Alex went out to enjoy his regular ride on the local bike path, but he had no idea that on this occasion he would return a quadriplegic.
As cyclist Alex unexpectedly encountered some debris that had washed onto the bike path during recent rainfall, he collided with another rider who had crossed the path to avoid the rubble. The other rider was left uninjured, but Alex suffered serious spinal injuries that have resulted in lifelong disability.
The incident happened due to the poor maintenance of the bike path. There was overgrown vegetation at the side of the path so this, coupled with a bend, meant that neither cyclist saw the debris or each other until it was too late. The riders simply didn’t have time to take evasive action. We can assume that if the vegetation had been maintained and kept back from the side of the path, as was required for greater visibility, the accident would not have occurred.
Who is responsible for bike path upkeep?
The upkeep of public shared paths can be the responsibility of one of several parties, usually a government body such as a local council and the Department of Environment and Primary Industries. However, it can be difficult to apportion fault when an incident occurs because there are expectations of responsibility placed on both the relevant body and the cyclist. For example, the courts expect that a cyclist will take a reasonable level of care for their own safety, including paying attention to where they are riding and being aware of potential hazards. The party responsible for the upkeep of a shared bike path or other public area is expected to take all reasonable steps to regulate the area, predominantly through an adequate system of inspection and maintenance.
In order to avoid a claim for public liability compensation, the body in charge of the public area needs to have effective measures in place to monitor and maintain it. While this can be challenging given the size and distance of some bike paths, it’s important that the relevant body takes action when they receive warnings about any issues. They should make sure signage is regularly maintained, and respond to any reports of debris, reduced visibility or any other hazards on the path.
What should you do if you find yourself injured on a shared bike path?
If you find yourself involved in an incident on a shared bike path, it's important to take the appropriate action in case you need to pursue a public liability compensation claim. This action could include:
- reporting the accident as soon as possible to the party that appears most likely responsible for maintaining the path if you're able to,
- taking good quality photos of the area where the accident occurred, including any obstructions or hazards that may have led to the accident
- obtaining the details of any witnesses
- recording the date and time of the accident, and
- keeping records if you have any treatment or take time off work, as well as copies of any out-of-pocket costs related to the incident.
If in doubt, seek advice as to what legal avenues may be available, and what further steps should be taken.
Shared bike paths are a great resource for exercise and enjoyment, but when incidents occur there can be serious consequences both for cyclists and the party responsible for maintaining the path. It’s important that everyone involved takes their own responsibility seriously in order to avoid injuries of the kind that Alex suffered.
Dimi Ioannou is a principal in Maurice Blackburn's Melbourne office.