Maintain Your Lanes

by Harris Beach PLLC

An increase in bike paths and lanes could lead to an increase in claims against municipalities. Bike riding may have many benefits for the rider and for the environment.  However, as recently reported in The Los Angeles Times , the City of Los Angeles has seen a significant increase in lawsuits and costs for bike crashes.  In 2007, according to the story, the City paid to settle one case while in 2017 paid to settle 19 cases.

This increase may, in part, be attributed to the growth in the number of riders thereby increasing the chances for an accident.  The article highlights however that the state of roads within the City of Los Angeles plays a large part in this increase.  The cost to maintain or repave roads can be a drain on budgets and as roads deteriorate the cost only increases.

Due to the costs of road improvements, the City of Los Angeles has, according to the article, made the decision to become “focused on preventing salvageable roads from sliding into disrepair.”  Those roads and bike lanes may get the attention but those roads and bike lanes are not the sole cause of these 19 lawsuits.  As noted in the article, the largest single settlement stemmed from a crash on a street and not within a bike lane and many others resulted from claims of roads which were not fully repaired.

While there could be an uptick in claims that are filed, they may not be successful.  However, this could strain the budgets and legal staff of mid-size cities that do not have the large in-house legal staff to handle such an uptick or the budget to litigate additional claims through trial if necessary.

In addition, there could be an issue raised with respect to police enforcement of traffic laws (bikes are “vehicles” that have to obey the rules of the road) and potential lawsuits stemming from bike-pedestrian accidents.

New York City has spent a lot of money recently creating bike lanes, many of which are protected from traffic.  This was accomplished by moving the parking lane into the roadway to create a bike lane along the curb.  The City is protected from liability arising from accidents that are related to roadway defects by its prior written notice statute.  Most written notice of roadway defects is for sidewalks and cross walks however, because that is where the pedestrians walk.  So it is not clear that municipalities with prior written notice statutes would experience a large increase in claims.

Becoming a bike-friendly community has its benefits, but may cost more than one would think.   There could be a lesson learned in Los Angeles that applies across New York. While municipal promotion of biking is a positive initiative supported by the public to enhance health and cut back on air pollution, municipalities need to also take the needed steps to review bike lanes and roads for hazards. Biking and enhancing public recreation options is certainly something municipalities want to do and should be doing. However, from a legal perspective in calculating such initiatives, municipalities need to factor in some investment to review, inspect, and repair bike paths and bike lanes which will help to avoid and address possible litigation down the road.

DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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