Miami’s cycling community has been rolling strong for years, and it’s only grown in recent years, thanks to the implementation of the CitiBike bikeshare program. It allows residents and visitors to cheaply rent city-owned bicycles from any one of the hundreds of downtown stations. The city has also been working to improve bike safety with the adoption of a Complete Streets model, that focuses on improving function for all road users – not just those in cars.
Still, Florida remains one of the most dangerous places for cyclists, with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) reporting 133 fatal bicycle accidents in the state in 2013, accounting for 5.5 percent of all deadly traffic accidents.
When a serious bicycle accident happens, it’s imperative for victims to explore all potential avenues of liability. If it involves a motor vehicle, obviously the driver may be liable, but so too might the owner of the vehicle, the company for whom driver worked and possibly the bar that served him or her alcohol. If the accident involved an unsafe stretch of road, it could mean action against the local or state government agency. In cases where there was a defect in the bicycle, it could mean a product liability lawsuit against the manufacturer.
But as our Miami bicycle accident attorneys can explain, any case against a local government entity is going to be fraught with challenges.
The case of Burgueno v. Regents of the Univ. of Calif. is one example. Here, the California Court of Appeal for the Sixth Appellate District was asked whether a lower court erred in granting summary judgment to a local college responsible for maintenance of a bike path after a fatal bicycle accident involving a student. Unfortunately, the court upheld the summary judgment, finding the college immune from the action.
Many public colleges are considered arms of the government, and as such, may be protected by sovereign immunity laws.
In this case, the complaint stemmed from the tragic death of a student on the Great Meadow Bikeway.
Decedent lived off-campus and as a full-time student, commuted to classes on bicycle. To get there, he took the Great Meadow Bikeway. It’s a path that runs through a portion of campus that is known as “the Great Meadow.” It was built in the early 1970s to give students the opportunity to have an alternative mode of transportation to school, separate from motor vehicle traffic.
Since it was built, there have been numerous bicycle accidents on the path. It is used for recreation and transportation. Cars aren’t allowed on it, but sometimes it’s accessed by emergency and university service vehicles. It’s also used as a farm access, where private vehicles occasionally cross at a certain point.
One evening in 2011, a student rode his bicycle to go to attend his photography class and was returning after class when he was killed after a crash on the downhill portion of the bikeway.
Representatives for his estate filed a lawsuit against the university, alleging a dangerous condition on the property. Plaintiffs alleged the school was aware the path was dangerous for those commuting from campus at night because of its sharp downhill curve, lack of adequate signage, lack of roadway markings, sight limitations, lack of physical barriers to prevent nighttime use. They also asserted the school didn’t warn the public or students of the dangers of biking there at night.
The school shot back with an affirmative defense of governmental immunity, and filed a motion for summary judgment, which was granted. They also alleged that because the bikeway was for recreational purposes, it could not be liable because the burden of proof for dangerous condition claims on property made public for recreation is higher.
Plaintiffs argued the trail wasn’t a recreational trail within the meaning of the statute. Rather, it was a transportation corridor. Despite the fact that some use it for recreation, that isn’t its sole purpose and decedent wasn’t using it for recreation at the time of his death.
Trial court granted summary judgment, and appeals court affirmed, based on the trail’s recreational purpose.
If you have been a victim of a bicycle accident, call Chalik & Chalik at (954) 476-1000 or 1 (800) 873-9040.
Burgueno v. Regents of the Univ. of Calif. , Jan. 13, 2016, California Court of Appeals, Sixth Appellate District
More Blog Entries:
Smizer v. Drey – Seeking Punitive Damages in a Crash Case, Jan. 1, 2016, Miami Bicycle Accident Lawyer Blog