Bicycle accident: Who can you sue? |

Bicycle accident: Who can you sue?

California has progressive laws that protect cities and counties from lawsuits filed by pedestrians and bicyclists injured on paved and unpaved trails and bike paths.

The laws are designed to encourage pedestrian and bicycle path construction.

David Prokop was bicycling along the south side of the Los Angeles River on a paved bike path. He wanted to exit the path through an opening provided for bicyclists, so he cycled through the opening, ignoring the message painted on the pavement “WALK BIKE.” Prokop collided with a chain link fence and was seriously injured. He claimed his injuries were the result of a dangerous condition created by the City of Angels.

Los Angeles (“LA” ” said with an attitude if you are from Northern California) defended Prokop’s suit claiming it had immunity from liability as a result of Government Code section 831.4.

Section 831.4 provides that public entities are not liable for injuries caused by “a condition of any unpaved road which provides access to fishing, hunting, camping, hiking, riding, including animal and all types of vehicular riding, water sports, recreational or scenic areas…”

Interestingly, despite the specific language “unpaved roads” the law has been interpreted in a series of court cases to also apply to paved paths and trails. Funny how that works.

Prokop came up with the clever theory that the bicycle path was a “Class I Bikeway” under the Streets and Highways Code, governed under a different set of laws ” not subject to Section 831.4. Class I Bikeways, which are paved bike paths separated from the roadway, are not trails or paths, so the immunity statute does not apply. He argued L.A. should be liable.

The Court of Appeal discussed several other legal cases where in each instance a municipality was found to be immune from someone’s accident on a path or bikeway: 1) A motorcyclist’s injuries suffered while riding in a recreation park when he hit a pile of dirt left on a dirt trail. 2) A bicyclist in a scenic park who hit a dangerous condition created by improper patching of the asphalt path. 3) An equestrian who fell off a horse on a defective trail in a state park. 4) A rollerblader on the South Bay Bicycle Path near Santa Monica who suffered injuries when her rear wheel struck a crack on the paved path. 5) A bicyclist who crashed while cruising along a paved “Class I Bikeway” that ran along the perimeter of Balboa Park.

Porter, did you say “a bicyclist injured on a Class I Bikeway.” Isn’t that Prokop’s case? Yup.

Once again, yet another Court of Appeal has upheld the governmental immunity that public entities enjoy for injuries suffered on paved and unpaved paths and trails ” notwithstanding an acknowledged dangerous condition or poor design.

The municipal immunity law can work hardships if you are the person injured on a public path or trail that is defective, but the law keeps our paths and trails open to the public, and that’s a good thing.

Jim Porter is an attorney with Porter Simon, with offices in Truckee, South Lake Tahoe and Reno. He may be reached at or at the firm’s web site

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