Regardless of our status in the bicycling community, each of us should be mindful of risk management. As a long-time member and supporter of our community, I would not take any action against a club, ride leader, race director or sponsor. However, we all know that there are plenty of attorneys who will. The intent of this article is to protect the very viability of our organizing groups.
We can all agree that our sport carries many risks. We also understand that when an unfortunate accident occurs, there will be fingers pointed at each involved party. Given this environment, it should be our common goal to avoid nasty litigation and dark courthouse corridors even before an accident.
Many bicyclists are averse to discussion regarding the legal considerations of our sport and typically a lawyer is only involved when there is an accident. Sometimes we choose to assume that the worst will never happen to a member of our careful and conscientious community. However, having practiced law for over 32 years and tried over 60 civil and criminal cases, let me share some insight that may make you think twice.
The Risks of the Ride
In a recent incident, an admittedly inexperienced bicyclist followed a group ride on a freeway shoulder. At a steep off-ramp, she failed to make the hard left turn and she crashed, resulting in serious skull and brain injuries. Clubs, group leaders, and sponsors – beware! Even though the bicycle club may argue that there had been no prior accidents on the route, the law clearly states, “Evidence of the absence of previous accidents is inadmissible to show that no dangerous condition existed.” For more see; Murphy v. County of Lake (1951) 106 Cal.App.2d 61, 65; see also, Hawke v. Burns (1956) 140 Cal. App. 2d 158, 169 [“for certain limited purposes the plaintiff may prove previous accidents but a defendant, at least in the first instance, may not prove absence of previous accidents.”]
Some clubs and sponsors would argue that risks are inherent in the sport, and each bicyclist assumes those risks by way of participation. Though this legal defense is often applied in court, its effectiveness depends on underlying facts, which will be deliberated through the unpredictable jury process.
When you argue that a bicyclist “assumed the risk” of the accident, you may resort to arguments based on principal and statistics. The stakes for an organizer or sponsor can be shockingly high. Because of our limited protection when riding, the injuries are often severe, and most serious bicycle injury cases return six-figure verdicts.
A List for Managing the Risks
The risks involved in organizing and sponsoring a bicycling event – so arbitrarily considered in the heat of a jury deliberation room – may be managed in advance by some basic elements of legal planning. I’ve outlined a list of tips to manage the risks of running a bicycle organization or ride: