Most serious Florida bicycle accidents occur on public roads, and the majority of the time, defendants in the cases are careless drivers. However, Florida has an avid – and growing – cycling community that enjoys off-road biking. The question of whether the property owner of these trails (in most cases, the city, county or state government) can be liable for an injury resulting from a bicycle accident on them will depend on a number of factors.
These cases are often predicated on the legal theory of premises liability. Specifically, plaintiffs will need to show the government/ property owner owed some duty of care to those who were invited on site and that this duty was breached by the creation of or failure to address a dangerous condition on the property.
For instance earlier this year, a federal judge ruled the government was responsible for serious injuries sustained after a bicycle accident on an Air Force Academy trail. Part of the trail appeared to look simply shaded, but in fact, it was missing entirely. Plaintiff was flung off his bicycle and onto an asphalt path, where he sustained a traumatic brain injury, vision loss, damage to his endocrine system and permanent scarring. His case prevailed against the federal government under the federal Premises Liability Act.
More recently, the primary question in a bicycle accident case out of Illinois was whether the government/ its agents were entitled to sovereign immunity, as spelled out by state statute. (Florida’s waiver of sovereign immunity, which spells out the circumstances under which a government or employees can be liable for negligence, is codified in F.S. 768.28.) In the recent case, before the Illinois Supreme Court, involved a plaintiff who was riding her bicycle along with a group of other cyclists along a path that ran parallel to a U.S. highway when she crashed.
According to court records, the city had been informed of a dangerous condition on a section of that path, where weeds and other vegetation had grown up through the asphalt, causing portions of the pathway to become jagged, uneven and broken. When plaintiff encountered this portion of the path, she was thrown from her bicycle and sustained serious injuries.
She later filed a bicycle accident lawsuit against the county and city, alleging they were responsible for maintenance of the path and failure to do so even after being warned of the dangerous condition made them responsible to cover her damages.
Defense argued the government agencies were entitled to immunity – specifically under a statute indicating neither public entities nor public employees could be liable for injuries caused by a condition of any hiking, riding, fishing or hunting trail. The trial court granted the defense motion for summary judgment, but the appellate court reversed and the state supreme court affirmed that decision.
Although the statute in question did use the term “riding,” the appellate court ruled that a “path” – which is what this strip of asphalt was – is not the same as a “trail.” Justices noted that if the statutory language included any jogging, riding, in-line skating or stroller trail, then it could have considered immunity for the city. However, by placing the term “riding” in the same context as “fishing, hiking and hunting,” the court ruled that lawmakers intended to provide immunity only where unimproved, primitive or rustic trails were concerned.
The court remanded the case for trial.
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Corbett v. The County of Lake, Nov. 30, 2017, Illinois Supreme Court
More Blog Entries:
Landowner May be Liable for Crash Injuries – But Only in Some Circumstances, Nov. 30, 2017, Orlando Bicycle Accident Lawyer Blog