CityLaw reported a case, 19 CityLaw 100 (2013), involving a bike rider in Fort Washington Park who encountered Sanitation workers cleaning graffiti. The workers had coned off the area, and the biker, to avoid the cones, rode onto the grass where he fell and broke several teeth. The Appellate Division dismissed his claim against the City. The actions by the Sanitation workers were part of a discretionary governmental function and were, therefore, immune from liability. This is an established judicial precedent for traffic applied to a bike rider.
In another case, a car knocked down a bike rider midway through a Staten Island intersection. The bike rider testified that he had a clear view, was looking ahead and never saw the car which hit him. The driver testified that he had come to a full stop, looked both ways, saw no vehicles, and entered the intersection. The Appellate Division ruled that a jury had to decide whether the bike rider, the driver, or both, were negligent.
In a third case a summer camp counselor was shepherding young children across the roadway in Central Part at West Drive and 96th Street. The counselor had the “walk” light and was holding a stop sign. Some bikers on the roadway stopped, but the plaintiff, the counselor claimed, came through the intersection and was about to hit the children. To protect the children, she pushed the bike rider who fell and was injured. The counselor claimed it was an emergency and she acted to protect the children. The bike rider claimed that he had come to a stop, or maybe a near stop, and that the counselor jumped in front of his bike, causing him to fall. The Appellate court ruled that the jury had to decide who was at fault.
City DOT reported that in 2012 City bike riders experienced 4,207 injuries and 20 fatalities, and caused 244 injuries to pedestrians. These statistics are low since DOT only counts injuries reported to the police. DOT advises bike riders to follow the rules of the road. This is good advice because bike riders, as these cases indicate, will not automatically get a green light in court.
Ross Sandler is a former Commissioner of New York City Department of Transportation, Assistant U.S. Attorney in Southern District of New York, and Special Advisor to Mayor Edward I. Koch. Specialist in environmental law, having worked with Natural Resources Defense Council and with the Hudson River Foundation for Science and Environmental Research. Editor, CityLaw, CityLand, and CityRegs.
Reprinted with permission from the author