Pothole Caused a Bicycle Accident?

This video features Claude Wyle, a Personal Injury attorney based in California.

San Francisco Injury Attorney Determines Liability in Road Hazard Bike Accidents

Video Transcript:

Claude Wyle: 

The cities and counties often just maintain the roadways for cars, for cars and trucks, they don't even do a good job for motorcycles usually, and bicycles are way down the list of importance.

Rob Rosenthal: 

So if you're injured after a crash on your bicycle, how do you find out if it's someone else's fault, and what can you do about it? We're gonna find out right now on this episode of Ask the lawyer. My guest is San Francisco attorney Claude Wyle, I'll tell you right up front, if you wanna ask Claude questions about your situation, it's easy, go to askthelawyers.com, click the button up at the top that says, Ask a Lawyer, it'll walk you right through the process, doesn't cost anything to ask. Or you can call the phone number that you'll see on the screen during our conversation. Claude, good to see you as always, thank you for helping us out.

Claude Wyle: 

Good to see you, Rob, so happy to be here.

Rob Rosenthal: 

You know most bicyclers who ride on a regular basis, I understand they have to be careful, but sometimes crashes with injuries happen, and sometimes those are caused by roadway hazards. Tell us a little bit, especially as far as your definition, what are roadway hazards, what qualifies as that?

Claude Wyle: 

Well, with a bicycle, a roadway hazard is usually a problem with the pavement. You could have a dirt roadway, like a fire road for a mountain bike or something like that, but usually you have dead bang immunities and you cannot go after the public entity for not maintaining their trail. Now on the street, you can have defects in the pavement or dangerous defects in other aspects of a roadway that can easily cause or contribute to a bicycle crash, and to very serious injuries. We always look for that... Whenever we have a serious injury of a bicyclist, particularly in an urban environment, for instance, Oakland, which is right across the bay from us, here in San Francisco, has some of the worst pavement in the entire United States. I think they were number two for bad pavement in the whole country a few years ago, so you could have potholes and pothole cases, those are actually way too common, it's really horrible. You've got cracks in the road that are just not maintained... See, the problem is that the cities and counties often just maintain the roadways for cars, for cars and trucks, they don't even do a good job for motorcycles usually, and bicycles are way down the list of importance. So we've actually taken cases to trial involving defects of the roadway, and we've been very successful for our clients. There are hard cases, and you have to be very, very careful and selective which ones you take, but oftentimes, that roadway has played a very, very big role in causing a bicyclist injury.

Rob Rosenthal: 

So, you mentioned serious injuries, give me some examples of some sort of injuries, these can be very serious?

Claude Wyle: 

Well, with a bicyclist, they're not protected by all that steel, like in a car, you're not in a cage like in a car, you're basically out there in the world, and usually if something happens where the bicyclist goes from vertical to horizontal and hits that pavement, even at relatively low speeds, the potential for injury is far greater and the potential for fractures is far greater, and worst of all, the potential for head injury is very, very high.

Rob Rosenthal: 

I would imagine, especially if you... You mentioned potholes, if you hit your front wheel on a pothole, and you do a header over the handle bars, I imagine that could lead to some serious injuries.

Claude Wyle: 

Well, Rob, it's very sad. We've got a case we're working on right now involving a bicycle path in the Los Angeles area, and our client hit a very, very bad patch of road, there was no warning, and he lost control and he hit a fence pole, and at age 31, he's a quadriplegic. So we're fighting that one, the public entities are fighting very hard. There's something called trail immunity, and the public entity will always assert it, so one thing I wanna tell bicyclists is, if you're riding on the street and there's a bicycle path that is connected to a normal lane of traffic, then there's no immunity, but if you're riding in a designated bicycle path, then there's a good chance that the public entity will assert trail immunity, which is a very, very powerful defense. It doesn't seem fair, and to us, it's not fair, but it is an immunity, and that means even if they did something very wrong, they can get out because the law written by legislators, written by public entities, gives them immunity.

Rob Rosenthal: 

Wow. It seems counter-intuitive, it doesn't even seem to make sense that if it's a designated path, then they've got immunity and don't have to worry about the maintenance. That just doesn't even make sense.

