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Cyclists and the public should rise up against government immunity for bicycle pathway accidents.


Blog Category:
10/6/2009
James E. Ballidis
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In the 70s and 80s, bicycle use increased significantly in California. Not only was there a desire to ride bicycles for pleasure, but more persons were riding bicycles in competitive sports, to work, and to recreational areas like the mountains and beaches.  The increase in use demanded new laws and standards be developed and codified to protect bicyclists on the road.  In light of the use of highways and streets by automobiles and trucks, there was concern that bicyclists would be subjected to serious injury or even death because of increased use of already congested roadway surfaces, and an inability of motorists to fully and completely comprehend and react to cyclist and bicycle riders.

You would expect that each addition to our riding areas be designed and built, maintained and cared for to reasonably prevent injury while we ride our bikes.  But that has not been the case.  Read why the Legislature needs to make a change immediately.

When the demand for new standards and designs arose, experts and individuals like John Forester, MS, PE devoted significant time and thought to cycling and roadway surface design for bicycles, and created a series of laws that were later adopted by the California legislature. The laws included well thought out recommendations associated with the location and use of bicycle pathways, the creation of bicycle trails, and road surface bicycle lanes. Their efforts were codified by the California Legislature in Streets and Highway Code section 890 through 894.

Since that time, there has been great and vast improvement in the facilities available for bicyclists and cyclists wanting to take a ride. Not only has there been an expansion of laws governing the operation of bicycle lanes, helmet safety and the creation of specialized locations for cyclists to ride, but there has also big been a great improvement in driver awareness of the operation of bicycles on our roads and streets.

However there remains one, very disturbing, anomaly. I anomaly created not by judges, as suggested by some writers, but by the Legislature when enacting certain governmental immunities.  The legislature did not want mountain bikers to sue the government when riding on trails to unimproved areas that could not be reasonably maintained by a governmental agency.  They adopted the following synopsis of words as their standard for governmental immunity:
A governmental entity is immune from liability for any defects (of any kind) on any unpaved road which is not a ... 
city street or highway or ... any trail used (to go to an unimproved area).
In a series of cases decided over the last ten years, the statute has been repeatedly interpreted to define pathway as any pathway or bikeway whether paved or not, that is going to an unimproved area, such as the beach, or parks.  With immunity, governmental agencies will devote their resources to those conditions that may generate liability and ignore the repairs, design and maintenance of bike riding paths that can cause serious injury, as two recent clients found out when contacting our firm.

It is time for the legislature to act.  A simple amendment would clear this law up and protect you, me and my child from injury and suffering.  We are devoted to seeing this law change and hope you will write to your congressman or representative to see common sense restored.  Otherwise, the next time you decide to ride on a bike path or the river trail to the beach, know that if the pathway gives out, crumbles under your wheel or develops a giant pothole that causes your crash, you will have no right to get compensated for your injuries and damages.

James Ballidis is a California bicycle accident attorney and practices with the firm of Allen, Flatt, Ballidis & Leslie.  The firm takes cases in Los Angeles, Orange County, San Diego County, Riverside County and all outlying areas.  If you need to talk to an attorney about your bicycle accident call us at 1 888 752-7474.

Category: Bicycle Accidents


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