A dooring defense in New Jersey

My cycling attorney pal Jim Moss of Recreation Law looks at a civil lawsuit from 2012 filed by a cyclist who was doored while riding her bike in a marked bike lane in Avalon, New Jersey.

DZBL door zone bike lane Avalon, New Jersey

Here’s what happened

The plaintiff was Just Riding Along on Dune Drive when she was doored. She told the court, “I was riding my bike. And the poor man was as startled as I was. The door started opening and I just went into it.”

The defendant didn’t deny opening his door directly in front of the woman on the bike. He said he opened his door and “heard a loud bang,” then observed a “young lady on the ground with her bicycle in front of the car to the left a little bit.”

It seems like an open and shut (ha!) case, right? Apparently, it wasn’t. Because of the way the bike lane is striped there, Moss says the defendant (the driver) could have possibly gotten away with it if he could show that his car door didn’t extend into the bike lane.

This confused me at first until I looked at the Google Streetview for Dune Drive in Avalon, NJ. The bike lane is striped on both sides, and the defendant claimed that because his door didn’t actually enter the bike lane, it was the cyclist’s fault she was hit because she rode outside of the bike lane, into the parking lane and well inside the dreaded “door zone.”

An aside that apparently didn’t play into this civil suit: New Jersey is one of eight states without a “dooring” law, in which car occupants are required to look back to ensure they won’t impede anyone’s way or get whacked when they open their car door. Apparently, however, a “duty of care” standard can apply — users of the public roadway in New Jersey should anticipate common situations, like maybe somebody riding her bike in a tourist town on the clearly marked bike lane immediately adjacent to the parked car.

Jim the lawyer’s advice

In his conclusion, Jim writes:

Here the plaintiff or the defendant could have photographed the scene, measured the door, the car to the curb, and the width of the bike lane and ended this case. If you have the opportunity, after the victim(s) have been taken care of, document the accident.

At the same time, when both victims filed complaints at the police department, the police did nothing. Don’t wait and go to the police department, call 911 and have them show up.

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