Peter Godefroy was riding his bicycle on Valley Vista Boulevard in Sherman Oaks, California two years ago when struck a pothole, crashed his bike, and suffered “severe traumatic brain injury and numerous broken or fractured bones throughout his body.” Godefroy sued the City of Los Angeles, claiming poor lighting and even worse maintenance led to a simple pothole becoming a “concealed trap for bicyclists.”
The L.A. City Council settled that lawsuit last week, voting 11-0 to approve granting Godefroy $6.5 million in damages. It’s the second such settlement this year, after the council also awarded $4.5 million to the family of a man killed after he was thrown from his bike when he hit uneven pavement in the city.
Bicycle accidents are sadly more common than you would hope. And if you don’t have cycling insurance (yes, those policies do exist), you may be wondering about your legal options. In a crash scenario, hopefully the other party — whether it be a driver in their car, a business-owned vehicle, another cyclist, or even a pedestrian — will be insured and that will cover your injuries. If not, you may have to file a lawsuit in order to recoup medical bills and lost wages.
Most cycling accidents can be treated just like car accidents: exchange insurance information with the other party or parties, document the accident and any injuries as thoroughly as possible, and consider contacting the police if there are serious injuries or property damage. And the work doesn’t stop the day after an accident — make sure to track initial ambulance or hospital bills, additional or ongoing medical expenses, and lost work or wages as well as future income.
It may sound daunting, but you can sue city hall. You may have to file a claim of injury with the city before filing a civil lawsuit to give the city a chance to compensate you or respond to the claim, and you’ll have to do so within specific statutes of limitation. If the city fails to respond or denies your claim, you can move on to a full-blown lawsuit.
As a general rule, municipalities are responsible for maintaining roadways (including bike lanes and sidewalks) so that they’re safe for cyclists, and can be held liable for injuries caused by dangerous conditions on public roadways. If a city or municipal entity fails to exercise reasonable care in keeping the roadways in good repair, they can be found liable for injuries that occur. However, in order to prove a city was negligent in repairing the road, you would also need to prove the city had or should have had notice of the dangerous condition and failed to fix it.
If you’re considering a bike injury lawsuit against a city, talk to an experienced attorney first.