the same rules of the road as motorists in Montana, including riding with traffic rather than against it, and adhering to all road signs and traffic signals. They must afford motorists the same clearance and respect as any other vehicle on the road, and vehicle drivers are expected to do the same for bicycle riders.
While cyclists must understand and follow general traffic laws, they must also know state and local laws that specifically govern the operation of a bicycle on Montana’s roadways, including:
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• Helmet and safety seat laws. There are no state laws requiring bicycle riders of any age to wear a helmet. Billings is currently the only city to mandate bicyclists of any age to wear a helmet. In Billings, all bicyclists under the age of 16 must wear helmets.
• Bike lanes, road sharing and sidewalks. Bicycle riders are encouraged to ride on the right-hand side of the road or in a bike lane whenever safe to do so, though state law allows riding in the travel lane, or to the far left on one-way roads or when making a left turn.
Two bikes per lane are only allowed on bike paths or on roads with multiple travel lanes. Otherwise, cyclists must ride single-file. Riders are generally permitted on any road unless otherwise restricted by local laws. The same goes for sidewalks.
• Bicycle equipment requirements. State law requires every bicycle has the following safety equipment: functional brakes; a white headlight, visible from 500 feet away when it’s dark (dusk and dawn); reflective gear visible for at least 300 feet; and red rear reflector or rear tail light.
• Passengers and packages. State law requires no additional passengers ride above what a bike can safely accommodate. Additionally, bicyclists must ensure they have one hand on the handlebars at all times, even if carrying a package or parcel.
A bicyclist’s or vehicle driver’s failure to follow traffic laws can affect the outcome of a personal injury claim, including who is found at fault for the accident and the amount of compensation the injured party or parties are able to receive.
Montana personal injury claims
If you’re injured in a bicycle accident, you may be able to settle your dispute through a claim with the other driver’s insurance company, negating the need for filing a personal injury claim. An insurance company will review all of the available information on the accident, including police reports, hospital bills and any witness testimony.
An insurance settlement may not be an acceptable or fair amount of compensation to cover your losses, especially if your injuries are severe. An insurance company may deny you the sum you believe you are entitled to. If this is the case, a lawsuit may be necessary.
Under Montana’s statute of limitations, you must file a personal injury lawsuit against a motorist’s insurance company within three years of the date of the accident. Lawsuits for traffic accident claims are filed in the county in which the accident occurred. Here are just a few of Montana’s county court locations:
• Big Horn County: 121 3rd St. W., Hardin, MT 59034
• Gallatin County: 615 S. 16th Ave., Bozeman, MT 59715
• Missoula County: 200 W. Broadway St., Missoula, MT 59802
• Rosebud County: 1200 Main St., Forsyth, MT 59327
• Yellowstone County: 217 N. 27th St., Billings, MT 59101
This article was contributed by Personal Injury Law and was not written by an attorney, and the accuracy of the content is not warranted or guaranteed. If you wish to receive legal advice about a specific problem, you should contact a licensed attorney in your area.
Deanna Power, a casual bicyclist and a content contributor for Personal Injury Law, writes on behalf of Bike Walk Montana. She lives in Boston, Massachusetts.