Accidents that result in property damage (part 1) by Ray Thomas

I. Introduction

Sometimes it’s tough to get fair treatment when a collision results in property damage but no personal injury. While it’s always better not to have to deal with a physical injury, there is not enough money involved from the contingent fee (1/3) on a property damage case for most lawyers to even justify opening a file, so most riders end up representing themselves. If you are going to go it alone it helps to know the lay of the land before you start. This article contains an overview of the law of property damage and some tips on how to get a fair amount for your damaged ride.

Fortunately, most bicycle collisions do not result in personal injuries. Instead, wheels get bent, helmets scraped and, if the accident is the motorist’s fault, a “property damage” claim is made against an insurance company. For bicyclists, property damage claims can be frustrating because they typically have little or no experience in legal matters and find themselves advocating for damages with experienced claims adjusters. Since the amount involved is usually small, the bicyclist ends up appealing to the claims adjuster’s sense of fairness. Most claims adjusters are not experienced riders and they are frequently shocked by the costs of bicycle repair and parts.

Property Damage

II. Comparative Fault

Since property damages are not recoverable unless the motorist is more than 50 percent at fault, Oregon’s law requires a potential defendant pay their percentage of fault only if it is greater than the bicyclist. This means that if the bicyclist is 51 percent at fault and a motorist is 49 percent at fault, the motorist completely escapes financial
responsibility. But if for example the motorist is 80% at fault, and the bike rider is 20% at fault, the motorist must pay 80% of the damage under Oregon’s “Comparative Fault” law. This means that bicycle riders need to be prepared to show the legal basis for their damage claim, and adjust their damages down by their own percent of contribution to the wreck.

Typical shared fault scenarios include collisions that result from multiple factors, like when a rider fails to exercise “due care” after a motorist makes a driving mistake, such as when a rider panics and crashes after being cut off by a motorist when if the rider had done nothing there would have been no contact or impact.

Since the claims adjuster’s job is to pay as little as possible on a claim, any fault arguably attributable to the bicyclist will be pointed out as a reason to reduce the amount paid. It is essential during these discussions that a bicyclist know the basic Rules of the Road. If possible, be prepared to cite actual Oregon Revised Statute (ORS) numbers.

This article will be concluded in later posts.

Ray Thomas is a founding partner at Swanson, Thomas, Coon & Newton where he represents bicyclists and pedestrians injured in collisions.

What should I do when facing a red light in a bicycle lane at a T-intersection? by Charley Gee

One of the benefits of being a bicycle rider in Oregon is that we are granted the same rights as motor vehicle operators under the law. That granting of privilege, however, is a two-edged sword because we are also limited to the same restrictions and responsibilities of motor vehicle operators under the law (except for those laws that have no application to bicycles).

This restriction can sometimes result in inefficiencies. For example, when a rider is in a bicycle lane and they face a red light they are required to stop behind the stop line even though, if there are no pedestrians crossing, they face no conflicting traffic. For example, here is the intersection of SW Salmon Street and Naito Parkway in downtown Portland, facing north.

Naito and Salmon

Here, a bicyclist faces no possibility of conflicting traffic if they proceeded through the intersection against a red light.

So, can a bicyclist legally proceed through the intersection while facing a red light? No. A driver, no matter their mode of travel, must stop at the clearly marked stop line when faced with a red light. ORS 811.260(7).

Sometimes, though, a bicycle rider will move from the bike lane to the sidewalk and back to the bike lane again after riding on the sidewalk through the T-intersection, as illustrated here:

Bicyclists will sometimes go from the bike lane to the sidewalk to get around red lights.

Bicyclists will sometimes go from the bike lane to the sidewalk to get around red lights.

This maneuver is legal, so far as 1.) the bicyclist is allowed to ride on the sidewalk in the area; 2.) the bicyclist does not operate in a careless manner and slows to the speed of an ordinary walk when entering the curbcut (ORS 814.410) AND 3.) the bicyclist first stops behind the stop line as required by ORS 811.260(7).

Charley Gee is a bicycle and pedestrian lawyer and advocate with Swanson, Thomas, Coon & Newton.


A New Project

Welcome to, a public service project of Thomas, Coon, Newton & Frost. We have launched this web page in an effort to improve the understanding of how the laws contained in Oregon’s Vehicle Code (and elsewhere) establish the rights and responsibilities of all of Oregon’s road users.  We will be examining specific locations and their legal quirks, answering questions, and publishing informative analysis of certain laws.

This project follows in the tradition of the many years of bicycle and pedestrian legal clinics we have presented in conjunction with many community groups, businesses, municipalities, and schools, as well as our articles, publications and Ray Thomas’ books Pedal Power and Oregon Pedestrian Rights.

Our authors will include three lawyers at Thomas, Coon, Newton & Frost: Partners Ray Thomas, Jim Coon, and Cynthia Newton as well as Associate Chris Thomas.

We also hope to provide insights and commentary from other authors in the community.

If you have any questions about Oregon bicycle law or Oregon pedestrian law please email Cynthia at

Rack and Door