Claude Wyle: 

Well, things are very slow to change. We've been working a little bit with lobbyists to try to open up this law because all these public entities are saying, Oh, we're a bicycle friendly city, we're a bicycle-friendly county, they're claiming to be bicycle friendly. And they're encouraging people to commute on their bicycles and they're putting in bike paths, what most people don't know is that really, they're not really accountable if they don't maintain those bike paths, and that's a terrible, terrible part of the law, and we're hoping for change because today, in our modern urban environment, we have more and more and more bicycle paths, and more designated bypass that are not exactly part of the roadway, but are designated separately as a bicycle corridor, and we think there should be accountability, we think those corridors, those pathways should be safe, but the public entities enjoy some pretty great immunity for them, so we're fighting that on a daily basis.

Rob Rosenthal: 

Do you find, in your experience, Claude, that sometimes riders may not even realize it, they may have someone that they can get damages from, they just think, oh well, I was clumsy or I wasn't paying attention, and they don't realize that maybe there was a roadway hazard that would have been the cause?

Claude Wyle: 

Oh, absolutely. Now, a lot of times people hit a pothole and they know what happened, but sometimes they don't really know what happened, or they're involved in a crash with a motor vehicle, like a car or a bus, and they haven't looked at the roadway as playing a potential part or being a substantial factor in contributing to their crash, and that's one of the things that we lawyers do for our clients, especially bicycle lawyers, we always have to be looking for all the factors that have led up to this horrible injury.

Rob Rosenthal: 

What sort of compensation could be sought in these kind of cases.

Claude Wyle: 

Well the damages for... As I said, the injuries for a bicyclist can be very, very horrible, they can be severe, they can be serious, they can be extraordinarily costly, so it's the same kind of damages you would have if they were hit by a car, there are some breaks that the public entities get if your health insurance pays for all your medical bills. The public entity can apply for a credit, whereas a private entity cannot... One of the things we also look for is who worked on that road, a lot of times public entities don't do all the road work themselves, they contract out to private contractors, and if they've contracted out to a private contractor and that contractor has been negligent in the performance of their repairs or maintenance on the roadway or bicycle path, then we can get accountability. So in our case, where the bicyclist has been rendered a quadriplegic, one of the defendants is the maintenance company of that bicycle path because they do not enjoy immunity like the public entity does.

Rob Rosenthal: 

Is it the kind of thing... Could pain and suffering be sought in these kind of cases too?

Claude Wyle: 

Well, pain and suffering in California is always sought, you get your out-of-pocket expenses, meaning past and future medical bills, past and future income loss, like lost wages, diminution of earning capacity, meaning if you can't do the same job you can do before, then what can you do and what's the difference between how much you can make earning a living now that you're injured versus how much you could have made before, and those are the out-of-pocket expenses and what we call economic loss, and then there's the whole world of non-economic loss, pain and suffering, anxiety, embarrassment, humiliation, disfigurement, those are the basics, and there's lots of different elements to each one, but that's pretty much the basics from all personal injury cases.

Rob Rosenthal: 

Claude, I know you yourself... You're a bicycle rider and have been for many years, have you encountered roadway hazards in your rides and is this a pretty big problem?

Claude Wyle: 

It's a huge problem, particularly in California, as our roadways deteriorate, they become more and more dangerous, and they're dangerous not only for bicyclists, but for motorcyclists and for car drivers, and for everybody involved also remember, if a car hits a pothole and loses control and changes their lane and comes over and hits a bicyclist, that pothole is a substantial factor in causing an injury to the bicyclist, even though they've been hit by a car, so as a bicycle rider, yeah, I encountered cracks in the road that need to be maintained, that should have been maintained that have been left alone for years, often. We encounter that all the time.

Rob Rosenthal: 

Lots of really, really good information. Very interesting, Claude. Thank you for making some time to help us out.

Claude Wyle: 

Thank you, Rob. You know I'm always happy to help.

Rob Rosenthal: 

That's gonna do it for this episode of Ask the lawyer. My guests guest have been San Francisco attorney Claude Wyle. I remind you if you wanna ask Claude questions about your situation go to askthelawyers.com click the button up at the top that says Ask a Lawyer and it'll walk you through the very simple process right there. Thanks for watching I'm Rob Rosenthal with ask the lawyers.

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