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Can Cyclists Sue Cities for Road Hazards?

Cyclists often feel like they're in competition with motorists for who gets to 'own' the road, despite the law recognizing everyone's right to use city streets. Unfortunately, some motorists do not share the road with cyclists as well as they ought, putting cyclists' lives at risk. In fact, according to statistics from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), bicycle rider deaths in California reached a 25-year high between 2016 and 2018. During that time, 455 cyclists were killed in traffic collisions.

However, it's not always motorists who are at fault; poor road conditions can threaten the safety of cyclists as much as negligent driving does.

Unsafe Road Conditions Can Cause Bike Accidents

Some cities don't have roads designed to accommodate cyclists. However, as more Americans decide to commute on bicycles for health and financial reasons, city officials are quickly finding that their roads need improvement for the safety of motorists and cyclists alike.

Bicycle accidents can be caused by several road hazards, such as:

  • Potholes, often caused by long-term wear and tear or negligent temporary road fixes
  • Sewer grates, especially those with bars that run in the direction of traffic
  • Rail or trolley tracks, especially those that run in the direction of traffic or are little-used

Because these are the most likely road hazards to cause bicycle accidents, it’s the responsibility of the public agency that maintains the roadway to help prevent the problem.

For instance, in May of 2015, Los Angeles resident Peter Godefroy was injured after a pothole caused him to fall off his bicycle. Godefroy’s accident caused multiple broken bones and severe brain trauma. The cyclist’s injuries were permanent, so he sued the city for his losses. In his lawsuit, Godefroy argued that the road was so poorly maintained that it created a “concealed trap for bicyclists.” The Los Angeles City Council unanimously voted to award Godefroy a $6.5 million settlement for the injuries he sustained in the accident. In this instance, the city took responsibility for the injuries caused by poor road conditions.

In 2019, a cyclist in Portland sued the city after an unmarked metal cable strung across a park pathway caused a bike accident in which he suffered severe injuries to his neck, back, and elbows, resulting in $86,000 in medical bills and $85,000 in lost income. The suit claimed that the city failed to make the cable clearly visible to cyclists or notify park visitors that the trail was closed.

How to Decrease Bike Accident Rates

Proper cycling infrastructure is one of the best ways to prevent bicycle accidents. Maintaining it is another. Safety in numbers, too, is interestingly real in this case; as more and more people use bicycles as a method of transportation, the safer it gets to ride. With appropriate infrastructure set up to allow for increased traffic of pedestrians, cyclists, and vehicles, cities can ensure better road safety for everyone involved.

When Is a City Responsible for Injuries?

Cities and municipalities are immune from many lawsuits. However, there are exceptions to this policy in some areas. Some cities have ordinances designed to encourage proper road maintenance. If a city fails to meet appropriate standards for road maintenance, then it could be held liable for any injuries suffered by cyclists because of road deterioration.

Many cities should do the following to protect bicyclists:

  • Maintain roads frequently
  • Provide adequate space for cyclists on city streets
  • Provide proper warnings for road hazards
  • Enforce traffic safety laws for cyclists and motorists

In some instances, a city may only be held partially responsible for an accident. For example, if city officials can prove that a pothole which caused an accident only formed recently, they might be found partly liable for the accident.

What If I am Injured Because of a Poorly Maintained Road?

If you or a loved one has suffered from a bicycle accident caused by a poorly maintained road, you should contact a bicycle accident attorney immediately. An experienced attorney will be able to investigate your case, explain your options, and hold your local government responsible for its role in causing you injury.

Arnold & Itkin has won billions of dollars in verdicts and settlements for our clients. Our attorneys are prepared to be aggressive litigators who refuse to settle for less than our clients deserve. We believe that businesses, governments, and individuals have a responsibility to keep each other safe—and we’ll fight for those who have suffered from negligence, no matter how powerful the defendant.

Call our bicycle accident attorneys today at (888) 493-1629 for a free consultation. We are committed to fighting for what’s right. No matter what.

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