Bicyclist Safety and Rights
We handle a fair amount of bike accident cases at our office. Some happen when a driver runs into a bike and some happen when the road is in poor condition, causing the cyclist to lose control of his or her bike. Either way, it is important to know what your rights are when something like this happens.
Drivers owe a duty to a cyclist whether the cyclist is on the road or sidewalk. We recently represented a young woman who was cycle commuting to work. She chose the sidewalk to travel as it was raining lightly and the sidewalk was partially protected by trees. As she rode downhill, a car was leaving a street level parking lot. To exit the parking lot, the car had to travel across the sidewalk and proceed into the street. The driver apparently did not look carefully to see if the path was clear and pulled out in front of the cyclist who did not have time to stop and collided with the car. The driver’s insurance company blamed our client, even though witnesses said the car driver failed to look and did not stop prior to proceeding into the sidewalk. The driver claimed our client was partly at fault and hired an expert who claimed our client must have been cycling too fast, otherwise she would have been able to stop in time. The expert opined that while cyclists may lawfully ride on the sidewalk, that they should not travel at a speed greater than a pedestrian. This is not true. After a hearing before a judge, the judge found that our client was in no way at fault.
Similarly, sometimes a bike crash is caused by a road that is in poor condition, for example a road with potholes. Just as municipalities have a duty to maintain safe sidewalks for pedestrian travel, they must also maintain safe roads for bicycle travel. Cities and towns have a duty to all persons to build and maintain roadways in a condition that is reasonably safe for ordinary travel. Cycling is considered a mode of ordinary travel and so there is a duty to keep roads reasonably safe for cyclists. However, a municipality’s duty is not absolute and they need to have notice, either actual or constructive, that there is a defect in a roadway before they can be held responsible. Actual notice means the municipality knew of the defect while constructive notice means the municipality should have known of the defect. Constructive notice arises where the defective condition has existed for such time that a municipality exercising ordinary care would (or should) have discovered the defective roadway condition. In other words, a municipality cannot claim that it had no notice of a defect if the defect has been there long enough that they should have known about it. How long is “long enough” is a question of fact and depends on the circumstances but essentially means that the condition existed for long enough to have been discovered in the exercise of “ordinary care”. If the unsafe condition was created or caused by the municipality, or should have been anticipated, then there is no notice requirement, either actual or constructive.
If you see a pothole or dangerous roadway or sidewalk, notify the municipality as soon as is practical. Many cities, Seattle included, take a reactive approach to street repair so they will only respond to and repair potholes if they are notified of them. Seattle has an online complaint site where anyone can report a dangerous street condition. It is helpful to be a clear as possible about the location and describe the defective condition and explain how it is dangerous. Depending on your city, the reporting method may differ.
If you or a loved one has been injured in a bike accident, please give the experienced personal injury attorneys at Maxwell Graham a call at 206-527-2000.