Last week a 25-year-old bicyclist died in Chicago, marking the first death involving a bike-sharing program in the United States. Virginia Murray was turning left on her Divvy bike when a truck collided with her. She died a few hours later a local hospital.
Bike sharking came to the United States in 2007 from Amsterdam and Copenhagen. These programs allow bikers to pay for bikes at self-serve bike racks around a city and return bikes back to any other designated rack. There are currently about 40 bike-sharing programs in existence across the United States, but that number continues to grow with the programs’ popularity. Bikers using Citi Bike, the bike-sharing program in New York City, rode 48,219,278 miles in the first three months of 2016 on over 26,000,000 trips around the city.
Studies have shown that collision rates are lower for bicyclists using bike sharing programs, a fact that many attribute to the heavy, bulky bikes used in these programs that force riders to go slower and discourage quick maneuvering. But bike sharing programs also pose serious safety concerns; they do not provide helmets to their users.
Liability issues for an injured biker using these programs can be complicated. If a bicyclist is injured while using the program, what percentage of the damages, if any, are attributable to the injuring car, flaws of the bike itself, or to the individual bicyclist? Many programs ask their users to sign waivers renouncing all liability from the company. Still, the companies can be held responsible for some aspects of their products’ integrity.
Some bike sharing programs are operated by city governments, and are protected with special immunity from lawsuits against citizens.
In some cases, multiple entities can be found responsible for a bike injury, and all can be held responsible for resulting damages. States that have comparative fault laws can hold the bike program, the individual biker, and the negligent driver all responsible for the injury. Under these laws, a fault percentage would be apportioned to each entity, and the entities would be responsible for that percentage of the overall damages. If the overall damages amounted to $10,000 and all three were found to be at equal fault, each would be required to pay about $33,333.
Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina, Washington D.C., and Alabama all have pure contributory negligence laws, meaning that if the injured person is found to be more than 1% responsible for the injury, then the person looses all right to compensation. These harsh laws often prevent injured victims from receiving much needed compensation for medical bills and other damages.
The legislature of Washington D.C. is currently considering a bill that would change the state to a modified comparative fault system for bikers and pedestrians, meaning that if the biker or pedestrian is less than 50% at fault for the injury they can still receive compensation. If they are 51% or more responsible, they loose the right to compensation.
For the other four states, bicyclists will continue to lose out any deserved compensation if they shared a part of the fault.