By Richard L. Duquette, Esq.
I recently posted a request to TCSD’s list-serve asking for recommendations for topical and interesting articles for my site. One member, inspired by the recent call for repair of our local roadways, suggested that we address the improvement of San Diego’s road conditions for bicyclists. Taking her concern to heart, I gave it some thought.
A great resource for this subject is Route Rehab, (www.routerehab.com), which is a service that charitably patrols the roads and removes debris. This and other sources show a strong public interest in the safety of our roads, specifically centered on improved road maintenance. Between these sources and my own experience in riding, there are thousands of perils on our roads, including potholes, cracks, uneven pavement, outdated drainage grates, unmarked construction sites, unmarked speed bumps, debris and more.
Bicyclists are particularly exposed to these dangers, especially at night, and far too many crash. They are often injured, but not always badly enough to justify the cost of litigation. As a result, a majority of these hazards are unreported to local governments.
As you may know, one way to attract the attention of a government entity is the threat of successful litigation. This requires proof of the entity’s actual or implied knowledge of the dangerous condition. Failure to act after such notice creates a strong case for liability.
An amicable alternative to litigation is to simply provide the government entity with notice of a specific condition, with the hope that the defect will be timely repaired in the interest of protecting its citizens. Unfortunately, the people may be the eyes of the city, but the ultimate responsibility for repair lies with the government itself.
In either event, fair notice must be given. To this end, I created a website called HawkEye Road Hazards, HawkEyeroadhazards.com, or “HRH.” HRH is a mobile-optimized site with an interactive map of dangers to bicyclists, (pot holes, debris, construction and more). On the site, a bicyclist can create a free account to report the location of road hazards with GPS coordinates. A description and photo of the hazard can be uploaded and will be identified on a map for others to see. The site also lists city road repair contacts, friendly bicycle shops, and other helpful resources.
With HRH, once a defective road condition is identified and marked on the aerial map, the bicyclist can e-mail the local repair department of the responsible entity to provide notice of the dangerous condition. Having the exact GPS coordinate, coupled with a picture and description on the map, provides fair notice so the hazard can be fixed. HRH contains web links to the proper road repair departments for notification of needed repairs. These HRH markers also provide other friends with advanced warning to avoid injury.
To increase exposure, I have listed friendly bicycle shops to help spread the word because of their daily interaction with bicyclists. This list will also assist you in case you are in need of a tube, GU or even a repair while you are on a ride. By accessing the site, you can find the shop nearest to you in your time of distress.
My hope is that the word will spread and HRH will be used by more and more bicyclists and activists so that they can take action without delay or cost. Again, it’s FREE to set up your own account for posts and updates to the map in real time, whether it be at home or even while you’re out riding. In time, I’d like to see this idea spread across California, the United States and even become a global standard. As always, our motto is, “Empower Bicyclists!”
In the end, I hope that this site and others like it will avoid bicycling injuries while saving taxpayers from the cost of litigation due to government neglect.
Keep in mind that if litigation against a public entity is necessary, in California the injured bicyclist must first file a government claim form before commencing suit. This form must be filed with the responsible entity within six months of the injury, and is a mandatory precursor to filing a lawsuit. If the injured party fails to meet this deadline, it will likely bar any right to seek just compensation.
Government litigation is a complex area of law, and a lawyer should be consulted to protect your interests. The claim form must comply with the law, including Government Code Section 910, et. seq. Further, most lawyers attach exhibits, including a copy of the police report, photos, and other documents referenced in the claim form.
Even if the form complies with the relevant statutes, there are additional pitfalls. Proper notice must be sent to all potential government entities, such as the city, county and state agencies. It is far better to be safe than sorry when providing notices of claims. Otherwise, a responsible entity may have a procedural defense against your claim.
After receipt of a claim, an entity will respond, usually with a boilerplate rejection notice. After receipt of the rejection, you may proceed to file suit. In rare cases, I have seen entities correct dangerous conditions and compensate individuals pre-litigation.
If you do file suit, remember the adage, “The King can do no harm.” In California and most other states, public entities are often cloaked with immunities to liability. It takes a carefully worded and well supported lawsuit to succeed.
In the interests of safety and justice, I hope you find my HRH site helpful. Please spread the word, participate in the site, and keep the good ideas flowing to promote safe bicycling!
Ride Safe, Ride Strong!