The Complexity of Bike Share Litigation

By Peter DePaolis

Bike share has increased in major metropolitan areas each year, and according to the National Association of City Transportation Officials, there were 35 million bike trips in 2017 alone. Today, you can find bike share programs in most downtown areas to decrease traffic congestion and improve environmental conditions.

All it takes is creating a quick account and adding a credit card or debit card to book a bicycle and ride it from one designated station to another. Stations are located throughout downtown areas and are often conveniently  placed near public transportation.

While the purpose of bike share programs works positively, not all bike share programs take the riders’ safety and security into consideration.

The injuries from bike share programs pose unique legal issues, including the issue of governmental immunity when city sponsored bike programs are involved.

Sovereign Immunity in Bike Share Programs in Washington, D.C., Maryland, and VA

A local government cannot hide behind tort immunity when they fail to provide safe bicycles to their users. Some jurisdictions will allow suit if you can prove that the bike or the station was not operated in a reasonably safe condition.

The Recent Success of an Unsafe Condition Claim

Claiming unsafe conditions may be viable claim. For instance, in Corwin v. New York City Bike Share, LLC, the cyclist suffered a traumatic brain injury after crashing into an unpainted wheel stop that was not visible next to the bike share program’s station. The plaintiff filed a suit against the city of New York and the bike share program provider along with associated contractors. While the city filed a summary judgment stating that they qualified for government immunity, the court denied the motion finding that a genuine dispute occurred because New York City did not assess an unreasonably unsafe condition for cyclists and pedestrians.

What about the Release of Liability?

In Corwin, the court also reviewed the  Bicycle Rental, Liability Waiver, and Release Agreement, which the plaintiff was required to sign to become an annual member of the program. While the Agreement released the city of common law negligence claims, the plaintiff argued that the waiver was an unenforceable contract and that it was void because it was against public policy.

The plaintiff argued that the website  did not reasonably and conspicuously notify the user that they were about to engage in a legally binding contract. While the bike share program and contractors were able to escape normal liability under this contract, the courts held that the City of New York was not relieved of liability because the liability release could not undermine the City’s duties to maintain safe roadways. The city, regardless of any liability waiver, owed a duty of care.

Because the city bike station was on a public roadway and the plaintiff was injured on a public road, the city could still be liable.

Bike Share Programs Can Be Held Liable

Owners and operators of bike share programs may be subject to liability if their bikes are involved in an accident that results in death, injury, or property damage.

Whether a company can escape liability by using liability waivers is a complicated issue. There are situations where liability waivers do  not prevent a plaintiff from recovering damages.

  • The Clarity of the Contract Terms – A liability waiver and release is only valid if persons signing the liability waiver knows what they are agreeing to and what rights they are forfeiting. If it is not clear in the waiver that the user is about to sign a legally binding contract that waives their right to hold the owner accountable, then the courts are less likely to enforce that contract.
  • Gross Negligence – Gross negligence is often defined as conduct that exhibits a willful or reckless disregard for the rights of others. If a defendant is guilty of gross negligence, the liability waiver may not be enforceable.
  • Willful Misconduct – Willful misconduct’s definition varies depending on the state. But in most cases, a person is intentionally failing to act or acts in a way in which they know that they are putting others at risk for serious injury or damage. For example, the company is aware that their bicycles have severe defects but fail to repair them – despite the technician reports.

Holding Bike Share Programs Responsible

If you used a bike share program and suffered serious injuries, you may be able to hold the company or city responsible – depending on the situation. Even if you signed a liability waiver, speak with an experienced injury attorney. Never assume that a waiver means you have no options, especially when someone’s blatant negligence injured you.

Contact the attorneys at Koonz McKenney Johnson & DePaolis LLP today to explore your legal options. Schedule a consultation by contacting one of our three office locations or by scheduling an appointment online.

About the Author
Peter DePaolis joined the firm in 1980 and has since represented a large number of individuals involved in automobile collisions, truck accidents, bus crashes, defective products, and medical malpractice cases. A significant portion of Mr. DePaolis’ practice is devoted to working on behalf of people suffering from asbestosis, mesothelioma, and other asbestos-related cancers. He has led his firm’s fight against the asbestos industry and has recovered over $30 million in damages for asbestos victims and their families.