I Was Hurt on a Community Shared Bike, Can I Sue the City?
A community shared bike is a novel and excellent idea in an urban setting. You can use a bicycle for a specific purpose and then return the bike. For example, if you do not want to move your car during the day, you can ride that community bike on an errand or to go to lunch. You do not have to worry about finding a parking space either coming or going. Community shared bikes can be run by city governments or private enterprises. They can be free or charge a modest fee. The bikes can be located in stations, or they can be just be left wherever the user chooses. The question of liability of a city for an injury depends on the circumstances and cause of the injury, whether the bike share is run by the city or private company, and the laws of negligence of the state where the injury occurred. This article will take a look at all the possibilities to answer the question.
If you live in a city that operates the community shared bike, you will have a better case for liability for an injury. You will have to deal with several issues such as waiver of liability, contributory or comparative negligence, and the manner in which the city operates and maintains the bicycles. The first item to examine is how the city runs the bike share. It probably does not matter if the city charges a fee or not. Its liability will not depend upon that fact. The city is responsible for its actions in either case. The city will probably set up stations around the city. A bike is picked up at one station and then delivered to another one. There will probably be an app or some other way for an individual to know the locations of the stations. The city has a legal obligation to make sure each bike is in safe condition and does not have any defects that would cause an injury. This would include periodic inspections to ensure that each bike has not been damaged by a user.
For example, if someone reported a problem with a bike such as low air in a tire and the city did nothing and allowed the bike to be used, then there could be liability if the injury was caused by the low air in the tire. The same logic would apply to any reported problem. The city would have to pull any reported bike and fix the problem.
While the city has an obligation to provide a safe bike, when you rent the bike you are certifying that you know how to safely ride a bike. If the injury is the result of your failure to yield to traffic or follow any other traffic rule, then contributory negligence would bar your claim. If your state has comparative negligence, then your negligence would be considered along with the negligence of the city.
If your city requires you to sign a waiver of liability prior to using the bike, then your claim for injury could be denied. It would depend upon the language of the waiver and exactly what you are waiving. Read the waiver carefully. You would not want to waive the city’s obligation to provide a safe bike or safe streets. The waiver should probably just address your obligation to operate the bike safely.
Many of the same issues that were listed above apply to private companies. One point to consider is the involvement of the city. If the city requires private companies to comply with certain regulations, then liability could be proven if the private company did not follow the regulations. The issue of the city being liable involves their monitoring of the private company. The city has a duty to follow up and make sure the private company is operating the bike share in a safe manner that complies with all regulations.
You may find that some cities have no regulations concerning privately run bike shares. An argument can be made that those cities have a duty to regulate and cannot just sit back and do nothing. The failure to regulate can be a basis for liability. If you are injured on a privately owned community share bike, you should consider the liability of the city in addition to an action against the private company.
LOCATIONS OF BIKES
If the city or private company does not have permanent locations for bikes but allows the bikes to be dropped off anywhere, this could lead to a liability argument. Bikes just placed on a street, sidewalk, or lawn could be damaged. There is no way to know if the act of placing the bike on the ground damaged some part, which could lead to an accident. The liability of the city is in allowing a private company to operate a community share without permanent stations. Of course, you have the problem of proof that the bike was damaged. But it seems it would be much harder to keep up with the condition of the bikes that are just abandoned.
In considering the type of injury you might suffer while riding one of these community bikes, there are two thoughts. One is an injury caused by the condition of the bike. You can think of several scenarios such as the low tire pressure previously mentioned, a loose part of the bike that comes loose, or a faulty steering mechanism. The other is the failure of the city to provide a safe environment. If it is dangerous to ride a bike in a city environment, then a city should not be offering bikes – either city or privately run. There has to be an assumption that the community bike can be safely ridden on city streets. A city needs to consider where the bikes are going to be used before allowing a community share. If there are streets where operating a bike is unsafe, then those locations need to be plainly stated to all users.
A community share bike is a new idea and thus the issue of liability is far from settled. It is clear, though, that any user is free to assume that the bike is safe to ride and that the city streets are friendly enough to navigate. The city must meet those standards at a minimum to avoid liability. The user must be comfortable riding a bike through those streets and have sufficient knowledge of the rules of the road to avoid being denied when making a claim for an injury.