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Bike riding has never been more popular in Atlanta and Georgia with the growth of the PATH and the Atlanta Beltline. Whether for commutes, health or fun, bike riding is exploding in popularity.
Unfortunately, Atlanta drivers are notoriously bad about watching out for bike riders. Georgia bike laws are constantly evolving and make litigating these case more complex. Most drivers and police officers are ignorant of the special rules.
Here we will discuss some examples of bike accident injury cases that our lawyers have handled.
In 2014, we settled a case against the City of Atlanta where our client crashed his bike on North Avenue because the City installed the grate parallel to the street rather than perpendicular, as is required by a 1978 law. The crash broke multiple facial bones and required surgery.
The City fought the case for two years, arguing that they had no duty to replace the grate. Finally, we defeated them on motions and settled the case.
We represented a rider who was struck by the mirror on a truck that was passing him and was badly injured. The police officer was ignorant of the law and did not ticket the truck driver. We were able to use the law to prove to the insurance company that their driver was responsible for the injuries. Here is the relevant law.
In two recent cases, we represented drivers who were struck by cars that failed to yield the right of way. One crash resulted in a broken shoulder blade and the second resulted in bad facial scars. Both cases were litigated to a successful conclusion.
The firm has represented triathletes in two different dog attacks over the last few years. The common fact pattern is dogs are territorial and will try to chase away people from the property. Although the dogs likely mean no harm they can cause enormous injuries when running into a bike going 25 miles per hour. Both of these riders were thrown from the bike, one resulting in a broken shoulder requiring surgery and one resulting in a broken pelvis. In the second case, the insurance company refused to settle and argued that the dog was too “nice” to have done this. We had to dig up facebook photos to prove that the dog’s nose was injured in the incident before the insurance company would settle the case in litigation.
A case tried in Federal Court in Macon in July 2014 where an SUV driver hit and killed a 68-year-old Asian man shows how hard juries can be on bike riders. In this case, the driver contended the sun was in her eyes and claimed the bike rider veered into her path. The Plaintiffs put forward expert testimony and the family testified that the rider was always cautious. The jury clearly held down the wrongful death verdict based on doubts on liability, awarding only $463,000. To add insult to injury, they put 49% of the blame on the bike rider, which in Georgia reduces the verdict by that percent, so the Plaintiff only ended up with a $239,000 verdict in a wrongful death case. The case was tried by the Boston firm out of Macon and it just illustrates 1) the bike rider has to be rock solid on liability because jurors relate to resenting bikes on the road, 2) having language barriers often reduces verdicts, 3) Macon can be a tough venue.
The Georgia Court of Appeals recently issued an opinion that sheds considerable light regarding the standard for establishing liability for the negligence of recreational landowners. In the case, Stone Mountain Memorial Ass’n. v. Amestoy, 788 SE 2d 110 (2016), the plaintiff’s husband was riding his bike one morning in Stone Mountain Park. Stone Mountain Memorial Association (“SMMA”) had put into place various traffic control measures in preparation for a race event that was set to take place that morning. Thus, the officers had set up two striped barricades, which had do not enter signs and had a narrow passageway between them. A public safety officer was stationed next to the barricades but stepped away briefly to use the bathroom. At some point, while the barricades were unattended, the plaintiff’s husband approached the barricades, reportedly with his head down. The plaintiff’s husband’s bicycle handlebar became caught on one of the barricades, which caused him to be thrown from his bicycle. The plaintiff’s husband suffered a massive head injury, despite wearing a helmet. He later died from the injuries.
Thereafter, the plaintiff filed suit, claiming SMMA was liable for her husband’s death, due to its alleged failure to warn of a dangerous condition. SMMA then filed a motion for summary judgment, claiming immunity under the Recreational Property Act. The trial court denied the motion, finding genuine issues of material fact remained. The Recreational Property Act, found in OCGA § 51-3-22, insulates recreational property landowners from premises liability. However, there is an exception for a willful or malicious failure to warn or guard against a dangerous condition. The court has clarified that a willful failure is conscious, knowing, or intentional, rather than a mere oversight or unintentional failure. Furthermore, the malice aspect requires an actual intention to produce harm, with the knowledge that there is a strong potential for injury or harm.
The court found that the plaintiff particularly failed to meet the standard required by the exception test, namely that the defendant had actual knowledge that the alleged potential danger posed by the barricades was not openly apparent. An SMMA officer testified that the barricades were plainly visible for a considerable distance and that visibility conditions were clear on the day of the accident. Additionally, another officer conducted a visibility test, which concluded that on the day of the incident, taking into account the relevant variables, the barricades would have been visible from a considerable distance. Additionally, the plaintiff’s expert witness testified that he did not know how far back the decedent could have seen the barricades themselves.
Based on the various testimony, the court found that the plaintiff failed to establish that the defendant had actual knowledge that the barricades were not apparent to park users. Thus, there was no evidence that the officers knew that the barricades presented a potentially dangerous condition. Lastly, regarding the plaintiff’s argument that the officer stationed at the barricades was objective proof that the barricades represented a potential threat of injury to bicyclists, the individual who offered testimony on behalf of SMMA stated that the officer’s role was to turn cars and bicyclists around from the area, in an effort to protect the walkers who were participating in the event that day.
The court further clarified the point that even if the decedent could not see the barricades from his particular position at the speed that he was riding on the day of the incident, the relevant standard regarding whether a dangerous condition was open and obvious is based upon the objective knowledge of a reasonable person, rather than on the plaintiff’s subjective knowledge. Thus, the statements regarding visibility on the day in question and estimates based upon photographs serve as the objective standard for determining the potential dangerousness of the conditions.
Therefore, based upon the court’s judgment of the nature of the conditions, and the plaintiff’s failure to satisfy all of the elements of the exception for recreational landowner liability, the court reversed the trial court’s denial of SMMA’s motion for summary judgment.
Even though landowners of recreational property can be protected from liability, if you have been injured on recreational property as a result of the landowner’s possible negligence, you should still consider finding experienced counsel to help you determine whether the Recreational Property Act does, in fact, preclude your claims. The Atlanta premises liability attorneys at Christopher Simon Attorney at Law have represented a number of litigants who have been injured on both public and private property, and they are prepared to help you assess the viability of a possible claim. Contact us today for your free initial consultation.
Williams v. Bowes
In 2014, a bike rider lost his injury case in Federal Court for injuries he sustained when a car turned left across his path. What amazes me as I read these results is the stupidity of some of the lawyers involved. This plaintiff was riding a bike in the dark with no headlight, no helmet and wearing dark clothing. He was knocked out at the scene and it looks like he primarily had chiropractic care. The real mystery is why they would allow such a case to go to Federal Court as chiro cases are never worth more than the $75,000 minimum required for diversity jurisdiction.