How much responsibility do governments have in making bicyclists safe around cities and on roadways? Earlier this year, the Supreme Court of Washington, in Susan Camicia v. Howard S. Wright Construction Co. and City of Mercer Island, addressed this question and found in favor of Ms. Camicia, now paralyzed from a biking accident.
In the following video, Camicia describes the incident that led to the case and the resulting injuries:
Many cyclists have faced the same danger that paralyzed cyclist Susan Camicia. I know I have; countless times. Susan was severely injured while bicycling along the bike trail on I-90. As she approached an intersection, she had to veer to the left to avoid striking temporary fencing that had been installed by a construction contractor to prevent public access to a nearby construction site. After navigating around the fencing, she looked up, just in time to see a wooden post that was erected to keep vehicles from entering the paved bike path. Unfortunately she was unable to change her direction before striking the pole. She fell from her bike and as a result was rendered paraplegic.
Camica brought a claim for injuries against the contractor who installed the fencing (for allowing the fencing to protrude onto the bike path) and the city (for allowing the dangerous condition to exist on the property). The city responded that it was immune from liability under RCW 4.24.210–which provides immunity from liability for unintentional injuries to landowners who “allow members of the public to use [the land] for the purposes of outdoor recreation…without charging a fee of any kind therefor[e].” Surprisingly, the trial court agreed with the city and granted summary judgment against Ms. Camicia. On appeal, the Washington State Court of Appeals reversed the decision and held that the city was not entitled to summary judgment. The city appealed. The case made it all the way to the Washington State Supreme Court.
Finally, in Susan Camicia v. Howard S. Wright Construction Co. and City of Mercer Island, the court issued a ruling that better protects Washington's cyclists. The case hinged on whether the bike trail in question was for recreational use or was used for public transportation.
The City alleged that it “understood the trail to be primarily recreational in nature” and that recreation immunity follows even if the land is used for “incidental recreational use.” Distinguishing many cases relied upon by the city, the Supreme Court disagreed. The court held:
To establish entitlement to recreational use immunity, the City must prove its portion of the I-90 trail is open to the public for outdoor recreation. Whether the City allowed the public to use the trail for purposes of outdoor recreation is a contested factual issue. Because the trier of fact [the jury] could find that the I-90 trail is open for the public purpose of transportation rather than recreational use, the Court of Appeals correctly held the City was not entitled to summary judgment in its favor.
This bicycle injury case is an important win for bicyclists, many of whom have faced the same danger that paralyzed cyclist Susan Camicia. I know I have; countless times.
“I was riding along the Marine Drive trail,” relates Scott Edwards, an attorney in the firm who has a current bicycle case focus. “It was dark, early in the morning and I almost ran into a bollard just west of the airport. Bollards are dangerous and they have to be placed safely — if they're not, people get hurt just like Susan did.” Edwards writes about making the community safer through adherence to community safety rules at his own personal blog.