Litigation and the Bicycle
Many of us in the bicycle industry refer to cycling as the “The new golf.” The popularity of bicycles has expanded faster than any other participant sport in America. 2010 sales figures indicate a 33.2% increase in volume from just a year ago. To put that in perspective, there are far more cyclists in America than golfers, tennis players and skiers combined. The participation profile indicates many more adults; from their mid-twenties-through their mid 60’s are now riding bikes. While a lot of us are enjoying our bicycles, we cannot forget the ever present risks. Many of the new crops of mature riders are more secure financially, so those risks are worth calculating.
Part of the popularity of cycling comes from the vast array of new equipment offered. Serious riders frequently choose carbon fiber frames with multi-speed index shifting, often custom fit to accommodate varying body types. These machines carry hefty price tags easily ranging on the high side of 6-8 K, depending on how they are equipped. For street challenged riders desiring to go nowhere fast, there are thousands of fitness studios and gyms featuring group sessions using stationary bikes. Yet few of these clubs give any thought to the actual mechanical/biomechanical adjustment of the rider, and when these sessions become competitive, it is possible to injure a rider’s knees and back if the set-up is incorrect. Mountain bikes, recreational touring bikes, beach cruisers and hybrids are quite often ridden with saddles so low that knees often bear too much weight for older riders whose muscle range of motion and joint stability is often an afterthought. When an older rider’s knees are compromised, often they are unable to continue with—sighting my personal experience -- devastating mental and physical results. Of all the multi-dimensional cycling equipment available at your neighborhood bike shop, or at many online web store fronts, the actual mechanics of the body-bike interface is generally secondary to the actual product sale.
At the higher levels of the participation scale, racing activity has also experienced a rapid rise in participation. Unlike motor racing, where drivers are expected to demonstrate and practice their skill at a formal school, the powers that be that govern cycling require no such training of amateur’s racers, often with disastrous results ranging from skinned knees and elbows, broken bones and even death. With many new recreational riders, and would be racers training and racing on public roads, it would seem likely that some formal instruction should follow. No wonder the consumer products safety commission lists cycling at the top of its injury accident classification. Today’s recreational touring riders have many opportunities to participate in a vast number of cycling promotions benefiting worthwhile charitable causes. The problem becomes clear when a thousand or more untrained and lightly skilled weekend riders end up on the street together. While they may be having healthy fun, it can be likened to filling a blender and forgetting the top.
On the industry front, touring and commuting sales volumes have increased at larger sales outlets and, out of necessity, new hires are often less experienced. These people are entrusted with the responsibility of complex system assemble, demonstration, and sale of a full range of bikes and accessories. The obvious problem with this is that occasionally compromises in skill and safety can be contributing factors in bicycle accidents. In the manufacturing sector, quality control of bikes and equipment is sometimes an issue as components and frames are rushed into the market without sufficient test time to satisfy the ongoing consumer demand for “newer and lighter” equipment.
As for municipalities, with many cities facing budget cuts for road surfacing, frequently more public roads are poorly surfaced. A minor pot hole that is not likely to effect a motor vehicle can be a death trap for a racing bike with a tire less than ¾ of an inch of rubber on the ground.
As a cycling advocate, my main concern is insuring rider safety. The vast number of new riders simply lack essential training in basic on-road skills. I believe that learning these skills is just as important as learning to ride in the first place. Our Street Survival Training course offers riders an opportunity to quickly gather experience in such critical functions as cornering, climbing, emergency braking, group skills, and riding in traffic. We also explain the entry/ exit strategy for high tension release pedal systems as part of our curriculum. Any rider who has ever found himself in the middle of heavy traffic and felt intimidated can appreciate the need for applying basic skills. Even experienced riders need to brush up on their technical riding to enhance their envelope of safety.
As a trial qualified bicycle expert, national and world champion racer, world record holder, Olympian, coach and anatomical bike fitting specialist with over 35 years of experience, I have worked cases involving road conditions, alleged rider and driver error, inattention issues, doors opened into the path of passing cyclists, road rage, spontaneous front wheel release, unsafe roadways, improper turns and unsafe passing. Standard of care and due care are considered in each case. Design criteria, and engineering experience in a broad variety of exotic materials are all part of being a good expert. Further experience in virtually every known bicycle component failure or alleged failure under a variety of road and off-road conditions are also qualities for a dangerous bicycle expert. Consultation and test experience with bicycle manufacturers and other experts is an imperative quality of a competent and effective expert.
Bicycles and personal injury litigation representing both the defense and plaintiff perspective is a rapidly expanding field and there is no substitute for multi-faceted experience and a skillfully applied declaration of facts. Numerous regional cycling and triathlon newsletters, both direct mail and online as well as national and international publications now feature regular columns on bike litigation. A scan of advertisers will yield many law firms offering tips on what to do in the event of an accident. The connection with cycling is a natural one for many PI Attorneys. Hopefully this will serve as both a source of preventive care for those who ride, and provide some provocative information for attorneys looking to connect with the various cycling related entities.
Reprinted with permission from Author 800-683-9847