Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Bicycle Attorney Michael Keating On Why Illinois Law Fails to Protect Bicyclists from Unsafe Streets

Attorney Michael Keating of Keating Law Offices has published an article entitled, "The Wheels of Change Keep Turning: Why the Popularity of Bicycling In Illinois Has Rendered Illinois Law Irrelevant," in the Summer 2016 edition of "Trial Journal." This publication is the official magazine of the Illinois Trial Lawyers Association (ITLA). ITLA is the statewide organization made up of attorneys who specialize in representing victims of accidents that resulted in personal injuries and wrongful death. The organization was founded in 1952 and has over 2,000 members.

The article focuses on how one bike crash in DuPage County in 1992 dictated the laws in Illinois on the responsibility of cities and towns to keep their roadways safe for bicyclists for the following decades and remains law today. This law remains in effect even though the number of bicyclists, the use of bicycles, and the amount of bicycle infrastructure has exploded in the past two decades. 

In September of 1992 a bicyclist named Jon Boub was riding his bicycle and came upon a one-lane bridge that was made up of wooden planks with asphalt in between the planks. Boub crashed when his tire became stuck between two of the wooden planks in the bridge. It turned out that the asphalt between the planks on the bridge deck had been removed by the local township as a part of a resurfacing project for the deck of the bridge.

In Illinois, cities and towns are protected in the law by what is known as the "Tort Immunity Act." The courts, including the Illinois Supreme Court, rejected Boub's claim and held that Boub would only have a case if he could prove that he was both a permitted and intended user of the road. The Supreme Court held that the intended users of public roads are motor vehicles, and because a bike is not classed as a vehicle cyclists were not the intended users. Because of this rule a bicyclist cannot bring a case for a roadway defect unless he also alleges additional facts that prove that the township specifically intended for the rider to use the road. Examples of this would be if the road was designated as a cycle route, a bike lane, or if there were signs stating that cycling on the road was permitted.

The attorneys at Keating Law Offices believe that Boub was wrongly decided and are engaged in several cases where bicyclists were injured because of defects in the roadway. It is the firm's position that the Illinois Supreme Court should review its treatment of cyclists to reflect the changes in bike use since it decided Boub.

There are multiple reasons for why this change should occur, and not just legal ones. Through programs such as “Bike to Work Week,” the installation of bike lanes, the placement of sharrows, the installation bike racks, and the implementation a new bike rental programs, many municipalities now encourage its citizens to use bikes as a method of transport. In Boub, the court held that an injured bicyclist cannot recover unless he can prove that a township intended him to use the road. These modern programs provide that proof, and should serve as a presumption that bicyclists are intended users of city roads. 

These pro-bicycle programs clearly indicate that many townships not only intend for bicyclists to use public roads but also encourage them to do so. Therefore, it is should be the law that an injured bicyclist could hold a municipality liable if it causes and injury to a bicyclist because of defective roadways. If a city or town is not potentially liable for dangerous conditions on their roadway, then there is little motivation for them to make sure that the streets are safe for bicyclists. 

Since the Boub decision in 1992 bicycle use has increased dramatically. Society now considers bikes as not only a leisure activity but as a valuable and serious method of transportation that provides major benefits to municipalities. In light of these benefits and the growing reliance on bikes as an important means of transport, the Court should reevaluate its decision in Boub or risk the law becoming an irrelevant anachronism.

LINK: "The Wheels of Change Keep Turning: Why the Popularity of Bicycling In Illinois Has Rendered Illinois Law Irrelevant," "Trial Journal," Illinois Trial Lawyers Association, Summer 2016.