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Bicyclists may be held liable for injuring pedestrians…

Lawyers: suits against bicyclists on the rise

hortonIt was a first for Michael T. Lennon.

The Boston lawyer recently represented a pedestrian who was injured after being struck on a Back Bay sidewalk by someone who blew through a stop sign — on a bicycle. The suit, which settled for $200,000 at mediation, is the first reported to Lawyers Weekly in which a bicyclist was sued for negligence. But with the number of cyclists in Boston doubling in recent years, it likely won’t be the last.

Lennon’s client allegedly fell on her right elbow, struck her right temple, and was diagnosed with a scalp hematoma and post-concussive symptoms. Although several doctors declined to diagnose her with a traumatic brain injury, Lennon thinks his client was able to obtain the six-figure settlement because juries sitting in urban areas are notoriously anti-cyclist.

“If you do focus groups or mock juries, you’ll get told that bicyclists are dangerous, that they weave in and out of traffic and don’t follow the rules that [motorists] have to follow,” Lennon says.

And though bicycle insurance is a rarity, Lennon found a workaround by filing a claim under the defendant’s homeowner’s insurance policy.

“That follows you outside your house,” he says. “There’s an automobile exclusion, but it covers what you do on a bike.”

Boston attorney and bike safety activist Joshua Zisson agrees that with more two-wheelers on the road than ever before, there’s been an increase in car-versus-bicycle crashes, bicycle-versus-pedestrian collisions, and cyclist-versus-cyclist accidents.

Zisson says he recently settled a case in which a cyclist on the busy Minuteman Path suffered injuries after he crashed into another bike that was being wheeled.

“It doesn’t help our public image when people are riding through red lights or going the wrong way down the street,” Zisson adds.

He says bicyclists also can suffer at the hands of jurors who view getting around on two wheels as “an inherently dangerous act. I disagree with that, but it’s something that persists in the minds of the general public. And there’s not a whole lot you can do except encourage people to try bicycling so they can experience firsthand that you can safely operate a bike.”

Although state law generally allows bicyclists full use of all non-highway roads, Zisson thinks changes to road design could help prevent both bike-versus-pedestrian crashes and the deadly incidents involving bicycles and motor vehicles that have received widespread attention in recent years.

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