Due to their relatively narrow tires, common road hazards can present big problems for bicycles. Bicycle accidents resulting in serious injuries can be caused by changes in road surfaces, debris in the road, railroad tracks, sewer grates, and potholes, among other road hazards. When a known road hazard causes a bicycle accident, the governmental entity responsible for maintenance of the road may be liable for injuries resulting from that accident.
Several agencies have paid settlements to bicycle accident victims, including the Washington State Department of Transportation. The DOT awarded an $8 million settlement to a man who suffered a spinal cord injury, and resulting quadriplegia, as the result of a bicycle accident on the Montlake Bridge. The man claimed that the inch-wide gap in a section of metal grating that caused his accident had previously caused an accident.
Common Road Hazards and Negligence
Governmental agencies may be liable for bicycle accidents caused by potholes, if the entity was aware of the hazard and the pothole was caused by improper or insufficient road maintenance. Conversely, if a pothole has only been present for a short time, the public entity may not be liable.
Likewise, improperly installed sewer grates can pose dangers for bicyclists, and be a case for negligence. Most governmental agencies try to install sewer grates opposing the flow of traffic to prevent bicycle tires from becoming stuck in them. Covering them with crosshatches or changing their shapes are other means of keeping bicycle tires from becoming ensnared in sewer grates.
If the roadway crosses railroad tracks at an angle or curve, bicycle wheels can easily become stuck in the space between the road and the track. Bicyclists should be warned with signs about precarious crossings, or an alternate bike path could be provided. In cases where tracks are no longer in use, the appropriate public entity should remove or cover the tracks.
To determine negligence for a bicycle accident caused by a road hazard, the plaintiff must give proof that the governmental agency responsible for that particular section of road was conscious of the threat. The services of a knowledgeable personal injury attorney may be required to successfully accomplish this.