Carolina Bicycle Accidents & Premise Liability Claims

So often when we discuss bicycle accidents, we’re talking about incidents in bicyclist was hit by a motor vehicle.
However, there are instances in which dangerous road design or other hazards may have played a part in the crash. In these cases, it may be appropriate to seek action against those entities responsible for maintaining the property where the crash occurred.

This was the case in Camicia v. Howard S. Wright Constr. Co., a matter that was recently litigated before the Washington state Supreme Court. Here, the question of liability rests largely on how the land on which the crash occurred was formally classified.

Initially, the trial court dismissed the action, finding that the city had statutory immunity for unintentional injuries as a landowner who allowed members of the public to use land for outdoor recreation without charging a fee for that use. However, that ruling was later reversed by the appellate court, a decision that was upheld by the state’s supreme court.

Here’s what happened:

The victim was bicycling on a trail along the interstate. Along this trail were wooden posts, intended to keep the motor vehicle traffic from entering the bicycle path. At the time of the crash, the city, which owned the trail, had hired a contractor to build a park and ride facility. In order to keep people out of the site during construction, the contractor put up a chain link fence around the construction site.

The problem, however, was that some of the fence footing at the site protruded onto the bicycle trail along the interstate.

On the day of the bicycle accident, the rider approached the fence footing. In a quick attempt to avoid the footing, which she predicted would make her crash, she swerved to the right. However in doing so, she looked up just in time to see that there was a wooden post immediately in front of her. She didn’t have enough time to react. She struck the post, was thrown from her bicycle and now is permanently paralyzed.

The rider filed suit against both the city and the construction company. The city moved for a summary judgement, citing the state’s recreational immunity clause.

This is similar to S.C. Code Ann. 27-3-10 to 27-4-60 (2004), which essentially limits landowner liability in an effort to encourage these property owners to allow public use of their land for recreation. Under this statute, except in cases of gross negligence or willful or malicious failure to guard or warn against danger, property owners falling in this category owe no duty of care to those entering the property.

However, in reviewing the Carmicia case, the appellate court ruled that a summary judgment was improper because there was a legal dispute concerning how the property in question should be labeled.

Back when the state department of transportation owned the trail, it was clearly designated as a transportation thoroughfare for non-motorized vehicles (mostly bicycles)- not recreation, although there was acknowledgment that it was sometimes used for recreational purposes. The agency was clear in that it was not considered a public park or recreational land for purposes of federal law.

Then in the late 1980s, the state ceded ownership of the trail to the city. The agreement between the two entities indicates that the city agreed to maintain the property, and the document referred to the trail as a “trail and linear park” to be “used as park lands.”

However, another quitclaim deed in the case noted that the property transferred was to be for street and road purposes only, and that no other use should be made of said property without the city first getting permission from the state.

The city attempted to argue that, despite that language, the trail was primarily recreational in nature. It pointed to the fact that it barred adult entertainment facilities near the trail. Additionally, the trail was maintained by the city’s parks department, while the roads were maintained by a separate department.

The appellate court’s decision, upheld by the supreme court, allows the disputed purpose of the trail to be litigated before a jury.

Contact our Rock Hill bicycle accident injury lawyers at Lee Law Offices today by calling 800-887-1965.

Additional Resources:
Camicia v. Howard S. Wright Constr. Co., Jan. 30, 2014, Washington State Supreme Court

More Blog Entries:
Bicycle Crashes in North Carolina Could Be Slashed by Lasers, Sept. 11, 2013, Rock Hill Bicycle Accident Lawyer Blog

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