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Is it possible for cyclists to file lawsuits against cities for road hazards?

Is it possible for cyclists to file lawsuits against cities for road hazards

Cyclists and motorists frequently clash over the right to navigate city streets, even as laws affirm the rights of both to share the road. However, the reality for cyclists is often perilous, underscored by consistently high and disproportionate injury rates. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s (NHTSA) National Center for Statistics and Analysis, in 2021, an estimated 41,615 bicyclists sustained injuries, with an average of approximately 45,400 injury-only crashes annually over the past five years. While some hazards stem from interactions with vehicles, many dangers are rooted in inadequate road conditions, posing significant threats to cyclists’ safety.

The Peril of Unsafe Road Conditions for Cyclists

In many cities, the infrastructure fails to adequately accommodate bicycle traffic. With an increasing number of Americans choosing bicycles as their primary mode of transportation for health and economic benefits, the need for safer roads for both cyclists and motorists is becoming more apparent.
Several types of road hazards are notorious for causing bicycle accidents, including:
  • Potholes, resulting from wear and tear or inadequate repairs
  • Sewer grates aligned with traffic flow
  • Rail or trolley tracks positioned in traffic lanes or infrequently used
These hazards highlight the duty of municipal agencies to maintain safer roads.
For example, in 2015, Peter Godefroy in Los Angeles suffered severe injuries due to a pothole, leading to a successful $6.5 million settlement against the city for its failure to maintain safe road conditions. Similarly, a cyclist in Portland faced serious injuries after crashing due to an unmarked metal cable across a pathway, leading to a lawsuit against the city for negligence.

Strategies for Reducing Bicycle Accidents

Investing in and maintaining proper cycling infrastructure significantly reduces the risk of accidents. Moreover, as cycling becomes more popular, the “safety in numbers” phenomenon can further enhance cyclist safety. By facilitating a mixed-use environment for pedestrians, cyclists, and vehicles, cities can ensure a safer experience for all.

City Liability for Cyclist Injuries

While cities and municipalities often have immunity against many lawsuits, exceptions exist, especially where ordinances require them to maintain roads to a certain standard. Failure to adhere to these standards can result in the city being held liable for injuries caused by deteriorating road conditions.
Cities can protect cyclists by:
  • Regularly maintaining roads
  • Allocating adequate space for cyclists
  • Warning of road hazards
  • Enforcing safety laws for both cyclists and motorists
In some cases, liability may be shared, especially if a city can demonstrate that a hazard like a pothole had only recently appeared.

Taking Action After an Injury

Victims of bicycle accidents caused by poor road maintenance should seek legal counsel promptly. A skilled bicycle accident attorney can investigate the case, outline possible courses of action, and pursue claims against local governments for their part in causing the injury.

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