Monday, March 05, 2012

Two legal actions regarding bicycle crashes could have future ramifications

Recently the NJ Bike Ped News Feed produced by the Voorhees Transportation Center Bike/Ped Resource Center covered a couple legal stories of note in the past months.   While both stories have their origins in tragedy, the actions and decisions by the New Jersey legal systems may have profound implications in the way bicycle crashes and the reckless vehicular operations are handled.

The first story dating back to November 27th of last year is about a serious crash cause by a driver who hit a seriously injured two cyclists.  What makes this story remarkable is that the Bergen County Prosecutor has decided to take the case and that the driver is being charged with two counts of Assault by Auto, Reckless Driving and Failure to Maintain a Lane.  While the crash itself is horrible as all are, it is at least a relief to the justice system taking a serious and appropriate stance in the face of the vehicular violence that will affect these two cyclists the rest of their lives.  Unfortunately, the news stories did not go into detail as to why such a serious charges were  filed or if there were extenuating circumstance that necessitated the charge.

The other story is also tragic and dates back to a crash from 2001 where a woman died after hitting a pothole in the shoulder while riding downhill with at group of other experienced cyclists in Essex County.  The case here hinged upon two issues.   The primary is whether the county is liable for the crash since it was informed of the pothole multiple times prior to the crash.  However it should be noted that the cyclist was riding in a group and that her ability to see the pothole could have been obscured by others she was riding with.  I was concerend that if the plaintiff won the case based on this premise, then Essex County and other county and municipal governments would have a good reason not to build bicycle faculties like bike lanes for fear of being liable in a case just like this one. 

However in the final decision from the State Supreme Court question whether or not a roadway shoulder is even intended for bicycle riding.  The precedent of this secondary issue could prove problematic for cyclist in the future trying to make legal claims when injured or ticket while riding in the shoulder.  This particular conclusion of the NJ Supreme Court is clearly in need of further research and may require legislative action to protect the rights of cyclists.

The unpublished Supreme Court decision can be found here.

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